This post written by Anne Meadows

Spirituality’s Role in Addiction Recovery

Addiction treatment programs focus very much on the biological and scientific explanations behind addiction and proven protocols for how to fix them.

PET scans show how dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward – has large and fast increases in response to drugs and alcohol that mimic those increases seen when people experience pleasure.  Dopamine induced by substances, however, has a much stronger and lasting effect.  It is this intense euphoric feeling that leads an addict into seeking out that substance again and again.

Medical Aspects of Drug Treatment

Medical detoxification from drugs or alcohol is, then, one of the first steps taken when a person enters a residential drug rehabilitation center.

Once the drug or alcohol is removed from the person’s system, medicines are given to ease any uncomfortable side-effects associated with withdrawal.  These are given over a number of days or weeks, depending on how long the person was addicted.  In the beginning, 24 hour nursing care is given to ensure that they are doing well and no serious adverse events are occurring.  Seizures and heart failure are two possible consequences of an unsupervised withdrawal.

Spirituality Matters

While counselling is provided to motivate patients in their continued sobriety, the role of spirituality in recovery may often be overlooked or thought of as contrary to scientific principle, but more and more doctors are recognising the importance of a holistic approach to drug detoxification and the influence this can have on a person’s success.

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is different things to different people.  For the religious it can be defined as a belief in God or a higher power. There are others who are ‘spiritual’ but not in a religious context and have a heightened sense of awareness or perception that they place meaning upon to help guide them through life.  Then there are atheists who have no ‘other world’ belief but who have their own set of morals and philosophy.

A person’s spiritual beliefs and experiences can be harnessed during times of great stress to help them find the motivation and strength to continue and succeed.

What Does Science Say about Spirituality?

Scientific research into spirituality and substance misuse shows that people who are highly spiritual or religious are less at risk of developing an addiction and generally drink less than their atheist counterparts but when they do become addicted, their belief can act as an antidote to the addiction and are more likely to remain abstinent after completing an addiction detox program.  Both atheists and those with a belief system have similar successes in their initial treatment plans, but those who report the experience of addiction and recovery as ‘spiritual’, an awakening or a gift and see the process as transformative are more likely to still be abstinent three years later.

The depth of a person’s spirituality is also tied in with the duration of the recovery.  People with deeply held beliefs recover faster, have lower levels of stress and are more optimistic and place greater meaning on their lives.

Findings like this have led to renewed interest in using spirituality to help people with addictions, through counselling that supports a person’s own personal interpretation of that and assists them in finding a more profound purpose.  Hospital chaplains could also have a role in this and provide an ear to listen or a non-judgemental opportunity for prayer.

Some rehab programs are bible based for those who want to gain support and comfort through scripture.  This type of emotional help is advantageous because it can continue when the person goes home.  Mentors are available to coach people leaving a residential program but this period of time is still high risk for getting stuck and having a relapse.  A bible can be taken home and used in a home setting, or if the person is not religious, a journal of thoughts, book of inspirational poetry or other passages that motivate them to keep up all of their good work and effort.

Utilizing alternative therapies such as meditation and guided visualization could also benefit and is increasingly being adopted by doctors in the mental health field.

It is clear that an integrated approach encompassing mind and body is a better way towards each individuals long term success at beating addiction.