The power of faith has long been documented as to its ability in making a positive difference in the lives of people when it comes to helping them cope with health problems. Research shows over and over again that people that turn to God for help with their medical conditions show faster recovery times, more resilience to stress and an overall higher level of mental wellness than those who do not rely on God or have as strong of a faith practice.
One particular study done in 1995 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center found that heart-surgery patients who did not turn to their faith to help them deal with their upcoming surgery were three times more likely to die than patients who did. In another study of patients recovering from hip fractures, those committed to religious practices could walk farther upon release than those who did not turn to God for help.
In addition, not only do the majority of studies show a profound difference that faith has on one’s physical health, but the vast research available also shows that faith makes a tremendous positive impact on one’s mental health as well. The following are examples of studies that show the variety of benefits afforded to those of the faith:
1) In one study of 4,000 elderly, it was discovered that those who attended religious services were less depressed and physically healthier than those who didn’t worship.
2) People who do not attend church regularly have a suicide rate of up to four times higher when compared to those who do attend religious services on a regular basis.
The positive impact of religion, spirituality, and faith upon one’s physical health is tremendous and well researched, but what about the effect of faith on those struggling with addictions? Do they fare as well? In a study examining 236 people in treatment for drugs, those with higher levels of religious faith or affiliation were found to have a more optimistic outlook, lower levels of anxiety and greater coping mechanisms in dealing with stress than those who had less religious ties.
There are a multitude of reasons why faith provides an advantage for a person struggling with addictions versus a person with little or no faith. For the scope of this article we will cover two of the most vital reasons.
Faith provides a support network or a community of aid to the addict:
The reason why groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) are so effective is that strength is often found in a supportive community that cannot be afforded to a person that battles an addiction alone. If a person is surrounded by a community of people that genuinely care about them and hold them accountable on a regular basis while at the same time offer friendships that bring fulfillment, it reduces the appeal or lure of the illicit activity that is destroying their lives.
In fact, AA was founded by two alcoholics that realized if they ever had a fighting chance of sobriety they would need to depend on each other to achieve it. In 1935 a stockbroker named Bill Wilson cried out to God and said that he would do anything if God would only save him from alcoholism. At that moment he felt a light enter his life and a moment of spiritual ecstasy. On May 12 of the same year, Bill, who was in despair over his latest relapse with alcohol reasoned to himself, “I’ve got to find another alcoholic.” After searching for a fellow alcoholic, Bill found a surgeon out of Akron, Ohio named Dr. Bob Smith who also struggled with alcoholism. Later, they combined their recent spiritual experiences and formed an outline or path to sobriety called the 12 steps.
In the second step of the AA recovery plan it states an acknowledgment that only a “higher power” greater than ourselves can ever restore sanity. Hence, the first groups of AA would really be considered “faith groups” because of their acknowledgment of dependency on God if they were ever to have a chance of overcoming alcohol addiction.
In 1937 Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson had helped their first 100 people attain complete sobriety. Bill Wilson discovered that while individuals had a extremely difficult time overcoming alcoholism alone, in these small groups “the new adherents could get sober by believing in each other and in the strength of this group.” Over 75 years later AA has over 2 million members located in 122 countries around the world. AA has helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide achieve sobriety through their faith-based 12-step program.
AA is only one organization or model that utilizes a group dynamic in helping people attain sobriety over their addictions. Celebrate Recovery is another growing, popular and effective faith-based recovery program that has helped tens of thousands of people overcome an array of addictions. This program is being used in over 200 churches across the country, as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Faith Partners, Inc, an independent nonprofit organization based out of Spicewood, Texas is yet another faith-based organization that has resulted in countless lives rescued from the clutches of substance abuse.
Faith tackles the deeper issues causing the addiction:
Having someone to talk to about your problem is one thing (and is a big part of the solution), but discovering what led to a person’s addiction is another important piece of the solution that many of the faith-based organizations attempt to help the addict find. Most faith-based therapy groups would acknowledge that God would want us to discover what caused us to derail in the first place in order that we instill a coping mechanism that will help prevent us from derailing again. Where science can help to a degree with the physiological aspects of the struggle with drugs like Antabuse, faith and counseling can help with the psychological part of the problem that led us into the shipwreck in the first place. Where Antabuse is like the anchor that stops the ship from continuing on its wayward path, faith and psychology are like the engine and rudder that get the boat completely turned around.
In the Christian faith the Bible speaks over and over about the principle of surrounding ourselves with counselors in order to find peace and safety with ourselves. Proverbs 11:14 states, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
Dr. Eric Scalise, a Christian counselor and speaker points out the origination of addictions in his lecture entitled “Spiritual Applications” for a addiction and recovery course. He points out that there are five levels in a person’s life in which addictions work. On the surface we find addictions destroying the addicts relational life. Time away from family, money squandered, arguments over inappropriate behavior are common behaviors that affect one’s relational life in a negative manner. (Scalise, 2009).
The layer in a person’s life that is underneath or actually causing the relationship problems for a person is the actual detrimental behavior. Rudeness, selfishness, violence, abuse, neglect, and arrests are examples of behaviors that can disrupt relationships.
The layer or causation that is behind behavior (that causes the dysfunctional behavior) is the emotional layer of a person. If a person is angry and full of rage they are more prone to act upon this emotion with some kind of destructive behavior like road rage or even killing someone.
In order to find out what is causing the destructive emotions of a person we must peel back the layers of the onion a little more in order to discover a fourth layer called the “Thought Life” of a person. Behind every emotion there is some subconscious or conscious thought that is stirring or creating that emotion. For example, a 37-year old woman who runs into her abusive step-father at the store may come home depressed because they remember how that person told them growing up how worthless they were.
Finally, at the core of every person’s being is the last of five layers that will even determine even the composition of the types of thoughts we will have. Every person has a set of core beliefs about themselves that will either enable an overall positive self-image or negative self-image. A core belief system that will either value ourselves based on our performance and what we do or a value system that believes we are important simply because God made us (again, a faith derived approach).
A person struggling with addictions has a better chance of overcoming their addiction problem if they are involved in a faith-based treatment plan as opposed to one that holds no inclusion of God. The reasons for the effectiveness of faith are that faith-based groups implement a community that empowers and supplies supportive strength as well as helps diagnose the real root of the problem.
“Addiction & Recovery” (speaker Dr. Eric Scalise). Spiritual Applications. Lesson 406. DVD. www.lightuniversity.com. 2009.