Atheists, agnostics and Alcoholics Anonymous

J Stud Alcohol. 2002 Sep;63(5):534-41. doi: 10.15288/jsa.2002.63.534.


Objective: In spite of the strong emphasis in AA on spiritual beliefs and practices, findings are mixed about the importance of such beliefs in predicting AA affiliation. This study of the Project MATCH outpatient (N = 952) and aftercare (N = 774) samples tested three hypotheses about the role of client God belief and subsequent AA attendance and benefit, taking into account that some individuals may, in fact, deny the existence of a God.

Method: Longitudinal analyses were conducted (N = 1,526) investigating client God beliefs, AA attendance, patterns of AA attendance and alcohol use. Assessments were conducted at intake and in 3-month intervals using the Form 90, Religious Behaviors and Background, and the Alcoholics Anonymous Inventory.

Results: 12-Step treatment was significantly more likely to promote pre-post shifts in client God beliefs, and atheist and agnostic clients attended AA significantly less often throughout follow-up relative to clients self-labeled as spiritual and religious. AA attendance, however, was significantly associated with increased abstinence and reductions in drinking intensity regardless of God belief. Finally, no differences in percent days abstinence and drinking intensity were found between atheist and agnostic versus spiritual and religious clients, but clients unsure about their God belief reported significantly higher drinking frequency relative to the other groups.

Conclusions: God belief appears to be relatively unimportant in deriving AA-related benefit, but atheist and agnostic clients are less likely to initiate and sustain AA attendance relative to spiritual and religious clients. This apparent reticence to affiliate with AA ought to be clinically recognized when encouraging AA participation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholics Anonymous*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Religion*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spirituality
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperance / psychology*
  • Temperance / statistics & numerical data