Study: Spirituality Helpful against Drink and Drugs

The 12-step approach to alcoholism developed by Alcoholics Anonymous back in the 1930s has been successfully used in addiction recovery for generations. However, it involves a spiritual component that some experts say really need not be included. A recent study released from Baylor University (Waco, Texas, USA) says otherwise. Their research shows that spirituality can be very helpful in the fight against drink and drugs.

Baylor researchers studied 195 juvenile offenders who were referred to residential treatment by a court, mental health professional, or physician. The subjects were interviewed at both the commencement and completion of their eight-week treatments. Researchers also reviewed medical charts as well as speaking to therapists, parents, and others.

Researchers compiled data relating to alcohol and drug use, cravings for alcohol or drugs, pro-social (as opposed to anti-social) behaviour, and narcissistic attitudes. They concluded the following:

  • 40% identifying as atheistic or agnostic at the start of treatment identified as spiritual or religious at the conclusion
  • daily spiritual exercises while in treatment reduced the likelihood of future narcissistic behaviour and sexual promiscuity while increasing pro-social behaviour
  • recovering addicts who felt a connection to a ‘higher power’ experienced less of a desire for drugs or alcohol. 

The research concluded that a spiritual component in recovery could be helpful to changing the attitudes and decision-making processes of recovering addicts. It also suggested that the same might be true as a means of preventing substance abuse before it starts.

Whatever Works

It is common for any study of drug and alcohol addiction recovery to have both its proponents and critics. In the case of the Baylor research, there will be those who support the conclusions to the extent of insisting every recovery programme include a spiritual component. There will be those on the other side who will continue insisting that the spiritual component should be avoided. In the end, it comes down to whatever works.

The traditional 12-step approach has been hugely successful for both drug and alcohol abusers since its inception. However, there are adaptations of the 12-step programme that exclude the spiritual component. These have shown to be equally successful. The one thing all of the programmes have in common is some means of changing the thoughts and attitudes of recovering addicts.

The point of recovery is to help the individual come to terms with the fact that he or she alone is responsible for addictive behaviour. Once that mountain has been conquered, therapists can then teach individuals effective strategies to avoid future temptations. The combination of personal responsibility and effective life skill strategies ultimately leads to recovery. Whether or not treatment includes a spiritual component is not as important as long as the other two targets are achieved.

Having said that, offering a spiritual component is one way to give a recovering addict a sense of purpose and meaning. That may be why it works for some people.

Recovering addicts often talk of having no real reason for living, other than to get drunk or high. Many of them are at the point of absolute despair by the time they enter residential rehab. Connecting them with spirituality can give some sense of purpose and meaning above their own existence and, in so doing, give them a real reason to recover.

Addiction Helper is a firm believer in bespoke treatments tailored to each individual. We are here to help you find the treatment you need, with or without spirituality. Please feel free to call our addiction recovery helpline right now if you are struggling with drugs or alcohol.


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