Higher Power

Higher Power is a term used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other twelve-step programs. The same groups use the phrase “a power greater than ourselves” synonymously. The term sometimes refers to a supreme being or deity, or other conceptions of God.



Definition and usage

In current twelve-step program usage, a higher power can be anything at all that the member believes is adequate. Reported examples include their twelve-step group, nature, consciousness, existential freedom, God, science, and Buddha. It is frequently stipulated that as long as a higher power is “greater” than the individual, then the only condition is that it should also be loving and caring.

Alcoholics Anonymous

The terms higher power and power greater than ourselves appear in the “Big Book”, on three occasions:

  • “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
  • “The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.”
  • “Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances!”


Sources that may have contributed to the adoption of the term in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the first twelve-step group, include spirituality, the King James Version of the Bible, New Thought religion, and the work of William James.

James, who wrote “The only cure for dipsomania is religiomania” in The Varieties of Religious Experience, is cited in the “Spiritual Experience” appendix of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Varieties of Religious Experience uses the singular term “higher power” 4 times, and the plural “higher powers” 7 times, to refer to powers beyond the self that may provide assistance.

The term has been cited as found in the King James version of the Bible, again in the plural form, in Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” However, in this passage Saint Paul is referring to civil authorities such as kings and governments, rather than a spiritual power.

Correlates of belief

Sociologist Darren Sherkat researched the belief of Americans in a higher power. He based his research on data from 8,000 adults polled by the Chicago-based National Opinion Research Center between 1988 and 2000. Among his findings were that 8% stated “I don’t believe in a personal god, but I do believe in a higher power of some kind.” This is the same figure as found by the 1999 Gallup national poll of Americans. Sherkat also found that 16% of the Jewish people surveyed agreed with the statement about a ‘higher power’, while 13.2% of liberal Protestants and 10.6% of Episcopalians also agreed with it.

An empirically based recovery framework likened faith in a higher power to motivation for personal growth as described by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.



Celebrate Recovery was founded by a group of Christians who criticized the higher power concept as being too vague. In the twelve-step derived group, Jesus is the only higher power allowed.

Gender theory

M. E. O’Hare-Lavin argues that the concept of a higher power represents a masculine perception of spiritual recovery, such as the hero’s journeys of Moses, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, Odysseus, Icarus and Percival, and that the archetypal feminine heroic journey is a chthonic underworld journey, lower and deeper; like those of Persephone, Psyche, Eurydice and Inanna. Her opinion is that the higher power spirituality may not necessarily be relevant to women in recovery.

In popular culture

  • The children’s novel The Higher Power of Lucky, which received the Newbery Medal in 2007, is a story of a child who follows the direction of her higher power, a concept she learned from a twelve-step group.
  • Rock group Boston recorded a song called “Higher Power” about drug addiction that was included on their Greatest Hits album.
  • President of the United States George W. Bush’s opening remarks at a conference in June, 2008 included the remark: “There has to be a higher power.”
  • In a WWE storyline, The Undertaker claimed to follow a “higher power” which was ultimately revealed to be Vince McMahon.


Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia