Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Sociological Spectrum 2023, vol. 43, no. 6, pp. 196–215



Copyright © 2023 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


This study examines how Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be understood as a “lived religion” that seeks to legitimize and moralize certain experiences and beliefs through narratives that are affirmed by the substance abuse recovery community. Through a qualitative analysis of 20 in-depth interviews with both actively recovering and non-actively recovering participants of AA, we identify three distinct moral narratives described by participants related to the construction of spiritual beliefs, individual health, and social belonging that highlight how the structure of AA reifies stories of addiction recovery as morally charged. We contribute to sociology of religion and addiction studies by examining how social and spiritual systems (i.e. systems embodying our complex and multi-faceted social connections to other people and our beliefs and attitudes about powers greater than oneself) orient alcohol addiction recovery within the context of AA support groups. For sociological inquiry more broadly, we show how moral narratives have the power to shift individual understanding of social support, power and self-control, and belonging.