Spirituality and recovery have long been linked. In fact, until recently, addiction recovery programs have almost always included some aspects of spirituality. And despite the fact that secular options are more accessible these days, many people still gravitate towards options that weave spirituality into the healing and recovery process.
So, let’s explore just why spirituality in recovery matters for so many people. What is the connection between spirituality and addiction, and how does it help with recovery?
We will also delve into who benefits the most from spirituality-based programs, while taking a look at some of the secular options as well. It is important to keep in mind that spirituality means different things to different people, and that the belief in a higher power isn’t always a central element.
What Is Spirituality?
Spirituality comes in many forms. Some see it as a belief in God and participation in organized religion. For others, spirituality primarily means non-religious experiences—such as quiet reflection, time in nature, private prayer, yoga, or meditation.
Many of us identify as spiritual but not religious. The percentage of adults who identify as religious is decreasing in many industrialized countries. However, even in the face of declining religious affiliation, the role of spirituality may remain steady, or even increase.1
It seems safe to say that, although many people don’t feel comfortable belonging to a formal religious community or following traditional teachings, they may seek peace, comfort, and healing through other spiritual practices. And these practices may aid in their addiction recovery journey.
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How Does Spirituality Fit Into Recovery?
When we think of spirituality and addiction recovery, it is often Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-step programs that come to mind—many of which mention God. In its original form, AA included Christian-based prayer. However, the group has evolved and become more inclusive to other religions, as well as to people who are non-religious or atheist.
A 2017 review examined AA recovery outcomes. In particular, researchers looked at the role of spirituality in boosting a person’s confidence in their sobriety when faced with challenging situations or emotional distress. The results suggested that AA’s positive outcomes are most strongly linked with the community support involved in the program. However, spirituality likely plays a role in the program’s success for some people.2
Another study from the American Psychological Association linked spirituality to increased coping skills, greater stress resilience, lower anxiety, and a more optimistic outlook. In general, there is a good amount of evidence that religious faith or spirituality bolster a person’s well-being.3
Looking beyond AA, or recovery programs offered through religious organizations, spirituality can come in many forms. The idea is to find the peace, serenity, and self-compassion that will allow you to foster the acceptance and resilience needed for recovery.
Read more: Does AA Work For Everyone?
Benefits of Spirituality in Recovery
Although spirituality in recovery isn’t required or preferred by everyone seeking a treatment program, there are many benefits to be found.
For some, this means finding strength in the presence of God. For others, it may mean meditating throughout the day to stay centered. Either way, the practice of spirituality can increase resilience to the stress and pain that is part of life. This resilience can reduce the need to turn to substances as a coping mechanism.
The desire to connect with others is a human need. Acceptance, validation, and belonging are essential to each of us. Being part of a religious or spiritual community allows people to give and receive support to and from others. These relationships can bolster and encourage us, and are often vital to the recovery process.
Faith in a higher power or something bigger than ourselves can reduce the hopelessness that people with addiction often experience. It can provide a sense of purpose which is the fuel for living. Spiritual practice allows people to feel like a part of something sacred. It’s one way to feel worthy and whole without substances.
The recovery process is largely about self-healing. It involves building self-compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance. Engaging in any kind of spiritual practice on a regular basis can help foster this positive connection with oneself, and strengthen one’s ability to cope with life’s challenges and hardships.
Spiritual practice can help us find gratitude. Whether we believe that a higher power grants us the gift of life each day, or simply feel the awe of the ocean and the stars, we can find gratitude. Feeling grateful and valuing life is a key element in the recovery process for many people.
Why Some People Prefer Secular Recovery
Needless to say, we all walk our unique paths in life, and the road to recovery can look different for everyone. Some people prefer not to include a higher power in their addiction recovery, and would rather choose a secular recovery approach.
There are good reasons for this. Some people grew up feeling that religion was forced upon them, or even experienced related trauma. For them, faith-based recovery may be triggering, and therefore counter-productive. In these cases, secular or evidence-based programs may be a better fit for them.
One such option is the Sinclair Method (TSM). This method utilizes a science-based approach, using the medication naltrexone to help people end their craving for alcohol by changing their brain chemistry. TSM has a 78 percent success rate, and may actually “cure” addiction for some people when used properly (something long considered impossible, especially within the AA community).
Another secular option is the SMART Program. SMART stands for “Self-Management and Recovery Training.” Like AA, it involves group and peer-based support, but without requiring the belief in a higher power. The program focuses on resiliency and allyship, where people already in recovery help others learn the skills they need to find their own path to a better life.
Should You Incorporate Spirituality Into Your Recovery Journey?
Whether or not to incorporate spirituality into your recovery journey is purely an individual and personal choice. Different people have had success with different options. For some, there may be trial and error before finding the best approach. The most important thing is finding what works effectively and feels most comfortable for you.
If you are looking for convenient and flexible options for alcohol treatment, Ria Health offers an individualized online program—including medication, coaching, group support, recovery skill development, and digital tools. Care happens through an app on your smartphone—so you can work with our qualified team from the comfort of your home, on your schedule. Learn more about our approach today.