Religion, Addiction and Recovery

People from religious backgrounds such as Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others are known to suffer from addictions and other related disorders, indicating that religious belief, observance or practice does not guarantee immunity to addiction. However there is evidence to suggest it may offer some protection and may consequently be an important factor in recovery for some people.

Shame and guilt – a barrier to seeking help

People who have had a strong attachment to their faith, even though not currently observing its doctrines probably in part due to the addiction, struggle to admit to such problems and to seek help. This is because they know that the attitudes, behaviours and lifestyles associated with addiction run counter to the values which underpin their religion.

Shame and guilt are commonly experienced by people suffering from addiction but perhaps with greater intensity by those who retain some degree of religious affiliation and identity. This tends to lead to efforts to cover up the condition, which in turn postpones help-seeking, which in its turn risks a worsening of the addiction. The cover-up may be to ensure families are kept unaware although it is not uncommon for families who are aware of the problem to collude with secrecy out of a shame-based fear of social stigma.

Religion’s role in recovery

Researchers have discovered that spirituality and religious observance can improve health and the quality of life for many people. A mediating role in stress reduction seems to be one benefit. So while a faith may not protect a proportion of followers from becoming addicted, it may be something for some individuals with which to re-engage in order to advance and sustain their recovery. Among the recovering population are many people who report that religion and/or spirituality played a positive and even essential part in their recovery process.

Positive social networks and a renewed sense of meaning

One potential benefit is the community created in part by the religion. Positive social networks are known to enhance the chances of recovery, as is a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.  This is where the 12-Step programme espoused by mutual-aid fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous has much to offer. Despite their Christian antecedents they are not religious fellowships as such. They nonetheless offer a socially supportive approach to recovery that has a spiritual dimension, including the concept of a “higher power”. Christians and non-Christians alike, looking to recover from addiction, find this element alone complements their own religious affiliation.

An important contributing factor to a positive outcome is that the model of help provided should make sense to the person receiving it.  For this reason, people with a religious background may find a faith-based treatment service such as, for example, a Christian Treatment Centre or a recovery programme aligned with Islam suits and motivates them to recover.  High quality addiction treatment services that are non-denominational ordinarily make provision to enable an appropriate response to people of particular faiths.

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