Can Spirituality Help People with Substance Use Disorders?

Can Spirituality help People with Substance Use Disorders?

In the days following comedian Russell Brand’s announced plans for Comic Relief benefit to help highlight the issue of drug and alcohol dependence in the UK, academics from the University of Chester are preparing for a two-day event focused on the issues of addiction.

On February 20th and 21st, the institution is hosting a two-day event where well-known speakers from the fields of addiction studies, religious studies and theology, as well as treatment centre professionals and counsellors, will discuss the connection between addiction and spirituality.

Organised as part of The Higher Power Project – a study of the diversity of ‘higher power’ used by people in the 12-step recovery from addiction programme – delegates will explore the distinctive features of faith-based resources available to support recovery from addiction.

Dr Wendy Dossett, a Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University and lead researcher on The Higher Power Project, said: “As the damage, not only to the individual but also to families and communities, caused by addiction to alcohol, drugs and similar addictive behaviours increases, the search for a wider range of potential solutions is becoming ever more urgent.

“Spiritual solutions to addictions have long been used and have been shown to be effective for many people. Thousands of people in the UK, and millions worldwide, see both their addiction and their recovery in spiritual terms. We’re interested in what exactly is meant by that.

“The 12-step programme approach to recovery identifies the problem of addiction as rooted in the powerlessness of the individual over the substance or behaviour which is causing them, or others, harm. Given acceptance of this, an alternative ‘higher’ power must be sought.

“The programme emerged in America in the 1930s, from a Christian context, and originally ‘higher power’ was understood in religious terms. The Higher Power Project is hoping to find out whether this remains the same today.”

As well as 12-step programmes which are described as ‘spiritual but not religious’, there are many explicitly faith-based approaches to addiction.

On the first day of this conference, delegates will explore some of these faith-based solutions to addiction. There will be contributions from a wide range of recovery organisations and religious perspectives including those from Muslim, Jewish, Latter Day Saints, Buddhist and Christian backgrounds.

Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University, will deliver a public lecture ‘entitled Faith in Addictions Treatment in the USA, and Chris Cook, Professor of Theology and Director of the Project for Spirituality, Theology and Health, at Durham University, will present ‘Thinking Theologically about Addiction.’

On the second day, a practitioner seminar will explore Spirituality and 12-step Recovery’. Professor Humphreys will present ‘Linking addicted patients to 12-step mutual help fellowships’.

Dr Dossett said: “In these sessions we will be looking at what 12-step facilitation is and the role it has to play in delivering recovery in the new political and organisational landscape.

“This conference brings together academics from a range of subject areas, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and addictions professionals with individuals and families affected by addiction, who are, after all  the real ‘experts’ in the experience of addiction and the damage it can do. We’ll be offered a unique opportunity to hear human stories of desperation and recovery, and to learn about the methods that addicts themselves use to rebuild their lives.

The Higher Power Conference, Public Lecture and Practitioner’s Seminar takes place at the University of Chester on February 20 and 21.

You can also follow @higherpowerproj on Twitter.

Addiction to alcohol costs the UK around £22bn per annum in health, welfare and social care and prison costs. (BBC)
In 2011there were 8,748 alcohol related deaths in the UK, and 2,652 drug-related deaths. (Office of National Statistics)
Expectation that more than 200,000 people will die prematurely of alcohol related liver disease in the next 20 years. Alcohol related liver disease mortality is increasing at a time when mortality from most other diseases is decreasing. (Lancet 2012)
Addiction respects no boundaries of race, religion, social class, education or wealth, though most adversely affects those with highest indicators of social exclusion.
As well as damaging or destroying health, addiction damages individuals, families and communities.