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Addiction from a spiritual perspective.

February 14, 2011

Today’s blog will discuss spirituality in the context of addictions, the final component of the integrative bio-psycho-social-spiritual model. It is primarily informed by my readings and clinical work with 12-step programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon).

Spiritual Bankruptcy

A spiritual approach to explaining addictions primarily sees the user as lacking in a meaningful relationship with a higher power. “Higher Power” is subjectively defined by the individual; however, the commonality in all definitions is a representation “…of a creative intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things…” (Big Book of AA, 1976, p. 46). By lacking in this relationship, individuals experience distress and conflict. When levels of distress and personal conflict become severe, we experience a type of “spiritual bankruptcy.” Addiction is the outcome of being spiritually bankrupt. The addict has an emptiness or void in their lives and tries to fill it with alcohol and drugs. The addiction is also symptomatic of the incongruence between a lifestyle guided by universal spiritual principles (e.g., acceptance, serenity, forgiveness, love) versus one that is guided by self-serving motives.

Serenity and Psychological Health

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
(portion of The Serenity Prayer).

The above prayer is recited by many individuals who approach healing from a spiritual perspective. One of the prayer’s messages is that we move towards wisdom and serenity by accepting things we cannot change, while acting upon the things we can. For example, when an unexpected event happens, it is beyond our control (e.g., loss of a job, car accident). However, our responses to these events are fully within our control. Obsessing over things we cannot control fosters feelings of anxiety, helplessness, depression, worry, and grief – all risk-factors in the development of addiction. In my professional experiences, those struggling with addiction are plagued with similar feelings.

Mindfulness, Prayer, and Meditation: Tools for enhancing psychological health

The practice of mindfulness, prayer, and meditation has been successful in healing from addictions and fostering serenity. The ability to centre oneself, to remain still and mindful of our surroundings, to calm oneself while focusing on the here-and-now, are highly effective interventions for treating mental and emotional disorders. Conversely, the inability to self-soothe, to be mindful, or to reflect on how our actions impact others, can lead to the development of many behavioural and emotional problems. While the concept of spirituality continues to evolve, psychologists and psychotherapists over the last several decades concede that spiritual-based practices promoting acceptance, forgiveness, letting go, mindfulness, meditation, and prayer are highly correlated with sustaining psychological health and well-being.

The following link by Dr. Ken Pope provides a comprehensive list on current literature in the areas of psychotherapy and mindfulness.

Hoping your week provides you with knowledge and the opportunity for personal growth…

Dr. Richard Amaral


Tonigan, J., Toascova, R., & Connors, G (1999). Spirituality and the 12-step programs: A guide for clinicians. In W. R. Miller (Ed.), Integrating spirituality into treatment: Resources for practitioners (pp. 111-131). Washington: APA.

Connors, G., Toscova, R., & Tonigan, J. (1999). Serenity. In W. R. Miller (Ed.), Integrating spirituality into treatment: Resources for practitioners (pp. 235-250). Washington: APA.

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