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The Spirituality of Addiction & Recovery

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

We have been using the Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual (BPSS) model to answer the question, "How do people get addicted?" Originally, this model was simply the Bio-Psycho-Social Model. Later, spirituality was added. This is because spirituality emphasizes the highest capacity of human beings: to create meaning and purpose in life. Naturally, this capacity is beneficial in addiction recovery. According to a spiritual model, a disconnection from God or higher power causes addiction. This disconnection causes a failure to live in harmony with the universal laws or principles. These specific universal laws and principles may vary according to different faiths and religions. Nevertheless, the model views disconnection from a spiritual anchor as a cause of addiction. It follows that recovery would involve reestablishing this spiritual connection. Another related theory is the moral model of addiction. According to this model, a moral failure to do what is right and just causes addiction.

Adding "Spirituality" to the Bio-Psycho-Social model assists some people to move beyond the physicality of their addiction. By adding spirituality into recovery efforts, many new healing possibilities become available. For instance, it is possible to envision addiction as a loss of one's humanity. Our true, authentic, and spiritual self has become disconnected from our physical being because of the addiction. Therefore, a change that reunites the authentic spiritual self, with the physical body, would be healing. Alternatively, it might be possible to understand addiction as a way of coping with a previous loss of our true authentic self. This kind of loss might occur from trauma such as abuse. These kinds of trauma often shatter our belief in a meaning and purpose to life.

A therapist at an addiction rehab once asked the recovery group members, "What does spirituality mean to you?" One said, "It's when my insides match my outsides." The second said, "It is practicing Islam, getting in touch with God." The third said, "My spirituality is being in touch with the universe and everything in it." The last said, "It is my belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior." These different responses make perfect sense. Spirituality is a deeply personal, uniquely individual, and private experience. Just as there are many roads to recovery, there are many different spiritual paths.

With so many different understandings of "spirituality," it is quite natural wonder, "Well, what is spirituality?" Spirituality ultimately reflects a belief that life has a meaning and purpose. This definition is inclusive and respectful. It includes the many different, specific beliefs that people have about that meaning and purpose. For some people spirituality includes specific beliefs that there is something bigger and greater than our individual existence. People might call this a higher power; a God; many gods; the life force; the universe; Source; or Spirit (to name just a few). For other people, there is no higher power or religion attached to that belief. These people derive meaning and purpose through a personal set of values and goals. Only a tiny minority of people can claim they truly believe life has absolutely no meaning and purpose. These people would denounce the validity of spirituality. This section will be of little value to them.

The majority of people have a unique and personal understanding about the meaning and purpose of life. This understanding may include direct guidance about how to live life in a meaningful manner according to specific rules or laws. It may also include indirect guidance in the form of values and principals concerning the meaning and purpose of life.