Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Addiction Treatment Using Spirituality as a Healing Component - A Long Forgotten Module in Effective Substance Abuse Treatment by Rachel Hayon, MPH

September 21, 2004 -- It has been hypothesized that the earlier an individual is exposed to alcohol, the more likely they will find alcohol attractive later in life. Infants can be exposed to alcohol in many different ways depending on what culture they come from. For instance, alcohol is given medicinally in many cultures, it is common to place a cotton ball soaked with alcohol on the stomach of a fussy infant which brings relief in the presence of alcohol's odor and can also get soaked into the skin [1. If this is done and the infant takes to it, he or she may begin drinking at an earlier age which increases the chance of alcoholism and other possible health concerns. So, one might pose the question, perhaps it would be wise for individuals to be exposed to another type of medicinal balm in an early part of their existence.

Most alcoholics will say that the reason they began seriously drinking was to fill a void in their life. This void, in many cases, can turn into depression. An essential component of depression can be termed as anhedonia, or the inability to gain pleasure from experiences that normally produce enjoyment. In fact, withdrawal from cocaine is often characterized by anhedonia. The assumption can then be made, that if these individuals have something to fill this void with, they may not move on to harmful substances. Recent studies have found in fact, that a void of spirituality may be a key reason as to why individuals use drugs [2.

When most people think of spirituality, they picture Sunday morning church services, however this falls more into the realm of religion. Spirituality can be defined as "sensitivity or attachment to religious values and things of the spirit rather than material or worldly interests" while religion usually refers to an "institutionalized system" [3. The idea is as follows, those individuals that find refuge in a belief that there is more out there in the world, another force that may have some bearing on what occurs in life, are less prone to seek material substances to make them feel more whole. Furthermore, individuals may also be more inclined to seek refuge in spirituality or religion when circumstances become difficult.

A study conducted among African American women in regards to breast cancer, coping styles and church attendance outlines this point. Three different types of coping styles were identified. Collaborative in which the individual and G-d are responsible for making sure a positive outcome ensues, self-directing in which people feel that G-d has provided them with the skills necessary to complete whatever tasks come their way and deferring coping style in which people wait for G-d to handle whatever comes their way. Depending on what belief system the women had, their anxiety was either higher or lower. Furthermore, it was found that church attendance was not necessarily correlated with lower breast cancer anxiety, which shows that actual participation in organized services may not have an impact on emotional well being [4. Therefore, it is possible for an individual who is not active in an organized religious service to raise their moral by finding some kind of spiritual connection.

Many researchers feel that spirituality is what is missing in most substance abuse treatment centers. This is not to say that preaching sermons is going to cure drug addiction, however, just as the community has ignored the importance of treating dual diagnosis (substance abuse and mental health disorder diagnosis) as one disease, ignoring the importance spirituality may also be damaging. The constructs of such a program can be simple and easily applied. For instance, the well known Alcoholics Anonymous program is based on the idea that bringing meaning into a person's life takes away the need for outside substances. In fact, the founder of AA, Bill Wilson, who was an alcoholic himself, says that he stopped using drugs when he had a religious experience [5. Perhaps providing spirituality to infants would also be a way of providing a meaning in life, a way of filling any possible voids that may arise and thereby avoiding the possibility of addiction to anything that isn't healthy. However, should this not work, and if a drug problem arises, assigning spirituality as an essential component in drug addiction treatment is a way to use the holistic approach when treating a human being. After all, it's not the problem or ailment that needs to be treated- it's the individual.

More information about an effective drug and alcohol rehabilitation program can be found at

1.    Truxell, E. & Spear, N.E. (2004). Immediate acceptance of ethanol in infant rats: ontogenetic differences with moderate but not high ethanol concentration. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. 28(8):1200-1211.
2.    Goldfarb, L.M. (1996). Medical student and patient attitudes toward religion and spirituality in the recovery process. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. November.
3.    Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Boston Massachusetts, 1981.
4.    Bowie, J., Curbow, B., Laviest, T., Fitzgerald, S., Pargament K. (2001). The relationship between religious coping style and anxiety over breast cancer among African American women. Journal of Religion and Health. 40(4): 411-23.
5.    Witham, L. Spiritual void may play role in drug use.