Religion can be a great comfort in people’s lives. It is a source of strength in times of trouble and doubt. Adherents will claim that a belief in a higher power inspires them to live better lives and be nicer to other people. Religion can provide meaning and purpose and this explains why it is so highly regarded.
Religion can help people improve their personal circumstances. There are many examples of individuals who used religion to help them escape addiction. 12 step programs work on the assumption that belief in a higher power is necessary for alcoholics to find success in recovery.
While there is little doubt that religion can benefit people, there are also those individuals who can get similar benefits without it. There are also those who have no wish to belong to any particular religious denomination, but prefer a more personalized spirituality.
It should also be said that for the non-religious, non-spiritual individual, recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is certainly possible. However, for religious and spiritually-prone people, the recovery takes on different dimensions of meaning.
Religiosity is often used to refer to the strength by which individuals value religion. Those with high religiosity then will have a particular strong belief in a particular faith. Their religion will be an important aspect of their life. Such people will strive hard to adhere to the rules and regulations of their belief system and feel bad when they don’t live up to these standards. Low religiosity is a situation where people may have a nominal faith, but it doesn’t have much impact on their life.
It is helpful to distinguish between religion and spirituality; although both involve a belief in some type of higher power. Religion can be defined as dedication to a particular doctrine. Spirituality on the other hand, is less about following a specific doctrine and more a personal form of religion. Those individuals who have a high level of religiosity will be strongly devoted to a particular brand of faith. Those who are more spiritually inclined may use an admixture of several different doctrines as a basis for their own personal belief and practices. The distinction between religion and spirituality can become blurred, and the two words are often used interchangeably.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the claim that religion plays an important role in addiction recovery. The believer finds that it gives them access to strength that they did not have before. There are many examples of addicts who underwent a spiritual experience and afterwards felt cured of their addiction. There are also those who turned to religion in recovery in order to give their life meaning and purpose.
As well as the use of religion to help addicts, there is also interest in how it can be used to prevent such problems arising in the first place. One study found that athletes who had a high degree of religiosity were less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Research by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services also concluded that a high level of religiosity reduces the risk of substance abuse.
Twelve step programs do contain a strong religious element. Alcoholics Anonymous is deeply influenced by a religious movement called the Oxford Group. The ideas of this Christian fellowship had a strong impact on the founders of AA and consequently on the program they created. The twelve step doctrine is based on the idea that it is a lack of religiosity that leads people into addiction. The purpose of the steps is to encourage the individual to submit to a higher power so that it can become a force for good in their lives.
Despite its early Christian roots, AA is not affiliated to any particular religion. It is viewed more as a spiritual group where members are encouraged to believe in a higher power as they understand the term. This has meant that individuals from many different belief systems have been able to benefit from the twelve steps. Individual twelve step groups may have more of a slant towards one particularly belief system, but the organization as a whole remains autonomous.
There is no doubt that religion-based programs have a good track record for treating addiction, but they are not the only solution. There are many individuals who have no wish to find religion in order to beat their substance abuse problems. The idea of addiction as a spiritual disease is not universally accepted and alternative treatments that don’t involve religion have developed. So while it is undoubtedly true that spiritual practices can benefit people’s lives in recovery, they are not essential.
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