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February 5, 2016

The Role of Spirituality in Recovery

Maybe you’ve always been a religious person, devoted to your faith. Or perhaps you never, or only occasionally, go to church. Either way, spirituality can help guide you in your recovery from addiction. Spirituality has been a central part of drug and alcohol addiction treatment in the United States for a long time, and it plays an important role in healing and recovery for many people today.

Spirituality is a complex term. Formal religion is more concrete, defined by specific doctrines and traditions. People who describe themselves as religious usually follow a particular set of beliefs and identify with a group of people who share those beliefs. Spirituality is more fluid and includes a search for meaning and a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. People who define themselves as spiritual may not have a specific set of religious beliefs, but rather pick and choose from a few different ones that speak to them. Spirituality and religion do share some common ground in that they both bring comfort, reflection and a set of ethics to people who practice them.

When it comes to addiction recovery, spirituality gives recovering addicts guidance and support when they have nowhere else to turn. It also provides a break with past behavior, enabling the addict to seek connection with a higher power and leave the past behind. Many recovering addicts have a history of reprehensible acts. They’ve lied to loved ones, stolen from friends, and broken hearts. The “spiritual awakening” within a 12-step programs can provide the fresh start that is so important to healing. Spirituality gives recovering addicts a base of connection with love and forgiveness from which to re-start their new sober lives.

There is some controversy surrounding the role of spirituality in recovery, however. Some people disagree with using spirituality as part of recovery, saying it alienates people who do not have a religious connection. But research has shown that finding a link to a higher power and a deeper sense of self is helpful on the road to recovery from addiction. The 12 steps are based on spiritual principles. Studies have shown that those who take part in some version of the 12 steps are more successful in staying sober than those who do not.

Looking more deeply, here are some of the specific ways spirituality can help in recovery from addiction:

Spirituality provides a Higher Power.

The 12-step program uses the idea of a Higher Power, a useful tool a recovering addict can use in times of stress. It is something that is present and accessible when they have no means of human support.

Spirituality in addiction treatment can take many forms.

Most 12-step programs use the idea of God as their base, but some treatment programs include other spiritual practices as well. For example, meditation, typically used in Eastern religions, can help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress in people recovering from alcohol and drug abuse.

Spirituality develops meaning and purpose.

Coming from a dysfunctional purpose in life—drug or alcohol abuse—spirituality gives recovering addicts new personal meaning and purpose. In the difficult post treatment period, it gives them something to live for and strive for.

Spirituality can support physical and emotional balance.

In drug and alcohol treatment programs that take a more holistic approach, spirituality may be defined more loosely. In these programs, spirituality can provide a way for recovering addicts to explore exactly what spirituality means to them.

Spirituality can also help the non-spiritual.

Some people prefer not to use spirituality as part of their addiction treatment. These individuals can still use some of the positive parts of spiritual healing, however. These aspects include developing a clear definition of right and wrong; life balance; forgiveness; fostering unique strengths and talents; and becoming more aware of one’s needs and sense of self.

12-step meeting attendees are often told “choose to do the next right thing, even when no one is watching.” Spirituality may not be a cure for addiction for some, but it can help those recovering from drug or alcohol abuse to deal with challenges and stresses in a different, more positive way.

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