What Is a Higher Power in Addiction Recovery?

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT

Effective recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) requires not only healing an individual’s body and mind, but also their spirit. People commonly get stuck in the cycle of substance use because they feel isolated and/or lack a sense of community and deeper purpose for their life. Treatment must work to ignite a spiritual spark in the lives of those seeking recovery. This can provide greater meaning for their sobriety and overall life journey.

There are many aspects of spirituality, with an important one being the consideration of a higher power. While many people associate the term “higher power” with God or a god, these terms are not synonymous for everyone. As individuals begin to explore their spiritual journey throughout recovery, developing a connection to a higher power can be an incredibly motivating force.

Why Does Spirituality Help in Addiction Recovery?

Unfortunately, individuals who are new to recovery are frequently intimidated by spirituality and the terms associated with it. This may be because spirituality requires people to take a raw and intentional inventory of themselves and their beliefs.

Substance use clouds our spiritual center.

There are several reasons why spirituality is vital in recovery. The most important reason is that humans are innately spiritual beings. Commonly, individuals who were introduced to spirituality in a negative light or those who have never explored spirituality wind up feeling lonely, isolated and depressed. As a result, they turn to alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate.

When individuals get caught up in substance use, the spiritual aspect of their lives is diminished. Once alcohol and drugs are removed from the equation, individuals can reconnect with their true nature, which is the purest essence of themselves.

Spirituality encourages mindfulness.

As a vital part of overall wellness, spirituality is also comprised of various mindfulness components that are vital for one’s healing journey. Two examples include surrender and acceptance. Spirituality reminds us to actively accept and let go of things that no longer serve us. Additionally, it encourages us to be present in the moment and mindful of how we impact those around us.

Still, spirituality does not have to be intimidating. Rather, it can be an opportunity to start fresh and experience a genuine connection with something greater than ourselves.

Spirituality vs. Religion

Often, individuals use the terms “spirituality” and “religion” interchangeably. However, these terms do not describe the same practices. For some, spirituality and religion are intertwined. This is because, in a way, religion is a type of spiritual practice.

When someone identifies as religious, they associate their lives with a specific set of beliefs and practices organized around a higher power, usually God or gods. Spirituality, in essence, is more of an umbrella term that describes the experience of feeling connected to something greater than oneself. In other words, spirituality is a growing relationship between an individual and their higher power.

Understanding a Higher Power in Addiction Recovery

Before an individual can connect with their higher power, they must identify who or what their higher power is. Simply put, a higher power is any thing or being that has great power, knowledge and wisdom which can positively impact mankind. Everyone can have a different higher power, so long as it makes sense to them and motivates them in a positive way.

While a higher power can be a deity, it can also be a person or simply a concept like nature or the connected universe. Individuals can feel affirmed in their concept of a higher power when that concept brings them happiness, purpose and strength. This is especially important during recovery.

Higher Power & the Twelve Steps

If the topic of a higher power still seems daunting, it may help to understand that 12-Step programming was created upon the concept of a higher power. The 12-Step model is an evidence-based treatment approach that has proven its effectiveness in treating SUD nationwide.

Though it uses religious language, the framework of these steps highlights that individuals do not have to be religious to follow these guidelines and reap the benefits of this program. However, they do acknowledge that identifying and connecting to a higher power is a key step for a successful recovery. Of the Twelve Steps, nearly half of them directly encourage utilizing higher power:

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Remember that identifying and connecting with a higher power is — like addiction recovery — a process that takes time. With the help of treatment organizations and programming like the Twelve Steps, individuals can feel empowered to explore the spiritual aspects of their recovery journey. This includes what discovering a higher power may look like in their lives.

Casa Palmera is a mental health and addiction treatment facility that believes in the value a higher power can have for one’s journey to recovery from substance use. We utilize holistic therapy approaches and encourage individuals to explore their spirituality throughout treatment and long-term recovery. To learn more, contact us today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.