Faith Recovery

When a debilitating substance habit consumes someone’s life, they often look to a higher power to help give them the strength to get better. Although it’s not for everyone, a spiritually-inclined treatment process helps thousands of addicts each year find the motivation necessary for recovery.
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Alcoholics Anonymous, perhaps the most well-known recovery support group, puts faith at the foreground of its philosophy. Since being founded in the early 1900s, the group proposes that alcoholism reflects a disease of body, mind and soul. Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill W. said men and women who abuse substances “have not only been mentally and physically ill, (they) have been spiritually sick.”

Nearly 80 years later, substance abuse in America has yet to slow. Over the past century we’ve seen myriad medications, therapy modules and self-help routines developed to battle the problem. Faith and spirituality remain among the most time-tested supplements in the world of substance abuse treatment and provide a core value for many rehab facilities and community support groups that yield success stories.

Ceasing substance use does not guarantee a full recovery for the chemically-dependant; a dramatic change in how one feels, thinks and views the world plays a major role as well. This change can occur in a number of ways, but a renewed sense of purpose can often be credited to an individual’s improved spiritual health and a relationship with God or a higher power.

Methods of Treatment

The role of faith in substance abuse treatment ranges from minimal to pervasive. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration supports more than 800 faith-based community organizations that span the spectrum of treatment methods.

For some, underlying religious principles provide a backdrop for traditional psychological approaches to treatment, such as behavior management and other therapies. In these cases, spiritual principles come to the foreground sporadically.

Other organizations weave faith and religion into every piece of the treatment process. These groups may reject the involvement of doctors or medication-assisted treatment, believing that the power of prayer, spiritual strengthening and an intimate relationship with God can cure the illness of addiction and send addicts back into the world as healthy, rejuvenated individuals.

Does Faith Work?

No two people are the same. Each person struggling with substance abuse will respond differently to any given philosophy of treatment.

Recovering individuals who report higher levels of spirituality display a number of promising qualities:
  • Lower anxiety
  • Higher resilience to stress
  • More optimistic life orientation
  • Greater perceived social support

People with a prior history of religious beliefs respond better to faith-based treatments than agnostics and atheists. This is especially true for people of color.

In general, people who identify with being spiritual and those who attend regular church services are less likely to drink or take drugs. Adults who skip out on religious services are five times more likely to experiment with hard drugs and seven times more likely to binge drink.

Spirituality works as a protective factor against chemical dependency, according to one study, by promoting values of leading a substance-free life, occupying a person’s free time, and encouraging abstinence.

The most prominent addiction recovery group, Alcoholics Anonymous, carries the torch of a faith-based recovery model. Through thousands locally based groups, more than 1 million members take part in its recovery program at any given time. The Big Book – the handbook basically known at the “AA Bible,” mentions a “Higher Power” more than 300 times, and several steps of the group’s famous 12-step program mention God, including beginning meetings with an adapted Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous

Several other 12-step groups, such as Cocaine Anonymous, make references to a Higher Power in their core principles. According to this group, though, the Higher Power should be one of each individual member’s creating. While the group posits faith as a crucial element of recovery, they strive not to alienate any specific religion.

“It is easy enough to confuse the word spirituality with religion,” it says on the Cocaine Anonymous website. “As it relates to God, Cocaine Anonymous is a spiritual program, not a religious one.”

In fact, groups push for members at least to believe in a God “of their understanding,” or a god, “however they see god.”

Some recent branches of Alcoholics Anonymous reworded the 12 steps to similarly be less overbearing about the religious foundation of the group, and make people of all backgrounds feel welcome.

Still, a number of support groups and treatment facilities alike take pride in their religious values and the role these play in the recovery process.

Secular Alternatives

When choosing a treatment plan for yourself or a loved one suffering from addiction, you have the choice between a faith-based or secular organization. We are fortunate to live in a world with options to match our many diverse belief systems. And if one method of treatment doesn’t do the trick, you may decide to try an alternative path.

You can learn more about the core principles of a particular rehab facility or support group by browsing their website or speaking to a representative.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Sonia Tagliareni
Sonia Tagliareni is a writer and researcher for She is passionate about helping people. She started her professional writing career in 2012 and has since written for the finance, engineering, lifestyle and entertainment industry. Sonia holds a bachelor’s degree from the Florida Institute of Technology.

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