What Is The Serenity Prayer?

Thanks to its increased use in documentaries and TV programmes on addiction, as well as citation on social media, the Serenity Prayer is becoming well-known as an acceptance technique in rehab clinics and focus groups. By citing the Serenity Prayer, an addict learns to come to terms with their addiction so they can take positive steps towards beating it.

There is some argument about the origins of the Serenity Prayer. Some believe it can be traced back to the days of Aristotle, while others believe it came about through Ancient Christian theologian St. Augustine. Most commonly believed is the argument that it was first written in 1932 by Reinhold Niebuhr, a US Theologian.

The Serenity Prayer started being used by Alcoholics Anonymous as of 1941 in their meetings. It is still used to this day as an effective means of acceptance in other rehab institutions and charitable organisations that help those overcoming addiction, such as Narcotics Anonymous.

Simply put, the prayer gives a simplified version of the 12-step process towards sobriety and sanity which many rehab clinics use.

How Can The Serenity Prayer Help An Addict?

Used in the context of helping an addict to overcome addiction, the Serenity Prayer is a powerful text which encourages an addict to accept their circumstances with bravery and knowledge, so they learn from their negative experiences and have the strength to move on from them with conviction. It also addresses an addict’s failed desire for absolute control, over both their own actions and the actions of others. It is this need to control that leads to a cycle of destruction as substance abuse continues.

The prayer teaches an addict that an unfortunate part of life is having to deal with circumstances that are beyond our personal control, or which cannot be changed by us directly. But the things an addict can control are their feelings and actions towards other people. By focusing more strongly on their own feelings and actions, an addict can become stronger and eventually emancipate themselves from their continued abuse of substances or alcohol. Strength, accepting change and living in your truth are all principles of the Serenity Prayer.

Those who read and follow the prayer are said to discover the gift of inner peace and serenity, which in turn can help them face a new day with courage and happiness.

Understanding The Serenity Prayer: What Does ‘Serenity’ Mean?

To begin to understand the Serenity Prayer, it’s important to learn the definition of the term ‘serenity’. Words that are most commonly linked to ‘serenity’ include terms such as ‘calm’, ‘peace’, ‘stillness’ and ‘tranquillity’. To feel ‘serene’ is to feel calm and at peace. Those who are faced with the destructive cycle of addiction often feel the complete opposite of this. Terms that come to mind could be a state of anger, worry, or anxiety, all of which are the total opposite of serenity.

To achieve a serene state is the aim of many drug and alcohol addicts who seek help and wish to recover from their addictions. If we do not feel serene, we often feel agitated emotions instead, such as frustration or stress. This is common in addicts who feel out of control and therefore make bad decisions with poor judgement.

A person with an addiction also displays irrational behaviour, which stems from a lack of control. In asking for serenity through the Serenity Prayer, an addict can not only take back control, but also work on their emotions that in turn will lead to positive, calm actions and thoughts.

The wording of the Serenity Prayer is as follows:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


Accepting Change

The Serenity Prayer is all about accepting the present moment, and circumstances/events in life that you cannot change or influence. For an addict, this means overcoming negativity and feelings of anger from a lack of control, to focus on the present with a degree of calm neutrality. The prayer teaches that acceptance of failure is okay, and that once this acceptance has been made, so can progress. For an addict, accepting an addiction to drugs or alcohol that requires help and support through rehab is an important first step, which the prayer promotes.

Personal change is not an easy task, but the Serenity Prayer teaches an addict to focus on what they can change about themselves – i.e their behaviour and actions (in taking drugs/drinking excessively). It teaches that this change is perfectly do-able if the addict creates the right mindset to achieve it.

Change also involves sacrifice, and in this sense, sacrificing drugs and alcohol can lead to positive steps forward. An important part of change is to also limit self-analysis and blame. Rather than dwelling on who or what is to blame for an addiction, an addict must push this aside in order to clear their mind and focus on the task ahead – rehabilitation.

By taking personal ownership and responsibility for their actions without resentment, a person struggling with an addiction can find the determination within themselves to succeed and put the past behind them for good.

Moving Forward in Wisdom

The last sentence of the Serenity Prayer refers to wisdom. For a person to learn the difference between what they can and cannot change is to exercise logic and understanding, which gives them wisdom. By being unafraid to change their behaviour and actions, an addict can learn to make rational decisions that build on experience. The term ‘wisdom’ in the prayer also refers to faith. An addict must have faith in his or herself to successfully beat their addiction for good, and by reciting the Serenity Prayer and adhering to its ethos, he or she will unconsciously grow in wisdom through self-belief.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: January 13, 2022

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.