Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex disease. It takes a heavy toll on your body and your mind. But have you ever considered how much of a toll it takes on your spirit? A successful recovery from addiction depends on physical, mental, and spiritual recovery from addiction and repairing the connections between the three.
Although there hasn’t been a lot of research in this area, spirituality has proved to be an important and independent predictor of recovery and improvement in treatment outcomes. People recovering from addictions often report that spirituality has a positive effect. However, it needs to be acknowledged that it might be a sensitive issue for people who don’t consider themselves to be religious.
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What Is Meant By Spirituality?
The idea of spirituality has been around for a while and has had a wide variety of definitions and played a part in the lives of many people. Consider these explanations:
- In ancient Greece, it was considered a form of therapy. It was a place where people went to find relief from pain and distress.
- These days, people describe it as a basic human drive for meaning and purpose that makes us feel connected to ourselves, other people, and finally, to reality.
- Another common definition is that it is our breath, our life essence, and therefore, who we are.
- And the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Bill Wilson described spirituality as a belief in a power or force greater than what we are as individuals. We are all connected in some cosmic and universal way.
Spirituality During Recovery
People in recovery frequently see and hear the word “spirituality.” During recovery, it refers to getting in touch with the part of human existence that is outside your domain. It could be considered an exploration of your individual relationship with the larger universe and reaching out to something bigger than you are. So what are some effects of this personal exploration?
Effects of Spirituality in Recovery
- It has been seen that levels of spirituality increase between the time the person enters treatment until their recovery and release from treatment.
- Spirituality might be greater in people whose recovery has been successful as compared to those who have experienced a relapse.
- The length of time remaining abstinent has also been positively linked to spirituality.
- Commitment to a “higher power” may lessen the severity of relapses.
- Individuals in recovery often report spirituality as an important part of their recovery and help them preserve the positive changes made during their treatment.
What’s The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?
Studies of spirituality frequently try to explain the difference between spirituality and religion. Religion is often described as a standard set of beliefs, rituals, and practices. They typically follow a belief system through which an individual can develop a relationship with God.
On the other hand, spirituality is thought to be more like an exploration for something beyond the “self” to connect to. It is experienced as being of basic and ultimate importance. In this way, it is more concerned with the meaning and purpose of life, truth, and values.
Research conducted by the New Hope Recovery Center found that spirituality gives perspective, meaning, and purpose to life. In short, spirituality restores what addiction has taken away. Despite the many definitions, studies reveal that spirituality generally involves individuals who are trying to make sense of their life situations and to give them meaning and purpose.
The Role of Spirituality in Addiction Recovery
There is much more to SUD than chemical dependence. Chemical dependence is what keeps the person’s brain and body addicted to drugs or alcohol. But if that was all there is to addiction, there would be no such thing as relapse. An addicted individual could go through detox and that would be all there is to it. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as easy as that.
For any number of reasons, people return to substance abuse after days or even years of abstinence. There are many schools of thought about addiction treatment, but many people believe a spiritual aspect is needed for long-term recovery. The theory is that without spirituality, people are more likely to lose hope for their future, give up, and relapse back to their addiction.
Among individuals recovering from substance use, a study found that higher levels of spirituality and religious faith were tied to several positive mental health results. This includes more optimism about life and better recovery from stress. This can contribute to the recovery process.
The study involved 236 people who were recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. This is the largest self-reporting study ever done that looked at the relationship between religious faith, spirituality, and mental health outcomes in people who were in recovery from SUD.
The study found that greater spirituality and religious faith were associated with:
- Increased ability to cope
- More resilience to stress
- An optimistic outlook on life
- A greater perception of social support
- Lower anxiety levels
In addition, it found that people in recovery tend to report high levels of religious faith and church association. Conversely, they also tend to describe themselves as being more spiritual than religious. As a result, it appears that spirituality and religiousness have different healing benefits for different people recovering from substance abuse. It suggests that spirituality supports a more optimistic outlook on life and religious faith acts as a stress buffer. In the end, the theory of spirituality and why it is different from religion is still unclear.
The Holistic Approach to Spirituality and Addiction Recovery
In the early days of substance abuse treatment, it was mainly about detoxification. Once the body was cleared of toxins from drugs or alcohol, the newly sober patient was sent out on their own to fend for themselves. Thankfully, it was eventually discovered that psychological treatment was necessary for recovery.
Consequently, several types of counseling were practiced including behavioral therapies and psychotherapy (talk therapy). More recently, treatment centers have started putting holistic therapies into practice. In this approach, the physical, emotional, and spiritual sides of the recovering addict are interdependent and addressed in treatment.
The holistic method believes that all parts of a person are linked. When something affects one part of the person, it also affects the other parts. For instance, if you don’t exercise regularly it might affect your mood and slow your spiritual progress. Likewise, having a cup of coffee with a friend can improve your mood and make you more motivated to exercise or meditate.
Improving Your Spiritual Recovery
Here are 7 suggestions for linking spirituality and addiction recovery:
- Having a Sense of Purpose
Research has shown that when a person has a bigger focus or purpose in life, that purpose has a beneficial effect on the outcome of their treatment. Seeing the “big picture” can be a huge advantage for a successful recovery.
- Contribute to Others
It has been found that giving to others can actually make you feel better. You can help yourself by helping others. Additionally, you get outside your own head and insecurities when you are busy doing something for someone else.
- Include Mindfulness and Meditation in Your Recovery
Mindfulness and meditation have been found to improve treatment results. Meditation releases muscle tension and reduces the heart rate and blood pressure. Mindfulness means living in the present moment and not thinking about the past or the future. This helps center and focus your thoughts while reducing stress.
- Connecting to Something Greater
One of the effects of addiction is social isolation. Therefore, helping an isolated people to realize that they are not alone when they’re by themselves is a spiritual idea that helps many addicts. Isolation can drive a person farther into their addiction. For those people who don’t believe in a God, finding something even greater is still possible as long as they have an open mind, meditate or pray, help others, and keep seeking something bigger than themselves.
- Settle into a Community
Addiction is isolating and lonely. A big step in getting your life back is finding your way back to being in a community of people who are just going about daily life. Connecting with a community and building relationships with others are important early steps in recovery.
- Pursue Gratitude
Concentrating on and being grateful for the things you have can bring a sense of positivity to your life. Besides experiencing positive emotions, practicing gratitude is linked with physical muscle relaxation. People who are grateful are less depressed and stressed and feel a greater sense of belonging.
Taking responsibility for your actions, to your higher power, or to your own sense of right or wrong helps a person stay on course in their recovery. It also helps you be a more purposeful and productive member of your community. Remaining honest with your loved ones and yourself helps keep you accountable.
Four Elements of Addiction Treatment
Each of these elements has been helpful in the search for a way to deal with addiction problems. And focusing on only one or another to find an answer is an insufficient approach. Looking for one main cause for all addictions overlooks the fact that all parts matter and that every person is unique. Still, there is value in each of the elements, and parts of each one can be used to make a difference for people in recovery.
The four elements are:
- Religion and spirituality
- Psychotherapists and traumatists (focused on traumas)
- Neuroscientists and biologists
- Environmentalists and social scientists
Spiritual growth includes a connection to people, the world, and a higher purpose than oneself. Also, it includes values like faith, trust, respect, self-expression, and self-respect. These things are necessary for an addict who is probably struggling with self-esteem and isolation. But when dealing with substance abuse, a complex solution that includes all four components is needed. Not just the religion and spirituality element.
Which Element is More Important?
None of them are, and all of them are. The mix of underlying issues in addiction can end up being psychological, biological, environmental, and spiritual for different people at different points in their recovery. The answer can’t be streamlined and that is why many people get left out of the treatment system as it is. That is also why nearly 90% of people who are suffering from addiction aren’t getting the help they need. This gap between diagnosis and treatment is larger than that seen in cancer.
What this means is that many treatment providers only treat addiction with a single element–usually the one they specialize in and, occasionally, one of the others. But by widening the approach, more people can triumph over addiction. A single explanation can never be able to explain a disease as complicated as addiction. Similarly, there is rarely a single means to recovery.
Finding Spirituality Without Religion
If you’re still confused, remember this: You don’t have to be engaged in religious practice to delve into your spiritual side. Some people use religion as the path to spirituality but some don’t. So no matter how you go about it, you will see positive results. Try the previous seven suggestions to increase your spirituality. You may be surprised to find that something has been missing from your life.
Finding Yourself at Harmony Ridge
Are you searching for answers for yourself or a loved one? At Harmony Ridge, we can help you find relief from addiction and the answers to a successful recovery. Our treatment center can offer you a well-rounded program of science-based behavioral therapies, individual and group psychotherapy, as well as holistic and alternative therapies.
We have a caring and professional staff who will work with you and guide you through your recovery. Harmony Ridge can provide you several levels of care plus aftercare. You enter treatment at the level you need and may step down programs until your goals are accomplished. Have any questions? Contact us today. We are waiting to hear from you.