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Understanding Alcohol and Drug Addiction:
an LDS* Perspective


The LDS 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program is patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous, both with respect to the 12 Steps and as to meeting format. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio as a result of a meeting between Bill W., a New York stock broker, and Dr. Bob S., an Akron surgeon, both of whom were alcoholics. They started to work with alcoholics in the Akron City Hospital. Bill W. and Dr. Bob and one other recovering alcoholic were the nucleus of the first AA group. In the fall of 1935, a second group of recovering alcoholics was formed in New York City, and a third in Cleveland, Ohio in 1939.

In 1939, AA's basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous, (the "Big Book") was published. Written by Bill W., this book explains "How It (the 12 Steps) Works", and AA's philosophy. ......

In 1985, the LDS 12 step Addiction Recovery Program, under the direction of LDS Family Services, was started in the Salt Lake Valley. The LDS 12 step program specifically identifies AA's " higher power" as Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus Christ and his atonement that an addict can be healed of addiction.....

Most of the alcohol and drug addicts who come to the LDS 12 step meetings are very familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and their 12 step programs. Many have been through one to five or more rehabilitation facilities where the 12 step program was an integral part of the treatment regimen. Participation in AA or professional treatment based on the 12 steps of AA is the dominant approach to alcoholism treatment in the United States. Addicts do not come to an LDS 12 step meeting because it is a Church meeting, held in an LDS chapel, where missionaries teach gospel principles. They come because it is recommended as a "good" 12 step meeting, the format and steps of which they are very familiar from past experience.

LDS Addiction Recovery meetings are held in LDS chapels and, in the Salt Lake Valley in the County jail and the Utah State prison. The meetings follow the AA format. Dress is casual. Meetings in chapels are usually held in a large room where chairs are arranged in a semi- circle. At each meeting there is a pair of LDS Addiction Recovery missionaries and a facilitator. The meetings are opened and closed with prayer. At each meeting a missionary speaks five to ten minutes about the step under consideration. Then the facilitator, who is a recovering addict, "shares" his or her own personal feelings and experiences as they relate to the step under discussion and bears testimony that the 12 steps work. Those in attendance are then asked to "share" their feelings and experiences. Each meeting lasts one and one-half hours.

You need not be a member of the Church to attend the LDS 12 step meeting. Anyone who has an interest in overcoming the problems addiction can attend. You need not be a full-blown addict. Relatives of addicts are also welcome to attend. Only first names are used. Confidentiality is a foundational principle of the program. Everything that is discussed or heard at the meeting stays within the four walls of the meeting place.

LDS Addiction Recovery groups, under the direction of local LDS Family Service Agencies, are presently available in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. There are approximately 88 local agencies of LDS Family Services in the United States and four in Canada. You can find out if there is an LDS Addiction Recovery meeting in a particular area in the United States and Canada by calling the local LDS Family Service Agency. A new Church website,, lists the address and phone number of all existing local agencies.

Alcoholics and addicts are physically sick and spiritually sick. The spiritual destruction that occurs in the lives of addicts from the use of alcohol or drugs is terrible. Elder Stephen L. Richards has stated:

Every commandment of God is spiritual in nature...The Word of Wisdom is spiritual. It is true that it enjoins the use of deleterious substances and makes provision for the health of the body. But the largest measure of good derived from its observance is in increased faith and the development of more spiritual power and wisdom. Likewise, the most regrettable and damaging effects of its infractions are spiritual, also. Injury to the body may be comparatively trivial to the damage to the soul in the destruction of faith and the retardation of spiritual growth.

Elder Boyd K. Packer has stated:

I have come to know...that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation....If someone 'under the influence' [of harmful substances] can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.

With addiction prayer ceases, scripture reading ceases, church attendance ceases. "Street values" soon replace the values of the gospel. Lying and dishonesty become second nature to the addict. "Goodness, kindness, mercy, love, empathy, altruism, self-awareness, courage, willpower, heroism, honor, duty, truth, and simple decency...are twisted and torn, bruised and blooded by the disease".

The addict easily falls into the cesspool of pornography and immorality which are the norm in our present culture. Women sell their bodies to secure money to buy drugs to support their habit. The addict often gets to the point where he or she feels there is no way back: "I have gone too far down; there is no hope for me." "Heavenly Father could never forgive me."

Addicts come to the LDS meetings because they are suffering, because the pain has become too intense to bear alone, and because they no longer desire to stay in their hole of depression and loneliness. They coming to the meetings to be healed by the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, both physically and spiritually. Many come because it is their last hope. They may have gone through four or more rehabilitation programs, but yet they are still addicted to alcohol or drugs. Jesus Christ can heal the addict both physically and spiritually. He can heal the brain and the body of the addict and cleanse the spirit.

The Savior's atonement is the focus of the LDS 12 step program: that each person can be forgiven of their sins and when they are forgiven, the Lord remembers their sins no more. [D&C: 58:42].

Elder Boyd K. Packer has stated:

Save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ.

The addict must approach the Savior with "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" and a willingness to incorporate into his life the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Elder Jeffrey Holland has stated:

Everything in the gospel teaches us that we can change if we really want to, that we can be helped if we truly ask for it, that we can be made whole, whatever the problems of the past.

Those who attend the meetings are counseled to read their scriptures every day, particularly the Book of Mormon, say their prayers twice a day, and come to as many meetings as they can. Those who are members or have been members of the Church, are counseled to attend Church and have close contact with their bishop.

Although the 12 Step LDS Addiction Recovery Program involves gospel principles, it is not the "gospel," nor does it replace the programs of the Church. One of the primary purposes of the 12 step LDS Addiction Recovery Program is to help addicts who are disaffected, disfellowshiped or excommunicated members to regain full fellowship in the Church. Some who attend meetings turned their back on the Church at a young age and "just walked away and never looked back." Many have never had testimonies or any acquaintance with the Spirit and no familiarity with the Book of Mormon.

The LDS 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program is not designed to teach the "gospel" to the addict. This is not its purpose. It is not a missionary class, a gospel doctrine class, or a priesthood class. The purpose of the LDS 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program is very limited. First, it is to help the addict have a spiritual awakening and receive a witness that he can recover from his or her addiction and be forgiven through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and second, it is to actively start the process of repentance, including confession to one's bishop. Once the recovering addict has this spiritual awakening and talks with his or her bishop, he or she will start participating in Church and can be taught all of the other principles and programs of the Church......

Please Buy: Understanding Alcohol and Drug Addiction


*LDS: Latter-Day Saints, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
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