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The Effects of Spirituality on Recovery

What is spirituality? Why do people often bristle at the idea of a spiritual association with 12- Step programs of recovery? Is there room for atheists and agnostics in the world of recovery?

A recent study in the Journal of Religion and Health investigated the effects of spirituality on recovery from alcohol addiction. Statistics from 12-step programs – which include a spiritual emphasis as well as anecdotal evidence – have suggested a correlation between spiritual well- being and lasting recovery (Charzyńska, 2021). This is clearly a challenging area to quantify, measure, track, and perhaps even define. Edyta Charzyńska’s (PhD) recent study in the Journal places careful attention on different aspects of spirituality to develop surveys and establish profiles while tracking the completion rates of 358 individuals in treatment for alcohol addiction in Poland.

This interesting exploration of the effects of spirituality on recovery emphasizes distinct qualities that make up that vague descriptor, “spiritual.” Spiritual coping is one of the most complex qualities assessed in the study’s participants, and indeed in life. Positive spiritual coping is relying on spiritual resources like seeking inner harmony, forming meaningful relationships with others, and feeling supported by one’s faith. Spirituality is generally understood not as devotion to one’s God or Higher Power as much as devotion to concepts such as serenity, self- awareness, and acceptance. Negative spiritual coping would include relying on spiritual resources in the opposite way: looking inward to address existential woes, a cynical belief in the wickedness of others, or thinking of a vindictive deity or Higher Power.

Similarly, this study establishes definitions that allow Charzyńska to profile participants for simple principles: gratitude and mercy. Participants have unique profiles; for example, one participant might present moderate positive spiritual coping, high forgiveness, and low gratitude. Contrarily, another participant could present both positive and negative spiritual coping at the same time: having a positive prayer life that gives someone peace does not preclude negatively judging others for their “sins”.

Unsurprisingly, participants in the profile with “high levels of positive spiritual coping, forgiveness, and gratitude, and a low level of negative spiritual coping” (Charzyńska, 2021) completed treatment at a higher rate than participants in other profiles. In fact, 73% of participants in this profile completed the 8-week treatment program, compared to the 48% completion rate for participants with “predominantly negative dimensions of spirituality,” (Charzyńska, 2021). Only 30% of those in the profile described as “mixed dimensions of spirituality with the lowest positive religious coping” (Charzyńska, 2021) completed the program, and other mixed profiles were between 50 – 60%.

It is certain that studies such as this inspire some thought provoking questions. Yet it also accomplishes something important: the provision of data for an important and live-saving aspect of addiction treatment that has at least long been thought of as too problematic to quantify, or at the very least too uncomfortable to openly discuss for the sake of a perhaps-fallacious connotation with religion. This is an important distinction: religion is not necessarily spirituality, and the converse is also true. They can be the same thing for some, but one ought not be confused with the other as a generality.

Mental health clinicians need to build their treatment programs on data. It is easy to get data on pharmaceuticals – there are endless statistics on medicines, clinical trials, and outcomes – but it is a considerably greater challenge to quantify the more complex, (and more personal and uncomfortable), cerebral aspects of health, so many clinicians ignore these spiritual aspects of health simply because it is hard to measure faith and gratitude. It is difficult to quantify how principles play out in our lives when we are trying to understand what constitutes a successful lasting recovery from addiction. This study is an important step in translating the complex language of spirituality into the language that scientists can use and helping us demystify the mysterious (and uncomfortable) subjects associated with a faith that we find for ourselves – even if it is a faith only in something that we can touch and feel.

At New Paradigm Recovery in Tysons Corner, Virginia, we offer a comprehensive and holistic program to treat addiction. We provide a healthy foundation for recovery through comprehensive addiction treatment with co-occurring mental health diagnoses, collaborative trauma treatment, and family counselling. Therapy, spirituality, medical care, and healthy environments all have crucial roles in preparing our clients and families for success. The more we learn in the field of addiction treatment, the better able we are to empower our clients for lasting recovery. Charzyńska’s findings are an important step towards helping the addiction treatment realm open discussions with clients, patients, and families find a comfortable place to discuss spirituality.

Charzyńska, E. (2021). The Effect of Baseline Patterns of Spiritual Coping, Forgiveness, and Gratitude on the Completion of an Alcohol Addiction Treatment Program. Journal of Religion and Health. doi:10.1007/s10943-021-01188-8

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