Why Treat Addiction with Spirituality
Some people believe that addiction and spirituality are entirely unrelated. Addiction is a problem within the brain, and it can only be treated by using scientific principles. These people point to the double-blind studies conducted on the usefulness of psychiatric interventions such as CBT, DBT and Motivational Interviewing and medications like Subutex and Methadone.
While it is true that psychiatry can play a key role in treating addiction, and when used correctly medication can also help, many people in recovery find that these are not enough to maintain satisfying long term sobriety. These people can feel like there is “something missing”. When searching for this thing that is missing, people often stumble upon spirituality.
Often, these people find spirituality through 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These programs are often referred to as “paint by numbers spirituality”, and guarantee spiritual awakening to people who thoroughly do the work that is recommended to them.
What is spirituality?
Spirituality can be whatever you want it to be. Usually, though, it has at least one of these elements.
People who consider themselves spiritual often engage themselves in spiritual practices like prayer, yoga, personal reflection and meditation. These practices can:
Connect you with God. The ultimate intention of prayer and yoga, and sometimes meditation, is to increase connection with a God of the universe.
Free your mind. These practices can help you to unlock your mind so you see existence in a different way. Consistent practice is likely to make you see the universe more spiritually.
Reduce suffering. Spiritual practice can reduce your burden and have you feeling more lifted.
Increase your awareness. You may begin feeling more tuned in to what is happening around you if you engage in spiritual practice.
Reduce the chance of relapse. Spiritual practices can change your outlook on life and have you feeling more content, which in turn reduces the desire to drink or take drugs.
Belief in a higher power
While many deeply spiritual people do not believe in a higher power, there is a tendency for spiritual people to start “turning to God”. People who engage in spiritual practices like yoga and meditation often begin feeling the presence of something greater than themselves after they have been practicing for a while.
Spirituality and religion
Some people have a belief that spirituality is at odds with religion, however this is not necessarily the case.
Religion is an institution that prescribes spiritual practice as part of it. Often, the religion says that this is the only proper way of doing spiritual practice.
Spirituality, on the other hand, is more an individual journey. It is not completely divorced from religion, and many people who call themselves spiritual borrow elements of religion for their spiritual practice.
Members of 12 step fellowships often recite Christian prayers, read the ecstatic poetry of Sufi mystic Rumi, or go to Vipassana retreats at Buddhist monasteries. 12 step literature even alludes to “knowing when religious people are right”.
12 step fellowships, addiction and spirituality
Fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are the most common way that people get out of serious addiction. The programs involve going to “meetings”, meeting regularly with a sponsor, and going through the 12 steps.
The 12 steps not only help people who follow the program to recover from their addiction, they also help people have a spiritual awakening and get closer to a higher power. The reasoning for this is that the steps help you to “clear the wreckage of the past”. This helps you connect with your inner being. The fear, shame and guilt are swept away and the pathway to a power becomes clear.
12 steps and a higher power - addiction and spirituality
The concept of a higher power is integral to the 12 step process and 7 of the 12 steps of the program relate to a higher power. People who attend twelve step fellowships are encouraged to start praying, even if they do not experience anything at first. The reasoning for this is that you develop a relationship with a higher power through prayer.
Some people in recovery choose to believe in a traditional Judeo-Christian God, while others may choose to believe in nature, the universe or even the power of meetings. In AA and NA, newcomers who are struggling with the concept of God are sometimes encouraged to have the people in these rooms as their higher power. People in these fellowships claim that God can stand for “Group of Drunks” or “Group of Druggies”.
The most important thing is that this power is something that you see as being bigger and more powerful than yourself, and that you are willing to surrender your will to this power. Another way that addiction and spirituality can be considered opposites.
12 steps and spiritual principles - addiction and spirituality
Spiritual principles are the guidelines that help us to live a life that is in line with our spiritual beliefs. These principles can be useful for people even if they don’t consider themselves to be “spiritual”. The 12 steps of AA are based on spiritual principles, and these principles can be applied to any area of life, not just addiction recovery.
1) Honesty is about being truthful with yourself and others. It’s about living in alignment with your values, and being authentic in your interactions with the world.
2) Hope is about having faith that things will get better. It’s about believing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even when things are tough.
3) Faith is about trusting in something bigger than yourself. It’s about believing that there is a power at work in the universe that is greater than what you can see with your eyes.
4) Courage is about facing your fears head on. It’s about doing what is right, even when it’s hard.
5) Integrity is about being true to your word. It’s about living in a way that is consistent with your values.
6) Willingness is about being open to change. It’s about being receptive to new ideas and new ways of doing things.
7) Humility is about having reverence for life. It’s about recognizing that there is something greater than yourself, and that you are not the center of the universe.
8) Responsibility is about taking ownership of your actions. It’s about being accountable for your choices, and owning up to your mistakes.
9) Self-discipline is about controlling your thoughts, emotions and actions. It’s about making choices that are in alignment with your values, and following through on your commitments.
10) Service is about giving back. It’s about contributing to something larger than yourself, and making a difference in the world.
11) Perseverance is about never giving up. It’s about continuing to move forward, even when things are tough.
12) Spiritual Awakening is about experiencing a deep connection with God and the realisation of the interconnectedness of all things. It’s about seeing the world through new eyes and helping others to achieve the same.
While these principles may seem simple, they can be difficult to live by. Addiction recovery is a process, and it takes time to develop these principles in your life. However, if you are willing to put in the work, you will find that these principles can help you to live a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
While 12 step programs are deeply spiritual, they do not cause people to attempt to heal their addiction with spiritual bypass (more on that later). While belief in a higher power is crucial for participant in the program, the self-analysis aspects of the program keep 12 step participants firmly rooted in reality.
Spiritual principles - addiction and spirituality
In addiction, spiritual principles are the last thing on your mind. Your primary focus is trying to dampen your pain through substances and other addictions. This means that it is always about me, me, me.
In recovery, it is important for you to shift your awareness to include other people. This doesn’t mean neglecting yourself, but it does mean bearing in mind the feelings of others.
The spiritual principles outlined in 12 steps programs are honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, responsibility, self-discipline, service, perseverance and spiritual-awakening
By practicing these principles, you change your experience of the world around you. Your thoughts will be placed on a higher plain. You will begin attracting people who also live principled lives. You will feel more connected to yourself, to others, and maybe to a higher power.
This connection is vital in recovery from addiction and it can be argued that connection is actually the opposite of addiction.
Dangers of spiritual bypass - addiction and spirituality
While engaging in spiritual practice as part of a holistic program of recovery, if your recovery program only consists of spiritual practice, you are at risk of spiritual bypass.
Spiritual bypass is when people use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional problems and psychological wounds. If you begin spiritual bypassing, you may believe that the problems in your life are caused solely by your astrology chart or karma.
Spiritual bypass also involves using spiritual practices like meditation or yoga to still the mind, instead of addressing the issues in your life head on.
If you have been through trauma in your life, you can tackle it by engaging in psychotherapy or by using a healing modality like TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
Spirituality and mental health
Spirituality can help you to find meaning and purpose in your life, even when you are struggling with mental health problems. It can provide you with a sense of hope, and help you to connect with something bigger than yourself. Spirituality can also help us to develop a healthy self-identity, and to feel more connected to others.
If you are struggling with mental health problems, it can be easy to feel like you are alone in your struggle. However, spirituality can help you to remember that you are not alone, and that there is a power that is here to help.
Spirituality can also help you to develop a support network of other people who are going through similar struggles. Many people find in this in the rooms of the various 12 step fellowships. It can be incredibly powerful to be around people who have been through the same experiences you have been through and have overcome the same struggles.
What does surrendering to God mean?
When we talk about surrendering to a God, what we are really talking about is giving up our own will and submitting to the will of a God. This doesn't mean that we become doormats or that we stop thinking for ourselves. Rather, it means that we align our own will with the will of the power we believe in.
In order to do this, we first need to have a relationship with God. This relationship can be developed through prayer and meditation. Once we have established a connection with a God of our own belief, we then need to start listening for His or Her guidance. This guidance can come in the form of our intuition or gut feelings. It can also come in the form of outer signs and synchronicities.
The key to surrendering to God is to trust that they knows what is best for us, even when we don't. This can be a difficult thing to do, especially when we are going through tough times. However, if we can learn to surrender our own will to the will of a God, we will often find that our lives will start to fall into place.
One of the most important things to remember about surrendering to God is that He or She will never ask us to do something that is against our own nature. Therefore, we can trust that whatever we are asked to do will be for our highest good.
Addiction and spirituality are the polar opposite
The 12 step program is program of recovery that helps you to get back in touch with your spiritual side. Doing this fills the void that you may feel after getting clean, and allows you to experience a fulfilling way of life. A life that is motivated by spiritual principles.
Beware of spiritual bypassing in addiction recovery, as while spiritual practices and ideas can be of immense benefit in recovery, it is important to stay rooted in reality. If you have problems that need to be addressed, do not just rely on spirituality to solve them. You have to do the work, too and this often involves working with addiction professionals.
8 benefits of spiritual growth in addiction recovery
- The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1526775/
- Thoughts on the interaction of trauma, addiction and spirituality:https://www.scranton.edu/faculty/morgan/PDF/Thoughts%20on%20the%20Interaction%20of%20Trauma,%20Addiction,%20and%20Spirituality.pdf
- Religious and spiritual beliefs and attitudes towards addiction and addiction treatment: A scoping review:https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352853221000560