According to a June 2017 report from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 21.5 million Americans age 12 and up have experienced an addiction within the past year.1 With so many people struggling with addiction, treatment programs are necessary for recovery. One form of treatment is Christian faith-based rehab, which can promote sobriety and have a positive effect on recovery from addiction.
Principles of Faith-Based Treatment
Faith-based treatment programs believe that those living with addiction have not committed a moral wrong or suffered from a spiritual shortcoming. Instead, they view addiction as a mental health condition requiring treatment. After all, the American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a complex, yet treatable medical problem that arises from interaction among genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors.2
Using this definition, faith-based treatment recognizes addiction as a medical problem that requires treatment instead of viewing it as a spiritual failing. On the other hand, faith-based programs also acknowledge that Christians may feel that God has abandoned them throughout the course of their illness. In faith-based rehab, those living with addiction can learn to reconnect with their religion and use it as a tool for achieving sobriety.
How Spirituality Improves Recovery
Christian faith-based rehab uses spirituality to improve recovery, and there are several ways that this is achieved:
Reconnecting with God
With Christian faith-based recovery, those in recovery from substance use disorders can reconnect with God and overcome feelings that God has abandoned them. This helps to reintegrate religion into their lives, as spiritual health may have been compromised during the active stage of addiction. This has been confirmed in research, as a 2019 study in Addiction & Health found that incorporating religion training into addiction treatment improved spiritual health and quality of life.3
Positive Religious Coping
Religious involvement can become a positive coping mechanism for those who are healing from addiction. Instead of turning to drug use as a coping mechanism, tIt’s possible to use prayer, religious services, and a relationship with God as a positive coping tool. The research shows this is associated with better health outcomes; a 2013 report in the Journal of Addictions Nursing reviewed the results of several studies and determined that religious coping practices, such as prayer, meditation, and attending church, are associated with abstinence from drugs and alcohol.4
Improved Stress Management
When individuals in recovery from substance use disorders learn to use positive religious coping in faith-based treatment, they also learn to manage stress more effectively. Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but when positive coping skills are used, stress can be managed without relapsing on drugs and alcohol. The use of religious coping to manage stress is common, as one study found that 80 percent of patients receiving psychiatric care used spirituality to cope.5
Cautions about Negative Religious Coping
While faith-based rehab can promote positive religious coping and have beneficial outcomes, it is important to recognize that sometimes, religion can be linked to negative religious coping. This is harmful for several reasons:
Worse Health Outcomes
According to research carried out at McLean Hospital, negative religious coping mechanisms, such as believing that addiction is a punishment from God or thinking that the Devil is to blame for addiction, increase the risk of negative health outcomes, like suicide attempts.5
More Severe Stressors
Another consequence of negative religious coping in faith-based rehab is that it can make stressors even worse. If an individual in treatment feels that God is punishing them, for example, they may think they have no control over their lives or their recovery. This can lead to increased stress and worsen addiction, especially since struggling with substance abuse, already results in feelings of a loss of control.
Christian Principles of Twelve-Step Programs
While negative religious coping is a possibility, faith-based rehab is still recognized as beneficial because of its contribution to positive coping and sobriety. One faith-based program that is especially popular is the Twelve-Step Program.
AA and NA Christian Background
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are built upon Christian principles. According to The National Association for Christian Recovery, AA began in 1935 with William Wilson, who experienced a spiritual revival that stopped him from drinking. Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith published the AA book, which was spiritually based and included twelve steps. They based their book upon principles from the religious Oxford Group.6
How Christianity is Built into the Steps
Drawing upon their Christian background, AA and NA programs use Christian principles in their twelve steps, such as believing in a higher power, turning one’s life over to God, admitting wrongdoings to God, asking for God’s forgiveness for wrongdoings, and using prayer and meditation to communicate with God.6
Two Bible Verses Relating to Addictions
Within Christian faith-based rehab programs like AA and NA there are many Bible verses that are applicable to recovery. Two of them are:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–which is your spiritual worship.”
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The first verse asks those recovering from addiction to turn their lives over to God, and the second involves admitting wrongdoings to God and asking for forgiveness, as outlined in the twelve steps. These and other Christian principles are incorporated into faith-based rehab and can enhance recovery, promote abstinence, and lead to better outcomes through the use of positive religious coping.