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Faith-Based Rehab: Treating the Mind, Body, and Spirit

by Kayla Gill on September 28, 2021

For many people, addiction recovery is a spiritual experience. Faith-based rehab programs focus on this idea, incorporating religious or spiritual practices into the recovery process. Some of these programs are connected with a specific religion, such as Christianity or Buddhism. Others simply invite people to connect with a higher power, which clients define for themselves.

Dr. Abdu’l-Missagh Ghadirian, Emeritus Professor at McGill University, discusses the effectiveness of spirituality in addiction recovery and prevention1. “There is no single, universally agreed-upon definition of spirituality, partly because the human spirit is not a tangible object that can be examined or measured,” he writes “Some call spirituality a process…Others see it as a science.” The process of addiction recovery, like the process—or science—of spirituality, is an extremely personal one.

Addiction as a Spiritual Condition

Experts believe there may be a link between addiction and a person’s relationship with spirituality2. In fact, “more than 84% of scientific studies show that faith is a positive factor in addiction prevention or recovery and a risk in less than 2% of the studies reviewed.” Based on this data, researchers have concluded “that religion and spirituality are exceptionally powerful, integral, and indispensable resources in substance abuse prevention and recovery; faith plays a key role in treating the mind, body, and spirit.”

Whether or not you believe in a specific higher power, connecting to the universe from a spiritual perspective has a positive impact on brain chemistry. According to the Recovery Research Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, one study found that “…spirituality engages the same brain regions as attention, impulse control, reasoning, and sensory processing. Additionally, compared with the stress condition, the spirituality condition was associated with reduced activity in the medial thalamus and striatum, brain regions implicated in sensory and emotional processing, indicating that spirituality may help us focus and control our emotions3.”

It’s clear to see how the act of engaging in any sort of spiritual practice may be beneficial for people in recovery. With this in mind, healthcare providers have developed a number of ways to implement these techniques in addiction treatment.

Integrating Faith-Based and Clinical Approaches

Leon Holtzhausen, an Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town, explains that the faith-based model considers addiction to be a separation from a spiritual source4. He writes, “In Western Judeo-Christian cultures, spiritual models typically presume a God with supernatural powers. This God is seen as one who governs, guides, directs, or intervenes on behalf of human beings. Spiritual models assume addiction occurs because of a separation from God. Moral causes of addiction presume there is a ‘correct’ morality based on a particular set of values. Deviation from those values results in addiction.” Many clients may resonate with the cultural models Holtzhausen describes, whether or not they engage in a particular spiritual practice. If you find meaning in this perspective, faith-based rehab may help you reconnect with your own personal sense of spiritual well-being.

This process of reconnecting to source often includes the concept of surrender. For example, in the well-known Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer5, speakers affirm that a higher power “will make things right/If I surrender.”

This central idea may be expressed in any number of ways, depending on which rehab you attend. Clients who already ascribe to a specific religion may want to seek out treatment within their faith. For example, Honey Lake Clinic is a Christian rehab center. This program guides clients through recovery with a strong focus on the tenets of their faith. This facility is a “Christ-centered therapeutic environment, community, curriculum, and structure. While this highly structured healing community represents a microcosm of the larger society and family system, it also provides a safe, supportive environment where you can address the dynamics of your struggles.”

On the other hand, clients who have a broader perspective will likely benefit from a program that is less religious, and more generally spiritual. If you prefer to engage with a spiritual practice outside the framework of organized religion, many rehab programs offer activities like meditation and yoga. These practices encourage mindfulness and self-reflection, without necessarily requiring you to ascribe to a larger belief system.

It’s important to note that most faith-based rehab programs are still grounded in scientific fact and Western medicine. For example, you might have regular meetings with a spiritual advisor, in addition to seeing a talk therapist and being treated by a medical team. The amount of emphasis placed on spirituality varies from program to program, and from person to person.

Faith-Based Recovery in Practice

There are many types of faith-based treatment programs. If this type of healing feels right for you, it’s important to choose a program that will both support your spiritual growth as well as connect you with practitioners who can support the clinical aspects of your recovery.

Christian Rehab

Some centers, like Honey Lake Clinic, are deeply rooted in devout Christianity. Others use the Christian faith as one tenet of a multipronged approach. For example, Stone Gate Center Creekside is a Christian rehab facility with a focus on spiritual healing. However, they emphasize that their community is “a safe haven for anyone seeking addiction treatment,” regardless of clients’ personal religious beliefs.

This type of rehab would be a good fit for people with a certain level of respect for and interest in the Christian faith, whether or not they actually identify as Christian. However, it may not be the best fit for everyone. If Christian ideals don’t resonate with you, it’s probably best to consider alternative forms of treatment.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous, or A.A., is an international fellowship of people who have struggled with drinking6. In this well-known program, members work the 12 Steps of recovery. A.A. has inspired the formation of many similar 12-Step programs, including N.A., Al-Anon, Cocaine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and more. Many rehab facilities host regular 12-Step meetings. Some programs are even more strongly based on the tenets of A.A.’s philosophy.

A.A. is deeply rooted in the idea of faith. Although it welcomes people of all religions, this philosophy was originally modeled after Christian ideals. Today, members place an emphasis on defining one’s own higher power. For example, in Step 3 of the 12 Steps7, participants choose to “turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Because this ideology is inspired by Christianity, it may be particularly appealing to Christian clients. However, groups also explicitly welcome people of other faiths. They ask members to cultivate a spiritual practice, but do not attempt to govern the details of their beliefs.

Spiritual Care

There are countless ways to engage with spirituality. Some clients find value in connecting with a higher power, and others find more meaning in the idea of an energetic source, or the oneness of the universe. These perspectives are deeply personal, and it’s important to honor the beliefs that feel most meaningful to you. Those beliefs may differ from those of your family, your community, and even your cohort in rehab. That’s perfectly healthy. Every spiritual practice invites you to redefine your best self, and connect with your personal sense of morality. If the idea of a higher power doesn’t resonate with you, you may still find value in other spiritual techniques.

Research has shown that mindfulness strategies can significantly reduce the risk of relapse among clients with substance use disorders3. Some well-regarded therapeutic modalities are based on this idea, incorporating spiritual concepts into codified clinical techniques. For example, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy utilizes the tenets of Zen Buddhism8. DBT techniques include many different mindfulness practices, such as grounding exercises and meditation.

Many consider meditation to be a spiritual practice. In addition, this mindfulness technique has a powerful impact on mental health. One 2014 study found that “meditation was about as effective as an antidepressant.9

Some rehab centers incorporate meditation into their daily schedules, whether or not they connect it with a specific religion. Tony Tan, CEO of 180 Sanctuary At PuriPai Villa, explains the distinction. “Thailand is well known for its meditation, yoga practices and Buddhist culture,” Tan says. However, he and his team “try to defer away from the religious aspect, but we focus a lot on the spiritual well-being of the individual. So we incorporate meditation and mindfulness practice into our program here.” With or without religious belief, techniques like this one can be extremely helpful to people in recovery.

Spiritual Growth and Addiction Recovery

From a purely scientific perspective, spirituality can be a valuable tool for people in recovery. Research has linked higher levels of spirituality with increased optimism10 and self-esteem, and a lower likelihood of depression. This fact is not only relevant for people with dual diagnoses; it’s also related to other aspects of the healing process. Because optimism is known to have a positive impact on physical health11, spiritual practices may also be helpful to people undergoing medical detox.

Religion and spirituality can also have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships. Research has found that religious communities tend to provide structure and support2 that are extremely important aspects of addiction recovery. However, it’s important to note that toxic communities may in fact contribute to substance abuse. By connecting with a spiritual community in the context of rehab, after you’ve already set the intention to heal, you may be less likely to face this problem.

Religious and spiritual communities tend to use codified language and narrative to talk about faith, morality, and even mental health. This offers members with a pre-existing spiritual practice vocabulary for discussing their emotional experiences. For example, Buddhist teachings often mention the idea of non-attachment. If a person is well-versed in Buddhist ideology, they can easily reference the nuances of that concept when talking to friends, family, or a therapist. This shared understanding can help people in recovery remember that no matter how hard it gets, they are not alone.

Spiritual Faith can Prompt Faith in Yourself

Faith-based rehab is an opportunity to connect with something greater than yourself. In many cases, that means connecting with a higher power, the universe, or an energetic source. However, it can also mean connecting with a spiritual community, the legacy of a certain culture, or simply your own daily spiritual practice.

These programs aren’t right for everyone. Committed atheists, for instance, may not benefit from cultivating spirituality12. As with any aspect of the recovery journey, it’s important to find a program that aligns with your specific needs. Once you know what those are, you can find ways to bring them forward in your life after treatment.

Cultivating a spiritual practice that feels meaningful to you may begin in rehab, but—just like recovery from addiction—it’s a life-long process. That process may continue to be a source of joy and strength for you, long after completing residential care.

If you’d like to incorporate spiritual practices into your recovery process, you can learn more about faith-based programs at luxury rehabs.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod.

  1. Ghadirian, A.-M., & Salehian, S. (n.d.). Is Spirituality Effective in Addiction Recovery and Prevention? The Journal of Bahá’í Studies, 28.4 2018. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://bahai-library.com/pdf/g/ghadirian_spirituality_addiction_prevention.pdf []
  2. Grim, B. J., & Grim, M. E. (2019). Belief, behavior, and belonging: How faith is indispensable in preventing and recovering from substance abuse. Journal of Religion and Health, 58(5), 1713–1750. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-019-00876-w [] []
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  9. What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health. (2014, July 16). Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-meditation-can-do-for-your-mind-mood-and-health- []
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