The topic of spirituality is becoming increasingly interesting to clinicians, psychiatrists, and researchers who are seeking more ways for people to deal with the temptations of addiction. There are all kinds of addictions, from drugs to cigarettes, to alcohol, to overeating, and even sex. Although modern counseling, support groups, and psychiatry have made great strides in the treatment of addiction and dependency, the patient must want to change before the treatment can be successful, because addiction is tied to a person's inner-self. And that inner-self is where spirituality resides.
When a person's inner-self becomes damaged or distorted, his/her spirituality can become damaged or distorted, resulting in addictive and self-destructive behavior. Some people believe that the key to overcoming addiction lies in organized religion. But although there is a spiritual component to religion, there are vast differences between the two. Many people are very religious, and yet have little or no spirituality. On the other hand, many very spiritual people do not hold any particular religious beliefs. The following of certain religious practices may help in overcoming addiction, but the success lies not in the religious nature of the practices, but in the fact that following them helps to heal an addict's inner-self, where spirituality resides.
The ancient spiritual discipline of fasting, the mirror opposite of indulgence, is of particular interest in relation to addition. Many people practice fasting for religious reasons, but its inherent nature is a spiritual one, because it helps to strengthen one's self-control―a personal resource that is undeniably depletable. Just as muscles strengthen from repeated exercise, practicing regular self-control is necessary to have such control available whenever it is needed. So purposely fasting, even though food is available, helps give a person the strength to say no to any influences that may contribute to an addictive personality. If one can refuse food, the most basic of human needs, then one can learn to refuse destructive substances or influences that are not vital to survival.
The practices of prayer and meditation are also considered important in maintaining sobriety. Alcoholics Anonymous has 12 essential steps for members to follow, one of which says that addicts have 'sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out'. But although many people think of Alcoholics Anonymous as a religious approach to beating addiction to alcohol, it is actually a spiritual approach to living. Spiritual discipline and character development are emphasized, including humility, confession and amends, forgiveness, acceptance, submission to a Higher Power, ongoing personal moral inventory, and service to others. Recent research also points to the mental health benefits of practices such as forgiveness and acceptance.
Many religious and meditative practices have their roots in establishing and strengthening self-control: focusing attention, maintaining forced silence, repetitive chanting, abstaining from food, often interspersed with silence, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Such spiritual practices may promote incremental change over time, but they may also result in dramatic epiphanies, or 'spiritual awakenings'. Such awakenings can cause profound emotional release as a person feels freed from addiction and craving, and stories of such epiphanies are common in Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, the last of the 12 Steps begins with the words, "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps."
Psychologist Jim Orford once noted that the reversal of a pervasive and persistent problem such as addiction may require a comprehensive 'spiritual change' in attitude, character, and values. Noted psychiatrist Carl Jung described such spiritual awakenings in a similar fashion, as huge rearrangements of personality where 'ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces ... are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate'. Clearly, when the faltering of one's inner-self manifests itself through addictive behavior, the path to healing must begin by healing that inner-self-the spiritual self.