Humans have long looked to faith for strength and support, especially during difficult times. Tons of people facing substance abuse and behavioral disorders have reported being able to find better outcomes with the aid of spirituality in addiction treatment.
Yet, science and clinical practice have always been slow to acknowledge and investigate this dimension of the human experience. This has been largely due to the fact that the experience is not easily defined or captured with the aid of traditional scientific measures.
In the last twenty to thirty years though, several groups of researchers have developed and tested viable instruments to assess the phenomenon of spirituality. A growing body of research on the subject has helped shed light on the construct, and lend greater insight into how a belief in spirituality in addiction treatment impacts program outcomes.
Although it may sound surprising, much of this research has demonstrated that spirituality can have a positive effect on addiction treatment outcomes. Belief in God, a higher power or even transcendence have been linked with better chances of recovery and lower risk of relapse.
While faith has always reserved a role in the lives of man, science may have something to add to that conversation now.
What Role Does Spirituality Play in Addiction Treatment?
Addiction is often described as a “sickness of the spirit”. In truth, when people struggle with substance abuses and behavioral disorders, they confess to being damaged in their spirit, mind and/or body.
Addiction is a psychological and emotional illness that reflects just as much on the mind and the spirit as it does on the body. While traditional treatment programs can usually deal very well with bodily damage, getting at the mind is often the trickier part.
Even when they are able to attempt treatment of the mind through psychological and emotional interventions, the spirit is often neglected, due to the elusive nature of spirituality.
Spirituality itself means different things to different people. Perhaps, this is the most difficult aspect of understanding the role that it plays in addiction treatment. Spirituality can mean faith to some, hope to others and religion to many more.
Brene Brown’s definition, perhaps, captured the best of it when she said: “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other, a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion, and that practicing Spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”
Although it can often be linked with religion, spirituality has a wider ambit. It is a much wider phenomenon that usually involves a keen awareness of self, people around one and a belief in either a higher purpose or a higher power.
While spirituality itself is difficult to fully describe, it has played a much greater role in addiction treatment than people suspect. Popular addiction treatment programs such as the AA 12-step program have deep religious foundations and tools.
AA meetings, for instance, start with one of the common variations of the serenity prayer. The best known version of the prayer reads: “God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”
Although this is only the short form of the prayer, it is easy to see the spiritual undertones that it has. In fact, the prayer was originally attributed to American theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr. Today, it has become popular in addiction treatment and it’s not hard to see why.
According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the prayer “perfectly expresses the central problem of addiction and prescribes a central solution”. By encouraging a focus on the things that one can affect and leaving the others to a higher power, people are encouraged to fight their addiction one small step at a time.
And it works. Studies show that higher levels of spirituality in patients have been associated with greater physical and mental health. Spirituality has been shown to be an independent predictor of positive outcomes and recovery in certain cases.
Other studies have connected length of sobriety to spirituality, and commitment to a higher power has been found to lessen the severity of relapse episodes. These studies show that spirituality does have a role to play in addiction treatment. How does it fulfil this role?
How Does Spirituality in Addiction Treatment Help Better Outcomes?
The question, for most scientific studies, has not really been whether spirituality is an important tool in addiction treatment. As far back as 1995, even the World Health Organization accepted that spirituality was an important component of quality of life.
The bigger question has always been the ability to measurably understand the role of spirituality in addiction treatment. Today, science can understand this role much better than before. Spirituality has been observed to help addiction treatment in the following areas:
- Coping Skills: There are several studies that suggest coping skills derived from spirituality help in addiction. For instance, individuals battling substance abuse disorders reported that spirituality was a source of “inner strength” that helped reduce “cravings”. Spirituality was found to facilitate abstinence following treatment. It helped patients better cope with the challenges and impulses associated with disorders.
- Quality of Life: Spirituality has been found to enhance health and quality of life. One study that reviewed 200+ other studies found that spiritually was linked with physical and functional status, reduced psychopathology and better emotional wellbeing. Patients with strong religious faith reported higher levels of life satisfaction, greater happiness and fewer negative psychosocial consequences, even after traumatic life events.
- Resiliency and Hardiness: This study found that spirituality provides resilience against uncertainty and life stressors. Exemplifying the “hardiness” that characterizes people with spirituality, another study found that non-spiritual people had lower quality of life and satisfaction than spiritual people.
- Recovery: Studies have documented the importance of spirituality to maintaining recovery. There is evidence that spirituality helps against remission among alcoholic individuals, helping to facilitate recovery and prevent relapse.
- Protection from substance abuse: Spirituality has also been found to act as a protective factor against addiction. Some studies associated spirituality with lower likelihood of substance use across life stages.
As the studies show, spirituality definitely has a role to play in addiction treatment. It is important for treatment programs to accept and understand this fact as a route to helping patients achieve better outcomes.
In much the same way that gender-specific treatment can help some individuals, spirituality themed programs can make the difference for specific groups. The weight of scientific evidence shows that even if spirituality will not work with the certainty of medication, there is enough to accept that it plays a large role achieving better outcomes.
At the Stonegate Center, our faith-based treatment programs do not neglect the value of spirituality and introspection on addiction treatment. Coupled with our first-rate facilities and dedicated personnel, our treatment program helps people achieve their best possible outcome. Contact us today at (817) 993-9733 to learn more about our services.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction as well as the pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center’s status at the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content creation. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.