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What Is a Higher Power?

Written By
Chris Elkins, M.A.
This page features
4 Cited Research Articles

A higher power is something greater than us. For many people, God is a higher power. For others, a higher power isn’t associated with religion or a deity. It’s a connection that we share with all living things. Some people don’t try to understand their higher power. They believe humans can’t comprehend it. Regardless of what a higher power is to you, having faith in a higher power can benefit your recovery.

Spirituality is an important part of recovery from addiction. Alcohol and other drugs make us feel like we’re alone. They make us believe there’s no reason to live. Sometimes we already feel that way when we turn to mind-altering substances.

For a brief moment, the substances trick us into thinking we’re happy. In the end, they make things worse.

To recover from addiction, we must believe we can be happy again. We have to have faith that we can be healthy. We have to have a purpose that motivates us to maintain sobriety. Believing in a higher power helps us find that purpose. Regardless of the higher power we believe in, having faith in something bigger than ourselves can help us find peace.

Motivation is an important aspect of achieving and maintaining sobriety. Knowing that we have a place in this world and that we aren’t alone can motivate us to quit drinking or using. A higher power helps many people realize they are connected to something important.

For many people, the journey toward finding a higher power is as beneficial as the addiction treatment process. As they detox from alcohol or other drugs, they become capable of thinking critically about the important things in life. As they go through therapy and hear the stories of others in recovery, they understand they aren’t alone.

They begin to believe in something they weren’t capable of thinking about while they were under the influence of addictive substances. As they experience a spiritual awakening, they buy into the treatment process. They connect with others, and they feel happiness.

Although most people believe they’ll never truly understand their higher power, they embark on a journey to get closer to it. They may read Scripture, pray or attend religious ceremonies. Some people embark on pilgrimages to sacred sites. Others meditate. Some simply try to live moral and virtuous lives. In doing so, they’re better able to avoid the perils of alcohol and drug use.

Examples of a Higher Power

It’s sometimes easier to describe a higher power than to name one. But the following list includes examples of names that some people use to describe the higher power they believe in:

For some people, a higher power is a deity or supernatural being. Others believe it is a supreme being that is greater than other gods. For some, it is a single, all-knowing god or a conception of the power of a god.

Others don’t believe in beings. They believe the universe or nature is a higher power. Some people believe group consciousness is a higher power.

Higher Powers in AA and Other 12-Step Programs

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were among the first people to recognize the impact that spirituality has on recovery from addiction. They were also among the first to coin the term “higher power.”

In describing the steps they took to recover from alcoholism, the founders of AA wrote that they “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The term higher power, or HP, is used throughout the Big Book of AA to reference the power that was greater than they were.

The founders of AA describe their higher power as God, and they say many of them believed in the Christian God. But they make it clear that not everyone must believe in that god to achieve a spiritual awakening. They describe a higher power as “God as we understood Him.

Numerous 12-step programs have adopted the same belief and terminology to describe recovery from an array of addictions, behavioral issues and other problems. The process of experiencing a spiritual awakening and surrendering oneself to a higher power is crucial to success in the programs.

But a person doesn’t have to believe in a higher power to join a 12-step program. The founders of AA wrote that about half the original AA fellowship was atheist. The founders also wrote that they “did not need to consider another’s conception of God.”

Finding a Higher Power

Many people connect with a major religion during recovery from addiction. But some people struggle to believe in these religions. That’s OK. Finding a higher power isn’t about convincing yourself of something you don’t believe. It’s about finding something that brings you happiness, purpose and peace.

Most people don’t choose a higher power. They go through a spiritual process and subconsciously connect with a higher power. As they grow to understand that power, the connection grows in their consciousness. They experience a spiritual awakening and realize the connection exists.

They may not be able to identify the higher power with a name. They may not fully understand the connection or what they believe. But the process of trying to understand and grow closer to the higher power is beneficial.

Many people begin their search for a higher power by praying. They don’t know who or what they’re praying to. They may not even believe that anyone or anything is listening. But they reach out in hopes of finding or feeling something.

Others find inner peace through activities, such as walking, running, meditating or dancing. Some people reconnect with society by joining sports teams or recreational clubs. Others find purpose by painting, drawing, sculpting, writing or by participating in other creative activities. As they reconnect with the world and find purpose, they also discover that their faith in something bigger grows stronger.

Spirituality is a key component of recovery for most people. Believing in a higher power can guide them to inner peace, motivation and purpose.

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