Many addiction professionals consider addiction a bio-psycho-social and spiritual disease—a condition with severe detrimental impacts on all four aspects.
The Dictionary of Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA) describes spirituality as “a concern for or sensitivity to things of the spirit or soul, especially as opposed to materialistic concerns” and “more specifically, a concern for God and a sensitivity to religious experience, which may include the practice of a particular religion but may also exist without such practice.”
It can also be described as an individual's search for ultimate or sacred meaning and purpose in life. People with addiction are often lost on a life trajectory that feels devoid of purpose and reconnecting with a “higher power” can become a powerful tool in the healing process.
This isn’t just wishful thinking but has been tested by medical experts. Marc Galanter, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry and the director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at the New York University School of Medicine. He looked at the medical efficacy of the AA method in his 2016 book, What is Alcoholics Anonymous? and concluded:
“Professionals and treatment programs that maintain a Twelve Step orientation are increasingly finding that this approach is compatible with the variety of psychotherapeutic and pharmacologic approaches now available.”
The use of appeals to a “higher power” and God in the 12 Steps—developed in the 1930s by the founders of AA—is sometimes viewed as too faith-based and unscientific for the 21st century. However, Professor Galanter looked at the psychological benefits of the spiritual aspects of the 12 Steps and found that “the Twelve Step approach to recovery is distinguished from professionally grounded treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy by one of its most prominent features: It conveys a system of values that extends beyond just being abstinent.”
It’s the spiritual awakening for which 12-Step programs aim that takes them beyond medical treatment. Galanter found that the prayer and meditation called for in Step 11 can yield measurable effects. “I had been struck by how committed AA members could draw on prayer to bolster their sobriety in the face of triggering circumstances,” he writes in What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Galanter tested this effect by asking long-term AA members to participate in an fMRI protocol. The results were quite telling. When shown trigger pictures subjects were able to control their cravings with prayers. “It appears that the experience of AA over the years had left these fellowship members with an innate ability to use the AA experience—prayer in the case of this study—to minimize the effect of alcohol triggers in producing craving,” he wrote.
Living Sober is a nonclinical program that provides transitional support for people beginning their recovery journey for the first time, as well as for those who are stepping down from a higher level of care and want to give themselves the best chance for success.
The program is focused on 12-Step immersion with an overall structure reflecting the famous 12 Steps first developed by Bill W. and Dr. Bob. Each day at Living Sober begins with a beach reading and meditation. Each week the group focuses on a particular Step-themed topic such as “Acceptance,” “Hope for Change,” “Courage to Keep Going,” Humility,” or “Willingness to Change.”
“It’s important to remember that spirituality is not the same as religion,” says Living Sober program director Brad Hanley. “Many of our clients were raised in a religion but never really explored its actual meaning. Before coming to us, they had no idea how to explore their spirituality.”
The God mentioned in the 12 Steps is not necessarily the god of a specific religion. “Spirituality is about connecting to a power greater than yourself. That can mean different things to different people,” says Hanley. “We use a lot of books offering daily reflections to achieve that. They may feature a thought of the day or a reading of the day. We read on the beach each morning and most groups start with a reading.”
The spiritual path in recovery is a personal journey of reflection and insight. The Living Sober curriculum includes going through a daily inventory, answering questions such as “Have I sought out the guidance of my Higher Power today?” or “Have I allowed myself to become too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” or “Was I good to myself today?” or “What do I have to be grateful for today?”
With the help of Step 11 in particular, people in recovery seek to improve their conscious contact with God “as they understand him” through prayer and meditation. The goal of this step should be a continuous march toward spiritual improvement to keep strengthening the foundation of their recovery.
Relying on more than 30 years of experience, Living Sober created a program providing a structured transition back to a life of independence, free from substance misuse.
For more information about our services, call (561) 279-1037.