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Spirit Matters: The Role of Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

The disease of dependency isn’t just about the physiological mechanisms of addiction. Rather, it’s an all-consuming progression. Whether the addiction is to alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex, or what have you, the trajectory is the same. The substance or the behavior will increasingly impact your body, mind, and spirit. Addiction may devour your whole world so that there is nothing left for you beyond it.

But it does not have to be that way. Hope prevails. There are many paths out of the clutches of dependency. And, for many, the path of spirituality is also one of the most important paths through the darkness of addiction.

Spirituality versus Religiosity

Spirituality and religiosity are often wrongly assumed to be virtually synonymous. That misperception can be problematic for those in recovery because they may spurn an important tool, spirituality, because they conflate it with religiosity.

To be sure, religious faith and practice play a pivotal role in the lives of millions of people across the United States and around the world. Nevertheless, studies show that the number of people self-identifying as spiritual but not religious is rapidly increasing (1, 2). That’s a crucial distinction that, if not addressed and clarified, may well deprive those in recovery of important spiritual tools that could help them get, and stay, sober (2).

Mind and Body

The benefits of spirituality in addiction recovery extend beyond the spiritual itself. In fact, the evidence to support the psychological and behavioral impacts of spirituality is vast and growing. Spiritual practices, such as meditation and prayer, for instance, form the cornerstone of some of the world’s most successful addiction recovery programs, the most notable of which, perhaps, is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

In their study of AA members’ spiritual practices, Kelly et al. found that sobriety and spirituality were strongly linked. More specifically, the researchers found that AA members who exhibited an enhancement of their own spiritual practices and beliefs were also more likely to remain sober than those who experience no such deepening of their spirituality (9). Presumably, this can be attributed to both the psychological and behavioral shifts that occur when you incorporate spirituality into your recovery.

For instance, if you integrate meditation and prayer into your daily regimen and, especially if you turn to these behaviors when cravings come or triggers threaten, then you will be better equipped to abstain. This may be linked to the fact that research shows that addiction often goes hand-in-hand with psychological comorbidities, particularly anxiety and depression.  Spiritual practices, including rhythmic chanting and the attainment of so-called “mystical states”, have been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression while increasing one’s sense of interconnectedness and meaning in life (10, 11, 12). When you are experiencing cravings or battling powerful triggers, it’s that sense of connection and meaning that can give you something to hang on to when other tools, other reasons to remain sober, seem to have faded away.

In addition to supporting the sobriety of those experiencing anxiety and depression, spiritual practices have also been shown to benefit those who have experienced trauma (13). Haroosh and Freedman found that the integration of spirituality helped those in recovery experience what they term “posttraumatic growth,” which they define as the integration of the experience of addiction and recovery into a positive self-concept. Addiction and recovery as posttraumatic growth, the researchers suggest, speaks to the recovery process as a sort of spiritual awakening and expansion, a process through which you learn not only how to overcome adversity but to use it for your own good and for the good of others.

A Sense of Connection

One of the most lethal aspects of the disease of addiction is the inherent isolation it instigates. Dependency conquers its targets first by damaging the ties that mean the most to them, eroding family ties, and undermining the bonds of friendship.

Those close relationships are not all that the disease of addiction tries to steal. It also cuts you off from your sense of connection to anything beyond yourself and your disease. That includes your sense of belonging to a community, to the human family, and to spirit, whether you choose to define that as God, the universe, soul, or simply love.

Spirituality, though, is profoundly important in restoring that sense of meaningful connection, that sense of relationship not only with other human beings but also with a force greater than yourself (3). This sense of restoration and reconnection is often a critical first step in regaining a sense of identity beyond the identity of addiction (4, 5, 6).

After all, when you are feeling lost, disconnected, and alone, it’s not difficult to let the addiction begin to both define you and determine your worth. Cultivating spirituality, on the other hand, can help remind you of who and what you are, and that is something far more valuable than a vulnerable body and mind experiencing addiction (7). It’s a soul and a spirit inside of the body, and those have meaning, worth, and value that dependency can never touch and never cheapen.

The Spirit of Service

The restoration of both spiritual and human connections through the cultivation of spirituality helps those facing addiction remember they are souls and spirits worthy of love and care, but it also does more. Because when you connect with spirituality, you not only remember, or learn for the first time, how to see the value of your own life, but also how to appreciate, value, and serve others.

A spirit of love for and service of others is a powerful antidote to the loneliness and isolation of addiction. Indeed, in their study of drug and alcohol dependent adolescents enrolled in court-ordered addiction recovery programs, Lee et al. found that teens who engaged in humanitarian service programs developed a deepened sense of “divine love” that, in turn, helped them to remain in recovery (8). The researchers found, more specifically, that those who were actively engaged in helping others were not only far less likely to relapse but they were also unlikely to re-offend.

How Bayshore Can Help

At Bayshore, we seek to serve the human, not the disease. This includes recognizing and honoring the whole person, mind, body, and spirit. Our multidisciplinary team of addiction specialists and our clinical team supports you and can help you connect to spiritual advisors in the cultivation of your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being on your own terms and in your own way. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you build a recovery program that nurtures all of who you are: head, heart, and soul.

At Bayshore Retreat we have extensive knowledge in treating substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues. We understand that Mental Health Disorders can be the root cause of substance abuse. We use the latest scientific research and holistic approach for drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

  2. Schoenthaler, S. J., Blum, K., Braverman, E. R., Giordano, J., Thompson, B., Oscar-Berman, M., Badgaiyan, R. D., Madigan, M. A., Dushaj, K., Li, M., Demotrovics, Z., Waite, R. L., & Gold, M. S. (2015). NIDA-Drug Addiction Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS) Relapse as a Function of Spirituality/Religiosity. Journal of reward deficiency syndrome, 1(1), 36–45.
  3. Kruk, E., & Sandberg, K. (2013). A home for body and soul: substance using women in recovery. Harm reduction journal, 10, 39.
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  7. Kruk, E., & Sandberg, K. (2013). A home for body and soul: substance using women in recovery. Harm reduction journal, 10, 39.
  8. Lee, M. T., Pagano, M. E., Johnson, B. R., & Post, S. G. (2016). Love and Service in Adolescent Addiction Recovery. Alcoholism treatment quarterly, 34(2), 197–222.
  9. Kelly, J. F., Stout, R. L., Magill, M., Tonigan, J. S., & Pagano, M. E. (2011). Spirituality in recovery: a lagged mediational analysis of alcoholics anonymous’ principal theoretical mechanism of behavior change. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 35(3), 454–463.
  10. McClintock, C. H., Anderson, M., Svob, C., Wickramaratne, P., Neugebauer, R., Miller, L., & Weissman, M. M. (2019). Multidimensional understanding of religiosity/spirituality: relationship to major depression and familial risk. Psychological medicine, 49(14), 2379–2388.
  11. Bamonti, P., Lombardi, S., Duberstein, P. R., King, D. A., & Van Orden, K. A. (2016). Spirituality attenuates the association between depression symptom severity and meaning in life. Aging & mental health, 20(5), 494–499.
  12. Perry, G., Polito, V., & Thompson, W. F. (2021). Rhythmic Chanting and Mystical States across Traditions. Brain sciences, 11(1), 101.
  13. Haroosh, E., & Freedman, S. (2017). Posttraumatic growth and recovery from addiction. European journal of psychotraumatology, 8(1), 1369832.
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