By Wes Annac, Editor, Karma Yoga Daily
Episode 2 is here! This week, I’ll discuss the ways we can use spirituality to treat addiction. I’ll also discuss the manipulation often associated with spirituality.
The podcast is up on YouTube (video below), and you can also listen to it on Anchor at this link: https://tinyurl.com/yctbh9rz
Hey everybody! Welcome to episode 2 of the Karma Yoga Podcast. I’m Wes Annac, and this week, we will be discussing some of the ways that spirituality can help with the treatment of addiction. I will also share my thoughts on the manipulation you sometimes find when pursuing spirituality.
Now, let’s talk about addiction and spirituality. No matter the specific practice or belief, spirituality is known for being an open path for anyone looking to get clean and leave an old destructive life behind.
It basically becomes a light in their life that gives them the courage and faith to move forward and cease to be lost in their addiction or the feelings of helplessness it can create. The energy they used to put into pursuing their cravings is now put into quieting their mind and exploring their consciousness.
Even if you disagree with most spiritual ideas, this is an undeniably better way to live than being consumed by an addiction.
I’d imagine that one big way spirituality helps an addict in recovery is by restoring their self-confidence in the face of the shame that comes with an addiction but shouldn’t. I personally think that shaming an addict is totally unnecessary and will most likely have the worst possible outcome.
A small, small sliver of those who are shamed might use it as inspiration to prove everyone wrong and kick their habit. But most of them will feel every bit of that pain you inflict on them and fall further down as a result.
If spirituality gives them the confidence to get better and stay better, then for them, it’s a great method of recovery. As we’ll discuss later, this path is obviously not for everyone. But if it works for some, then we should consider it a viable treatment.
Let’s learn about this from some people who know a lot more about it than I do.
First, a bunch of experts from Mental Health.net write that research shows spirituality can help with recovery; not just from addiction, but disease as well.
They write that ultimately, we don’t know why this happens or where that help comes from – describing the two most common beliefs that regard it as either a “power greater than ourselves” or on the more practical side, the sense of hope that our belief in such a power can give us.
Regardless, spiritual beliefs and the activities associated with them are proven to be beneficial.
The experts write that although 12-step programs are the most popular, you don’t need to limit your spirituality to them or any other religious programs.
Using spirituality for recovery often involves becoming aware of the purpose of your life and acting accordingly. This is imperative for recovery, and many are able to find a purpose unique to them without the need for any program.
According to the Drug and Alcohol Rehab in Thailand website, the benefits of having a spiritual practice while in recovery include the following:
- It can help you deal with life’s ups and downs while giving you the tools to help yourself emotionally, which is vital early on
- It can give you a “boost” and help you to get more out of your day
- It can help you think clearly in the face of life’s obstacles
- Help you sleep and feel more rested the next day
- Help you feel happier, more content, and even serene
- Help you improve your relationship with family and friends as well as be a more positive force in your community
- Reduce your chances of relapsing
- Help you feel transcendent or enlightened
- Improve your mood naturally, giving you no need for drugs or alcohol
- Help you feel like your life has meaning in a time when you might think your addiction has stolen your purpose from you
- Help you deal with any personal shortcomings that may have contributed to your addiction
- And finally, help you manage stress and even live longer
The Elements Behavioral Health website reports that meditation is particularly helpful in overcoming addiction because it “rewires critical pathways in the brain”.
Participants in a study meditated for around half an hour a day for 2 months, and at the end of it, the gray matter in the areas of their brain that drive memory, introspection, learning, and self-awareness had increased.
Interestingly, the gray matter in the areas of their brain that support stress and anxiety had decreased.
Elements Behavioral Health reports that stress and anxiety are known to cause relapse. An addict in recovery can use meditation to alter the way their brain handles stress and thus the way they react to their life, and they can do this without the need for drugs or alcohol.
Meditation has been proven to be a successful method for staying sober according to Elements Behavioral Health, with a study finding that intravenous drug users in recovery reported better results from meditation than nearly anything else.
Another study found that imprisoned drug users who practiced meditation relapsed less and stayed on a good path after release more than those who underwent the usual treatments.
Elements Behavioral Health also reports that research shows meditation helps in the recovery of alcoholics and drug users when combined with regular exercise.
Meditation and yoga combined are particularly helpful.
One study had cocaine addicts in recovery learn the Chinese practice qigong, which uses meditation. They craved their drug less and presented less issues associated with their addiction than those given a placebo-oriented treatment.
If any of this interests you, The Addiction Center shares some tips for bringing more spirituality into your life. They include:
- Being grateful
- Appreciating nature
- Being honest and humble
- Singing or putting on music you enjoy
- Helping someone with no expectation of being helped back (also known as Karma Yoga)
- And attending an event in your community or being involved in a support group
Although these are all great tips, not everyone thinks it’s a good idea to link addiction with spirituality.
Lance Dodes at Psychology Today thinks addiction is a not religious or spiritual issue that we can trace back to a disconnection with God or the universe.
He writes that addiction most certainly disconnects you from what he calls your inner self. However, making it a spiritual problem can cause us to assume that any emotional or psychological issue is the result of some spiritual deficiency.
This is problematic because it can prevent us from finding the root cause of practically any other kind of “emotional distress”.
Lance notes that many who are in recovery do indeed feel better when in touch with their spiritual side; but this does not directly link addiction to a perceived lack of spirituality. To think it does is to create a mindset that becoming “more spiritual” as he puts it, is all you need to do to treat an addiction.
According to Lance, studies have shown that treatments claiming addiction to be a spiritual problem cause their participants to be more likely to relapse. He shares his opinion that addiction is rough enough, and convincing addicts that it makes them less spiritual will only make it rougher.
I see both sides of the argument. Plenty of people have used spirituality to get sober – people who would’ve gone down a much darker path had they not found the inspiration to change. I can also see how making someone think their addiction kills any hope of them seeing the light could be the worst thing to do to them.
I suppose it comes down to the fact that, as I said at the start of this, everyone is different. The 12-step program will work for some, whereas others will need an entirely different approach. One thing is for sure: we should never get to the point where we force religious or spiritual recovery programs on anyone.
If you want to kick an addiction but spirituality isn’t for you, Elizabeth Hartney at Very Well Mind shares some simple yet helpful things you can try. They include:
- Finding and pursuing your talents
- Forgiving abusers from your past
- Asking for forgiveness for your own actions
- Figuring out what you can learn from your struggles
- And doing positive things in your community like volunteer work
Interestingly enough, spirituality can itself inspire these exact activities.
Elizabeth writes that many modern-day spiritual methods of overcoming addiction use eastern ideology to help people in recovery understand their purpose and empower themselves with no need to believe in or devote themselves to the “higher power” that programs like the 12-step preach.
This helps them to discover their unique spiritual connection without the complications that arise with other religion-based recovery programs.
Spirituality is one of few effective ways to overcome an addiction, but it has its downsides. With modern practices focused less on a God you must obey and more on your inner power and ability to overcome your struggles with the divine on your side, these methods are more approachable for everyone and thus more effective.
There’s something real to the inspiration you can get from following a religious or spiritual path. Skeptics call it the placebo effect, and believers call it a result of genuine interaction with the divine in yourself.
Despite how helpful spirituality can be for recovery, its obvious downside is that it can fuel the shame we talked about earlier. It can be dangerous for someone to think they’ve squashed any hope they had for self-connection.
Were it not for this obvious flaw, spirituality as a method of recovery would be practically infallible. I say we should support those it has genuinely helped and find unique ways to help those who for their own reasons are not interested in being spiritual. We should support whatever path they take to sobriety as long as it works for them.
Continuing from the last topic, let’s talk about the manipulation you can sometimes find when pursuing spirituality.
In my opinion, a spiritual path can be a wonderful tool for upliftment. It can fundamentally change who you are or, depending on how you want to look at it, reawaken you to a way of life that was already within you.
My pro-spirituality stance is clear to anyone who reads my writings or listens to this podcast. Because of this, I hope you can all forgive me for venturing into different territory in this segment. Rather than praise spirituality, I’d like to look at how it can be used to gain followers through deception and manipulation.
First, we should keep in mind that there are two sides to every coin.
Spirituality can be good or bad depending on how it’s used. You can use it for your own personal upliftment, you can use it to help others who are walking a similar path, or in a more extreme negative case, you can use it to con people who genuinely believe in the ideas you’re selling.
There are plenty of well-meaning people using their passion for the evolution of consciousness as an outlet to help people and pay their bills doing what they love. They are not the ones I refer to when I say that the spiritual community, like any other, has its share of con artists and snake oil salesman.
For these people, the influx of interest in various belief systems from Buddhism to the New Age is an opportunity to trick and control people they think are nuts. They know they can make tons of money by making people think they’re the savior the world’s been waiting for.
It’s sad to see large groups of people dedicate themselves to some guru who, as time reveals, is only in it for the money and power. Some of these followers will break down into tears just talking about this incredible teacher and do the greatest mental gymnastics possible to excuse that teacher’s visible dark side.
In my opinion, the real issue at the heart of all this is that people want someone to believe in. Sadly, there are plenty of fake guru types out there who, despite that their heart is not really in it, know how to appear enlightened.
They pretend to have access to some great universal truth and convince their devotees that the only way they too can access that truth is through them.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the basis of most religions.
Appearing enlightened is easier than you might think. If you do it, there are bound to be at least a few people who fall for your act hook line and sinker. I’m not attacking those people, because I know how difficult it can be to find a genuine teacher and how heartbreaking it can be to fall for the tricks of a fake one.
If you want to appear enlightened, then it’s important to be aware of how you conduct yourself. Anytime you’re around your followers, you have to don the façade of the enlightened teacher. This archetype is surprisingly easy to mimic, and if you can pull it off well enough, people will forget to take your words with a grain of salt.
All it really takes is a calm demeanor and a somewhat advanced understanding of some kind of spiritual philosophy – be it New Age philosophy or a belief system you make up that incorporates other beliefs. Western spiritual seekers love eastern religion, so anything involving meditation, kundalini, or the chakras is likely to appeal to some spiritual seekers.
On their own, there’s nothing inherently damaging about these ideas. They can be helpful, but anything can be twisted in ways that control rather than liberate people. You need to understand those ideas on a deep level to use them for control effectively, but if you’re dedicated enough to the con, then it doesn’t take much to learn.
Also remember – and this might be a little controversial – that if you can control the sexuality of your followers (either by making them repress it or encouraging them to consistently deplete it through what you might call “free love”) then it’ll be a lot easier to control their psyche and thus manipulate their behavior.
Before I wrap this up, I should repeat that not everyone teaching spirituality or making money from it is a con artist. There are people who honestly believe in what they’re doing, even if the ideas they spread seem crazy.
I’m not here to argue which beliefs are genuine and which aren’t, because that’s a topic for another time. But even if what some spiritual figure is saying sounds crazy, it doesn’t always mean they’re manipulating people. In their mind, they might be saving the day by spreading their unconventional ideas.
I think it’s important to separate the manipulative snake oil salesmen from the salesmen who for whatever reason think the snake oil will actually work. It’s a fine line but one that deserves to be drawn.
My solution to all this is that if you’re into spirituality, you should think for yourself. Find or create your own beliefs instead of following a guru. Just know that if you decide to follow one anyway, there are great teachers out there who will only want the best for you.
Also try to remember that the student-guru relationship is not all bad. You can keep from getting lost in the craziness if you have some discernment. No matter what you believe, be reasonable about it. That alone could save you from falling into the hands of a deceptive guru.
Well that’s it for this episode. Be sure to check out KarmaYogaDaily.com for daily articles related to the topics discussed here. Also, check out Karma Yoga Daily and Aware Culture on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter at Wes_ Annac and at Love_Rebellion
Much love and thanks for listening.
Sources for this podcast:
Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D., “Spiritual Approaches To Addiction Recovery”, MentalHealth.net, August 26, 2013 (updated March 14, 2016) – https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/spiritual-approaches-to-addiction-recovery/
“Daily Spiritual Practices Are Helpful in Recovery”, DARA Thailand – https://alcoholrehab.com/addiction-recovery/daily-spiritual-practices-are-helpful-in-recovery/
“Meditation for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Recovery”, Elements Behavioral Health, July 6, 2014 – https://www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com/featured/meditation-for-alcoholism-and-drug-addiction-recovery/
“How Being Spiritual Helps in Addiction Recovery”, AddictionCenter, October 29, 2015 – https://www.addictioncenter.com/community/how-being-spiritual-helps-in-addiction-recovery/
Lance Dodes, M.D., “Spirituality and Addiction”, Psychology Today, March 17, 2015 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-heart-addiction/201503/spirituality-and-addiction
Elizabeth Hartney, Ph.D., “A Higher Power, Spirituality, and Addiction”, VeryWellMind, July 5, 2018 – https://www.verywellmind.com/a-higher-power-spirituality-and-addiction-22388
About Wes Annac:
I’m a twenty-something writer & blogger with an interest in spirituality, the environment, activism, music, and other awesome stuff. I run Karma Yoga Daily, a news blog dedicated to sharing daily wisdom.
This personal blog I run is pretty great, too.
If you enjoyed this post and want to support my work, consider a donation by sending funds via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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