How do Different Religions Deal with Addiction and Treatment?

Medically Reviewed

Religion is often a significant factor when it comes to overcoming an addiction. Many of those who quit drugs or alcohol find a higher power that can come in the form of many different viewpoints. While we live in a predominantly Christian country, the United States is a melting pot where you are free to practice the religion you identify with most.

Seventy percent of individuals in the United States practice Christianity, another 1.9 percent practice Judaism, and 0.9 percent are Islamic. While the numbers may not seem high for these other major religions, keep in mind the total population of the United States is 325.7 million. Religion offers something that drug users need and that is a sense of connection that binds them to something bigger.

Marc Lewis, Ph.D., addresses the issue of how drug users long for a connection and “ongoingness,” so much so that it is embedded in the neural circuits responsible for desire and goal-pursuit. To paraphrase Lewis, “we wish, and we seek, and we crave, and we long for that thing we seem to be missing because our brains are made for finding what we don’t have.”

Those who use drugs are often looking for the next hit and always seeking something that isn’t there. This is where religion can come in and be the outlet users need to stop using drugs or alcohol. We are built to wish, to want, and to crave.

We then have to ask ourselves, though, how do different religions deal with addiction and treatment? In some religions, drug use is taboo, so how do they make exceptions for treatment? In some cultures, consuming alcohol on the holidays is a ritual, but what happens when a drug user cannot contain their alcohol consumption, and it spirals into a drinking binge?

On the contrary,  research has also shown that religion can prevent the misuse of addictive and chemical substances, but it would be irresponsible to say people who are religious will not become drug users.

Research has been done on those who have strong religious values where MRI scans were taken of their brains. The study highlighted that experiencing powerful moments connected to the perception of faith in question “activate the same neural systems” as those who consume drugs. Neuroscientists have been working to connect spiritual experiences and how they share similarities with the euphoria that comes with consuming a psychotropic substance.

To sum it up, the mental changes that result from consuming a drug are consistent with the mental shift that happens during a powerful religious experience.

Faith-Based Rehab

Faith-based treatment options and organizations were created to accomodate faith traditions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It is widely believed in the religious community that these programs are much more effective than treatment without a spiritual focus.

The first 12-step rehabilitation program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded on Christian principles, and over the years it has been a contributing factor to those who work to overcome their addictions. Many similar faith-based programs have begun appearing, which may be a sign that religious belief is strengthening in our country.

Many programs are geared toward the Christian belief system, but what about the rest of the community? As we mentioned above, we live in a diverse country and have many institutions that reflect that. What about other faith-based options for addiction and treatment?

What Faith-Based Drug Rehabs Offer

Faith-based drug recovery centers address the medical and spiritual needs of someone in recovery. The spiritual aspect is a focal point in treatment, but adhering to traditional treatment techniques is essential to success. Standard methods such as medical detoxification and behavioral therapy are used to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Certified spiritual advisers will be available for counseling and guidance during treatment. Individual and group sessions with the faith leaders will help recovering drug users find peace through their faith.

Christian-Based Rehab

Many programs offer spiritual guidance for addiction treatment for Christians. These centers are available in a variety of settings all over the country and range from Christian tracks as a part of more extensive treatment facilities, or small and intimate 12-step meetings — the message of the gospel that is helpful for those with alcoholism and drug addictions. There are three types of Christian rehab programs:

  • Christian Alcohol Rehab
  • Christian Drug Rehab
  • Celebrate Recovery

Judaism-Based Rehab

A large number of practicing Jews believe people of their faith can’t be affected by addiction. Alcoholic beverages such as wine are a part of Jewish rituals, but the community has a negative perspective on addiction. Those who practice Judaism and struggle with substance abuse may be abandoned by their peers as a result of the stigma surrounding substance abuse in the Jewish community.

Studies released by the U.S. National Library of Medicine indicate that nearly 20 percent of people in the Jewish community have a family history of addictive behaviors. It is well-documented that addiction does not discriminate based on religious beliefs, gender, or socioeconomic background, but substance abuse is frowned upon in the Jewish community.

Treatment for substance use disorders is most effective when it includes evidence-based practices. Treatment for these disorders is most effective when they incorporate the cultural beliefs into the program. Much like Christian-based rehab, the most effective means of treatment for Judaism starts in medical detoxification and has superiors from their faith present throughout the process. Core values of Judaism must be implemented such as:

  • Emphasizing respect, dignity, and honor for all of God’s creations (kavod)
  • Discovering joy and meaning in every aspect of life (simcha)
  • Accepting the ability to grow and transform in positively (tzmichat i’shit)
  • Maintaining a connection to god, the Torah, and the community (kehilla)

Islam-Based Rehab

The sole mission of Islamic law is to protect the belief of Allah and promote life, maintenance of their property, and a healthy state of mind. Islam is not a religious belief that views drug or alcohol use in a positive manner. In fact, many Islamic countries do not drink alcohol and are known as “dry countries.” Drugs and alcohol should be avoided at all costs.

Because of their views on drugs and alcohol, obtaining information about illicit drug use is difficult. A majority of the information that is present about the topic comes from hospitals or treatment centers where the client has already checked themselves in. The small amount of research available does indicate that drug and alcohol use among Muslims is much lower in those who have a strong commitment to their faith.

When Muslim individuals are seeking treatment, they must incorporate aspects of Islam into their treatment program. Twelve-step groups must adopt Islamic ideas. There should be an emphasis on Islamic principles, and therapists should be able to identify with their client’s needs. Family counseling will be Islamic-based, and the goals of the person must be to invest their energy into the afterlife as conceptualized by Islam.

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