Frequently, spirituality and religion are equated as the same thing, but this isn’t necessarily accurate. As defined by the National Institute on Mental Illness, “Religion is an organized, community-based system of beliefs, while spirituality resides within the individual and what they personally believe.” What this means is you can still be a spiritual person or someone who believes in a higher power, but not belong to any kind of organized religious group, like a church.
What’s interesting is both religion and spirituality can play an important role in substance abuse prevention and a healing role in substance use therapy. And while these roles introduce different allies in one’s battle against substance use, they ultimately offer benefits in ways few other therapies can, making it important to consider them alongside traditional counseling.
Many therapies include the practice of mindfulness, whereby one takes the time to mentally slow down and intentionally focus on the details of one’s external surroundings and internal response, as well as the ever-important, mentally-grounding method of focusing on the breath. Some spiritual practices, including prayer and meditation, include mindfulness in some form or other. But what does this have to do with substance abuse and its prevention?
Great question — the use of substances typically stems from the desire to numb the pain felt through life’s struggles, such as times of loneliness, isolation, trauma, depression and severe grief. However, while it’s true that drugs and alcohol do numb pain to one extent, they also steal away the best parts of life, like healthy relationships and internal peace.
Spirituality, on the other hand, seeks to return this internal peace, as well as give direction and meaning to our lives. By practicing spirituality, you can begin to find peace, comfort and strength during difficult or hopeless moments in life. It gives you the strength to face and overcome the pain rather than always seeking to numb it or make it “go away.”
Another benefit of spirituality is decreased stress. Many studies researched the stress levels of people who practice spirituality, especially those who believe in God or a higher power who takes care of all things. Their spirituality worked as a stress reducer even during times of severe upheaval and unrest as this confidence in God allowed them to rest peacefully in the belief that all things would work out as they should.
Lastly, practicing spirituality of some kind tends to increase gratitude, allowing a person to look beyond the negatives in their life and focus their energies instead on the positives. For those struggling with substance use, this facet can be both helpful and beneficial as the reality of being substance-free can seem grim. However, by focusing on the positives — increased financial stability, self-confidence, improved personal drive, internal peace and healed relationships — it becomes obvious that the negatives of a substance-free life are severely outnumbered.
As mentioned before, religion is the organized community aspect of spirituality, and all religions include spirituality in way one or another in their traditions. Religion, be it Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism or any other, is based on central beliefs and their respective ways of living. For someone battling substance abuse, religion can offer a structure, a routine and a welcoming, compassionate community in which you can partake.
The community aspect of religion benefits not only those struggling with substances but all people, as it offers you the chance to build relationships with like-minded people. This provides a sense of community and belonging, as well as confidence in being able to talk about certain topics, struggles, victories, failures and successes in a safe environment.
When your growth is fostered in the kindness of a religious environment, it is not only a growth rooted in peace, but it is one supported and encouraged by people who desire only the best for you.
A peaceful change
For anyone who’s ever belonged to a religious group or church or has invested time in spiritual life knows that it can be difficult at times, but the good things which come from dedicating one’s life to a higher power far outweigh the hardships.
Acknowledging the belief in a higher power gives you the peace of mind of knowing the trajectory of your life lies in hands much more powerful and capable than your own, and it gives you the self-confidence experienced in prayer and meditation. It removes the stress of needing to figure out every single detail and control every moment, as prayer helps you realize that all things will work out for your good.
For someone struggling with substance use, considering adding an element of spirituality to your life can be an important lifeline. It can work alongside other counseling services offered at Real Recovery to get you back on track, living a life of peace and freedom from substance use.