Addiction and spirituality: two states that are counterparts yet also irrefutably interlinked. There are myriad opinions as to what fuels addiction and why, but many believe that the urge to alter perspective, to escape from normality, and to feel a connection with something grander is the main catalyst.
The addicting power of alcohol and drugs is, according to psychologist William James, “unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour.” If this statement is even partly true then it suggests spiritual people are less inclined to try drinking and drugs as their desire for mystical realization is already fulfilled.
Research has shown that people who regularly attend religious services and consider themselves ‘spiritual’ are up to eight times less likely to use illicit drugs. Most religions incorporate strict moral guidelines associating addictive behaviors with sin, so while this may partially explain these statistics, there is almost certainly more to it than that.
It’s important to realize that spirituality can take many forms and isn’t always “religious.” Spirituality also refers to the search for self-knowledge, meaning and purpose in life, and the sense of being connected to yourself, others and the world around you.
Many believe that people who lack a spiritual connection — religious or otherwise — are more prone to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and an inescapable sense of discontent – three traits that so often perpetuate addiction. So how exactly can spirituality help with addiction recovery?
Treatments that focus on the body and mind, such as yoga and meditation, are increasingly on the rise in rehab centers and are very successful at breaking addiction patterns. Yoga and meditation not only help cultivate an awareness of the body, but also show practitioners how to connect the mind, body and spirit, and how to utilize all three in perfect harmony. It’s about finding an accord, a balance – a balance that doesn’t, and cannot, exist while someone is an active addict.
One might wonder how something as simple as trying new breathing practices can help prevent a relapse from a force as strong as addiction. However, it’s clear from looking at many addiction success stories that it can significantly help boost overall feelings of wellbeing and confidence, as well as encourage the development of new coping strategies. A former addict who attended the Sober College treatment center for three months explained how he benefited from the yoga classes offered there:
“I’ve learned to control my breathing, especially in situations when I’m feeling emotional. It helps me calm down. I’ve gained a lot of flexibility and yoga has encouraged me to continue to get stronger … to live a healthy life.”
Regular yoga and meditation practice can bring a stability to the mind, as well as a heightened ability to deal with traumatic situations – both factors that can only lead to positive change. The desire to escape from the realities of life is another main cause of addiction; people use drugs to escape from the current moment, to flee from whatever they don’t want to face. Activities like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture help participants to become aware of the moment and deal with their present reality.
“When people take substances, they’re seeking a certain experience, whether it’s escapist or transcendental or just wanting a different psychological state, to get away from whatever is making them unhappy,” says Sat Bir Khalsa, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “Yoga is an alternative, a positive way to generate a change in consciousness that, instead of providing an escape, empowers people with the ability to access a peaceful, restorative inner state that integrates mind, body, and spirit.”
Nothing can replace the contentment human beings experience when they feel connected to themselves, others, and also to something greater than them. This sense of spirituality can significantly help maintain inner strength — something that is absolutely essential if one is going to avoid a relapse into addictive behaviors.
Addiction is classified as a physical disease. It is, but it’s also a disease of spirituality, and true healing can only begin when one is connected to both the present and themselves.
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