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Higher Power is a term coined in the 1930s in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and is used in other twelve-step programs. It is also sometimes referred to as a power greater than ourselves and is frequently abbreviated to HP. The term sometimes refers to a supreme being or deity, or some conception of God.
Sources that may have contributed to the adoption of the term in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the first twelve-step group, include spirituality, New Thought 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 Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as the "Big Book").
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.
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, 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.
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!" 
- 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."
- Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers: A biography with recollections of Early AA in the Midwest. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. December 1980. pp. 306–315. ISBN 0-916856-07-0.
- Bill W. (February 2002). "Spiritual Experience". Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of how Many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism (4th ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. ISBN 0-916856-59-3. OCLC 2353981. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
- Dart, John (December 14, 2004). "Americans' belief in God is high but nuanced, study says". Christian Century. Retrieved 2008-08-10.[dead link]
- Ochocka, Joanna; Nelson, Geoff; Janzen, Rich (Spring 2005). "Moving Forward: Negotiating Self and External Circumstances in Recovery". Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 28 (4): 315–322. doi:10.2975/28.2005.315.322. PMID 15895914.
- Baker, Michael P.; Sellman, J. Douglas; Horn, Jacqueline (2001). "Developing a God/higher power scale for use with twelve step treatment programs". Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 19 (2): 45–61. doi:10.1300/J020v19n02_03. ISSN 0734-7324.
- Rudy, David R.; Greil, Arthur L. (1989). "Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Religious Organization?: Meditations on Marginality". Sociological Analysis 50 (1): 41–51. doi:10.2307/3710917. JSTOR 3710917.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (February 2002). "Chapter 5: How It Works" (PDF). Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of how Many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism (4th ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. ISBN 1-893007-16-2. OCLC 2353981. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
- Bill W. (February 2002). "Chapter 3: More About Alcoholism" (PDF). Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of how Many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism (4th ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. ISBN 1-893007-16-2. OCLC 2353981. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
- Bill W. (2002-02-10). "Chapter 7: Working With Others" (PDF). Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of how Many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism (4th ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. ISBN 1-893007-16-2. OCLC 2353981. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
- Bush, George W. (2008-06-26). "Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives National Conference". The White House, Washington. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- Baker, John (1998). Celebrate Recovery: Leader's Guide. Zondervan Publishing House. ISBN 978-0-310-22108-1.
- Ryan, Dale. "God as We Understood Him : Too Christian or Not Christian Enough?". Retrieved 2008-07-14.
- Alateen Talks back on Higher Power. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters. 1994. ISBN 0-910034-92-3.
- Green, L. L., Fullilove, M. T., & Fullilove, R. E. (Jul-August 1998). "Stories of spiritual awakening: The nature of spirituality in recovery". Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 15 (4): 325–331. doi:10.1016/S0740-5472(97)00211-0. PMID 9650141.