Religion/Spirituality in Substance Abuse Prevention & Recovery
Many religious traditions value the body and encourage their members to care for their health and that of others; religious beliefs have been shown to decrease the chances of substance abuse in these populations. Both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous include spirituality as part of their recovery process. Additionally, there are numerous rehabilitation facilities and recovery programs that are designed for members of specific faith-based communities, and Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and other religion-based support groups can be found across the country. But what is the association between substance abuse prevention and religion, faith, or spirituality? Additionally, what do religion, faith, and/or spirituality contribute to the recovery process for addicts and their families?
Defining the Terms
Religion is characterized by a clearly defined set of values that are shared by a group of believers. The concept of spirituality is general and is not limited to a particular religion; therefore, spirituality is usually a personal, individualized experience. In the Narcotics Anonymous context, spirituality includes a number of principles such as honesty, respect, and open-mindedness. Spirituality acknowledges a feeling of being connected to something greater, which may or may not make the individual feel more connected with others.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), having a religious affiliation has been shown to be a protective factor against substance abuse. In other words, people who belong to a religious group are less likely to begin using substances than their non-religious counterparts. For example, in the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 2.9% of individuals who had attended 25 or more religious services in the past year had also used illicit substances in the past month in contrast to 10.1% of those who had attended fewer than 25 services in the past year. The participants who indicated that religious beliefs play an important role in their decision-making processes were less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or administer illicit substances than those who were less conscious of religion in their decision-making.
According to “So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion, and Spirituality,” a research paper published by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, people who successfully recover from substance addictions are usually more spiritual than their counterparts who relapse. Additionally, individuals who are recovering from addictions to substances are encouraged to participate in regular group or individual therapy sessions. These sessions often emphasize the complete healing of the individual – mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Many religious communities emphasize values like respect, forgiveness, and honesty. Some religions have specific prohibitions against the use of alcohol and other intoxicating substances. Religious communities share similar values; being part of this type of supportive group, especially one that discourages substance use based on religious values, can be helpful to a recovering addict and their family and friends. Feeling accepted, forgiven, and a sense of hope for the future can also be important to the recovery process. Finally, developing faith may fill the void that is left when the person stops using substances.