In the United States in 2011, there were an estimated 21.6 million people, age 12 and older who needed treatment for alcohol or drug addiction. Unfortunately, few of these people receive help for these struggles; on average, only about 2.3 million people get treated for addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends several methods of closing this “treatment gap,” which includes, according to their Principles of Effective Treatment, making treatment easier to access and personalizing treatment options so that individuals feel comfortable in the rehabilitation program they have chosen.
Using complementary medicine to bolster evidence-based approaches to addiction treatment is one way that many people customize their treatment programs. These approaches can include meditation, yoga, guided imagery, herbal supplements, special diets, and even prayer.
Medical science has researched the effectiveness of everything from prescription medication to exercise in treating addiction for the past few decades. While many facets of addiction treatment are relatively recent, the power of prayer has long been associated with treating addiction, largely because of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
This was one of the first approaches to group support, stating that people struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction could overcome the problem, stay sober, and rebuild their lives. AA’s approach to treatment became the foundation for many other rehabilitation programs, though several have removed the focus on a higher power and prayer.
Still, praying – regardless of faith – can be a vital component for some in the addiction recovery process. Alongside evidence-based treatment, prayer can be deeply effective to keep one focused on personal improvement, long-term health through sobriety, and returning to the community.
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Praying can, and should, be an individual practice. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, Pagan, or another religious group, prayer is an integral part of being in community with other members of your faith and being in communion with your higher power. During recovery, asking for help and guidance from a higher power can create a foundation for understanding, patience, and endurance through evidence-based treatment.
A Christian group founded AA, so many of the prayers associated with that organization are based in Christianity. However, the Serenity Prayer has become associated more with the long recovery process than with one faith group. Many people, including nonreligious or secular individuals, use the Serenity Prayer to keep them on track during recovery. This prayer is:
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
When following the 12-step model, there are specific prayers at specific steps, which can be used alongside the Serenity Prayer. For example, the Third Step Prayer is:
God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!
Prayer does not exclusively help those in recovery. It is an important, grounding process for the loved ones of those overcoming addiction. One prayer for a child in recovery could be:
I trust that you understand my son/daughter. You have carried him in the hardest times. Only you have seen each despairing moment, and only you have walked beside him. Now I ask that you, with your gentle, healing hands would lead him away from his drug addiction. Cover his mind and body as he faces the withdrawal, and fill his heart with songs of hope. Help him to see what you can already see. My son, cleansed of all the upset and brokenness, free to live and love, restored and redeemed.
In the United States, thanks to AA’s flourishing and success, much addiction treatment is founded on Christian principles. Group rehabilitation may begin and end with a prayer, meals at inpatient rehabilitation programs may offer prayers, and there may be specific prayer groups in rehabilitation programs that work alongside other recovery steps.
However, more religious groups in the U.S. are coming forward with their approaches to addiction treatment, adding prayer, scripture, rituals, and community to support the evidence-based treatment process.
For example, Islam recommends using regular prayer, fasting, and scripture reading during addiction treatment to refocus the mind on discipline and moderation for the body and soul. There are five daily prayers, facing the direction of Mecca, along with the monthlong spiritual celebration of Ramadan, which are the core components of Muslim practice.
Islam also prohibits consuming any mind-altering substances – alcohol, nicotine, and even caffeine, as well as illicit drugs or recreationally abusing prescription drugs. Becoming Muslim or returning to Islam during treatment offers several avenues of support and guidance to stay abstinent from substances.
Judaism is one of the most ancient faiths in the world, and one of the larger faith groups in the U.S. Like any other demographic, people who are Jewish can struggle with addiction, so there are some modern prayers created to support those in recovery. Some of these prayers have been adapted to the 12-step program, like the seventh step Jewish prayer, the Modeh Ani:
Modeh Ani Lefanecha Melech Chai Vekayam Shehechezarta Be Nishmati Bechemla; Rabba Emunatecha. (I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.)Mindfulness and meditation practices, which often are recommended as complementary treatments during recovery, were created out of Buddhist practices. The Buddhist faith focuses on relieving suffering through nonattachment, and many specific practices – especially mantras and meditation – have been found to ease the mind of anxiety or worry. There are now several 12-step-inspired Buddhist groups in the U.S., including some called 11 steps (focusing on meditation as the 11th step), five-step precepts (focusing on abstinence from intoxicants), and eight-step programs (based on the eightfold path).
One of the more popular newer faith practices in the U.S. is generally referred to as paganism or neopaganism. These loosely affiliated groups worship older gods and mythological heroes from Greek, Norse, Celtic, and Italic traditions. There are several celebrations throughout the month and year, observing changes in the moon, sun, and earth cycles. While wine or food may be part of these celebrations, increasingly neopagans are focusing on a community without intoxicants, to support all members who wish to worship.
Regardless of faith or spiritual practice, adding personal ritual, requests for help and guidance, and community support can deeply enhance the addiction recovery process. While following the work in an evidence-based treatment program – which includes medical intervention, prescriptions, and behavioral counseling – working with a spiritual leader, religious group, or peer support group with prayers can help keep you focused on your long-term goals.
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