Many addiction programs incorporate faith into the substance abuse treatment process. Wondering to what degree spiritually factors into addiction and recovery? The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. Here’s a closer look at the issue.
Addiction and Spirituality
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the world’s oldest and largest alcohol support group. When it was founded in the 1930s, it was based on the proposition that alcoholism was a disease of the body, mind, and soul. Said AA co-founder Bill W. of the people afflicted by substance abuse: “[They] have not only been mentally and physically ill, [they] have been spiritually sick.”
Both in the case of AA and also at large, many people mistakenly believe that “spirituality” equates to religion. This misunderstanding can be confounded by the fact that AA meetings often happen in church facilities and also by the fact that some meetings close with a prayer.
However, it’s important to note that from its very beginnings, AA’s sole mission was focused on promoting sobriety for as many people as possible. While for some people this may mean becoming involved or reinvolved with organized religion, spirituality means something entirely different for others, whether it be a “God of their own understanding” or the AA group itself.
A Sensitive Subject
Depending on a person’s unique and individual belief system, treatment which incorporates a spiritual element may or may not be beneficial. Specifically, a growing body of evidence suggests that spirituality can be “a significant and independent predictor of recovery and/or improvement in indices of treatment outcome,” according to research published in the journal Substance Use Misuse.
Furthermore, according to a focus-group study on spirituality and substance abuse treatment, integrating a voluntary spiritual discussion into formal treatment is also desirable by people in treatment. The keyword here is “voluntary.” In addition to being allowed to waive the right to attend spiritual discussions, participants also expressed the desire for the neutral use of the term “spirituality.” Explained one participant: “Regardless of what religion anybody is, our problems are still the same…it would be about how our higher power is related to our addiction, it wouldn’t be about Jesus or God.”
Of all the participants, only one expressed opposition to the idea of incorporating a spiritual component into treatment. “I don’t think having spirituality as part of this program would make my recovery more successful—it’s that relationship that you establish where you get honest with yourself, it’s all with yourself,” he said.
This position is echoed by a Lance Dodes, M.D., for Psychology Today. His assertion is that treating addiction as a spiritual problem can be painful to many people and therefore can be detrimental to recovery.
The takeaway? As with all facets of substance abuse treatment, embracing the spiritual aspects of addiction is highly personalized. Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack of them), it may be the case that acknowledging a higher power can support your recovery, or it may be the case that it won’t. This underscores the importance of targeted addiction recovery treatment.
For more than 50 years, St. Louis area rehab Harris House has been providing targeted treatment for people struggling with addiction. Contact us today to learn more about our programs.