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The Spirituality of Addiction & Recovery Continued

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

We all have a sense of morality. Even immoral people have morality of sorts. Our morality may come from our belief in a higher power. Or, it might come from deeply-held values. When our actions don't line up with our own values, we see ourselves as immoral. The decline into addiction nearly always involves a decline in one's morality. This may include lying, stealing, cheating, deception, dishonesty, selfishness, etc. Therefore, recovery from addiction most always involves re-connecting to our former belief and value system. This means we learn to live in a way that honors our values. Because other living creatures do not appear capable of this, we understand spirituality as the highest capacity of a human being.

buddhist templeSpirituality means different things to different people. As such, people will include spirituality in their recovery programs differently. For some people, spirituality means a belief in a specific God or gods. This usually includes a religious practice or faith. These people (theists) can easily bring spirituality into their recovery plan. They may wish to consult with a spiritual leader or practitioner of their particular faith for guidance. They also benefit by their involvement with a spiritual community of other people with similar beliefs: churches, temples, covens, synagogues, mosques, shrines, etc. These groups provide significant social support. They also provide hope and inspiration in the form of prayer, meditation, music, religious texts and readings, and education.

For other people (non-theists), the notion of God does not serve to organize meaning or to provide purpose to life. However, we might more broadly describe spirituality as a profound belief in humanity. This person's value system might emphasize the importance of kindness and fairness; being of service others; or simply making a positive contribution to the world. For non-theists, spiritual leaders, and clearly defined religious principles or laws are not available. Instead, their value system serves to provide meaning, purpose, and direction in life.

People's approach to recovery should be consistent with their deeply-held beliefs and values. A person can derive these values and beliefs from an organized religion or spiritual practice. Alternatively, they may derive these values in a more secular and humanistic way. For recovery purposes, the way people acquire these values is not important. What is important is the identification of their beliefs and values.

Now some readers may be questioning whether spirituality merits inclusion in a scientific discussion of addiction and recovery. The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Research supports the importance of spirituality. It has positive benefits for health and wellness. Research has also demonstrated a strong, positive relationship between religious and/or spiritual activities and healing. This is true for both physical and mental health. Put simply, the addition of religion or spirituality is associated with getting healthier. What remains unclear is the underlying cause of this positive change. One of the leaders in this field of study, H.G. Koenig, M.D., is a Professor and Director of the Duke University's Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. He recently summarized the research in this area of study:

"The research that is coming out in peer-reviewed medical, public health, sociology, psychology, nursing, social work and rehabilitation science journals suggests that there are relationships between religious involvement and both mental and physical health. Much more research is needed to understand how these relationships operate and whether they are causal (i.e., that religious involvement actually causes better health). There is mounting evidence from randomized clinical trials and prospective studies that religious beliefs and practices have positive effects on coping and on speeding remission from emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression. By improving coping, giving hope, and fostering a sense of meaning and purpose during difficult life circumstances, religious beliefs have the potential to impact not only mental health, but physical health as well, given what we know about the impact of negative emotions and stress on physiological symptoms (immune, endocrine, cardiovascular), disease outcomes and longevity (Koenig, 2008, pg. 172).