The Spiritual Aspect of Recovery

Contending with drug or alcohol abuse or addiction can be a daunting process. It is something many people may find especially hard to do on their own. Both the treatment and recovery processes engage an individual on several levels—mental, emotional, physical, physiological, and spiritual.

Spirituality has an extensive history within the recovery process. Here, we further examine the role and influence spirituality may have on a person and their success, as they engage themselves on their recovery journey.

How Is Spirituality Traditionally Used Within Recovery?

Some purport that the reason people struggle with substance abuse and addiction is the need to fill a void with alcohol or drug use. Those that support this theory contend that if that void is filled with God or a belief in a Higher Power, the individual’s need to use will cease.

The most well-known and most notable program that utilizes spirituality as a main tenant is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In addition to AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) exists to help those that suffer from any drug addiction.

These programs seek to bring people together in a capacity that allows them to remain anonymous while seeking the support and fellowship of others that have also shared similar struggles with alcohol or drugs. These programs are based around The 12-Steps which outline clear and definitive principles and affirmations that are necessary to achieve sobriety. These steps place emphasis on social support and the reliance on a Higher Power.

According to their website, AA seeks to leave a person “having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps.” Their tenants urge individuals to believe that a power beyond them can restore their life through “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

They direct people to do this by acknowledging their flaws to God while becoming open and ready for God to remove those flaws. They suggest that you will solidify your understanding of God’s will through prayer or meditation. This will help you to obtain the strength and direction to fulfill God’s plan for your life.

They encourage people to achieve recovery by unlearning their destructive behaviors while drawing off the accountability and fellowship of those also following the protocol. By admitting you have no control over this illness, and relying on your spirituality, you may achieve a successful recovery.

The Success Of The 12-Step Program

An article published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment by Marc Galanter M.D., Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine examined the effectiveness of The 12-Steps; his findings “demonstrate that the outcome of the professionally grounded format of 12-step facilitation (TSF) is equivalent to approaches based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational treatment (MT).”

These programs encourage the following mindsets and behaviors to aid in the recovery journey:

  • Humility
  • Healing
  • Harmony
  • Serenity
  • Humbleness
  • A willingness to change
  • Accountability
  • Honesty
  • Forgiveness, both for self and others
  • Fellowship
  • Prayer or meditation

A large percentage of treatment facilities utilize The 12-Step approach they also place strict precedence on following this protocol after the program ends.

Can I Still Seek Treatment If I Don’t Believe In God?

Yes. Whether you choose to pursue a program that follows 12-Steps, or an alternative methodology, there is a program that is right for you.

For those that are considering The 12-Steps, know while these programs do require the admittance of a Higher Power, they can still be successful for those that have a different perspective of God. In fact, AA’s The Big Book states “when, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God.”

Thus, excluding programs that advertise to specific faiths, there is no required singular perspective or belief that is required. According to this book, they simply require participants “express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves.”

Spirituality has often been a common stumbling block for some individuals seeking treatment in a program that utilizes The 12-Steps. Despite this, there are many success stories of people that do not attend the traditionally held views or beliefs of God.

It is important to keep in mind that some facilities do adhere to certain convictions. These are designed to appeal to those that practice a certain faith or religion. Within these programs, there is a likelihood that an individual may be expected to engage or convert to that theology.

For those that practice an alternate faith, this may prove to be detrimental and impair their success towards recovery. For these reasons, it is important to research and consider what is important to you before deciding what program in which to commit your time and journey.

Choosing a recovery program or facility is a deeply personal choice and if you feel that your well-being would be best achieved in a secular program, there is a broad range of choices that do not involve spiritual precepts or a faith-based focus and engage their treatment in a non-12-step way.

Alternative Practices And Approaches

The good news is that this approach to recovery has broadened and changed to encompass the beliefs and lifestyles that are important to a wide variety of people. Whether it be a religion or a spiritual practice, there are countless programs that can engage an individual in the manner that will serve them best as they pursue health, wellness, and freedom from substance abuse.

While there are programs that represent most major religions, there are also programs that cater to a broader and holistic sense of spirituality. These programs may utilize meditation, Tai Chi, massage, yoga, hydrotherapy, organic diets, counseling, and an array of other methods to help treat and align the mental, emotional, and physiological aspects of a person’s life.

Is There A Difference Between Spirituality and Religion?

Though spirituality is elemental to religion, a person may have spirituality without religion. It is these deeply personal beliefs and convictions that are crucial towards helping a person reach their recovery goals. As a person contends with their addiction, it can be faith—either religious or spiritual—that allows them the accountability, hope, and humility to accept the help and commitment that is necessary for lasting sobriety.

An article published within The National Institutes of Health (NIH) concerning spirituality and religiousness cites this difference, derived from the Fetzer Institute: “religiousness has specific behavioral, social, doctrinal, and denominational characteristics because it involves a system of worship and doctrine that is shared within a group. Spirituality is concerned with the transcendent, addressing ultimate questions about life’s meaning, with the assumption that there is more to life than what we see or fully understand.”

For some, spirituality may not derive itself either wholly or in part from a certain doctrine or belief. However the important aspect is that it takes precedence within their life, and provides them with direction in a manner that can sustain and encourage them through their recovery.

How Does Spirituality Affect Substance Abuse And Recovery?

There have been numerous scientific studies that have sought to examine the relationship between spirituality, health, and recovery. It has been shown that spirituality can increase social support, reduce stress, improve the quality of life, reduce the instance of substance abuse, increase the chances of sobriety, and aid in healing and recovery times.

It appears that those who adhere to certain spiritual principles or precepts may be more successful. The NIH published an article that supports this theory, stating that “a growing body of empirical research supports the notion that religiousness and spirituality may enhance the likelihood of attaining and maintaining recovery from addictions, and recovering persons often report that religion and/or spirituality are critical factors in the recovery process.”

University of Michigan’s Health System spoke of research that their Addiction Research Center found, offering that “that many measures of spirituality tend to increase during alcohol recovery. They also demonstrate that those who experience increases in day-to-day spiritual experiences and their sense of purpose in life are most likely to be free of heavy drinking episodes six months later.”

Learn More Today

Contact us today for help finding a rehab that fits your spiritual needs.Whether it be a program that adheres to certain religious or spiritual tenets or not, there is a facility that can suit your unique needs. If you have any questions, or find that yourself or someone you love suffers from substance abuse or addiction, please don’t hesitate and reach out and contact us at to find the hope you need.