Spirituality and Addiction Treatment

Opioid use and addiction in the United States continues to exponentially rise to epidemic levels as illegal drugs such as heroin and the recreational use of prescription painkillers wreak havoc on American communities. While medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone are used in addiction treatment in conjunction with tradition treatment methods, research has also pointed to the addition of psychosocial and spiritual interventions for a more effective treatment.

There have been a few substantial studies on this important topic, one of them being Lake Ave Recovery’s Dr. James DiReda and co-author and fellow professor Jude Gonsalvez’s review of the role of spirituality in treating substance use disorders and restoring the balance of the mind, body and spirit. Their findings are based on a study sample of 50 men and women with substance use disorders, in a 30-day residential treatment program.

The concept of spirituality is vast and can take on many meanings. It can be described as “a fundamental human drive for transcendent meaning and purpose that involves connectedness with oneself, others, and an ultimate reality; or, a way to be”.  Spirituality has played vital role in treatment as well as long-term recovery success as it helps those in physical, emotional and spiritual pain reconnect with themselves and find their voice. One way this is said to be achieved is by connecting with a higher power or “a power greater than ourselves. A belief in a supreme being or a form of God offers people a sense of strength they don’t believe they possess on their own. It also helps with letting go of anger and resentment when putting their trust in that higher power.

Another strong spiritual connection in recovery can occur between family, friends or members of a support group. Spirituality is nurtured in community. The idea of the power of human connection has been prevalent throughout history, especially in times of sorrow or mourning and even celebration and joy. Humans thrive when sharing a vision or goal or when connecting based on a similar memory or experience.

The Journal of Addiction Medicine’s review on the use of psychosocial interventions in conjunction with medications for the treatment of opioid addiction showed that psychosocial tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, spirituality and religion and 12-step programs are a meaningful part of treatment with significant positive effects like increased program attendance and reduced drug use.

While the notion of spirituality has been studied, researched and even demonstrated to help those in substance use disorder recovery, it is, however, still not widely recognized as a proven practice. It is often discredited for being too vague as its effects are difficult to measure and prove.  Treatment programs that do not incorporate an aspect of spirituality miss out on the client forming a spiritual connection with themselves or another being or power. The authors believe abstinence alone is not enough to repair the damage substance use disorder takes on the psyche and soul.