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Faith-Based Recovery

Definitions and History of Faith-based Recovery


To know what faith-based rehab is and if it is a good fit, one must first understand the definitions of rehab, religion, faith-based and spirituality.

Rehab stands for rehabilitation, and that is what one would expect to achieve with rehab; a rehabilitated person. The word rehabilitation dates back to the 1530s,  rehabilitation meaning “restoration” the prefix, re- meaning “again”. To restore a person back to how they once were, or restore them again to their original state.

Religion comes from the Latin word Relegere, which means “to repeat, to read again”. Another derivation is the ancient word Religionem which means “to show respect for what is sacred”. A definition of religion would be: “an organized system of beliefs and practices revolving around, or leading to, a transcendent spiritual experience. There is no culture recorded in human history which has not practiced some form of religion.”

Spirituality is defined as “the state or quality of being dedicated to God, religion, or spiritual things or values, esp. as contrasted with material or temporal ones.” Understanding spirituality further would include having the state of mind that occurs with or without religious preference, knowing what the spirit is or spiritual qualities are or finding value in the idea of them. It can be a deep connection with a higher purpose, or with oneself, or with the existence of all.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines faith-based as “Affiliated with or based on religion or a religious group.”

The definition of faith-based substance abuse programs can be found in Texas legislation where it is defined as, “Any program conducted by a religious organization; that is exclusively religious, spiritual, or ecclesiastical in nature…”.

America has a rich history of faith-based recovery. It begins in the 18th and 19th centuries with the Native American religious and cultural movements based off of abstinence and a return to their native tribal traditions for not only personal recoveries but cultural survival.

There have been many people who have suffered and come out of a terrible situation or even brought up a whole population out of oppression, through their religious faith-based beliefs. A few examples would be Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini (who survived Japanese WW2 camps, being lost at sea and alcohol addiction amongst other trials).

“Every worthy act is difficult. Ascent is always difficult. Descent is easy and often slippery.”  -Mahatma Gandhi


“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”  -Martin Luther King Jr.


“Yet a part of you still believes you can fight and survive no matter what your mind knows. It’s not so strange. Where there’s still life, there’s still hope. What happens is up to God.”  -Louis Zamperini, from his autobiography, Devil at My Heels


Faith Based Rehab

Faith-based drug rehabs approach addiction from a spiritual perspective, and can help religious persons connect with their higher power, improve their relationship with God, and strengthen their spiritual foundation in order to overcome addiction. One can not only heal the body at a faith based rehab but heal the mind and spirit, and find comfort and peace in their religious or spiritual connection as well as with themselves.

Some benefits of faith-based rehabs include:

  • Sharing the same core values
  • Talk to staff about religious or spiritual concerns
  • Spiritual counselors
  • Seek forgiveness from God or forgive self
  • Strengthen faith
  • Agreement and understanding with members
  • Improve relationship with God
  • Scripture or spiritual readings and guidance
  • Prayer or meditation
  • Understanding of or peace with God’s will
  • Healing the spirit and mind

The biggest and probably most well-known faith based rehabilitation group is Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A. One of the most commonly used methodologies in rehabs is 12 step recovery, and that is a practice of A.A.’s that is based off of the Bible.

76.5 percent of Americans identified as religious in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

Some other facts according to the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs: “There are more than 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. The average congregation has 100–400 members.” and, “Faith-based institutions engage 45 million volunteers, nearly half of the total number of American volunteers.”

This study shows a lower statistic of alcohol and drug abuse for those with religious and spiritual involvement:

“Research has shown that spiritual persons are less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Furthermore, in a systematic review of the literature, Koening & Larson found 86 studies that examined the relationship between spirituality and AOD abuse. Of alcohol studies that measured level of religious involvement, 88% found lower alcohol abuse for those with higher religious involvement.”

Different Faith-Based Rehabs

Faith-based rehabs vary widely. While implementing the necessary medical attention for the addicted, they vary not only in religious beliefs, in devotion, in cultural and religious practices and in emphasis of faith but also in treatment quality.

Some provide in-patient care, where one can stay in the facility and some provide out-patient care where one can come and go, still others offer aftercare where patients can come back after recovery to stay in check or to mentor others. Faith-based rehabs are often more affordable, as the staff can be volunteers and they are more purposeful in sharing God’s path. Many faith-based rehabs will welcome anyone of any religion into their facility and not enforce their beliefs, and many addicts who come have no religious denomination.

As they are all different, some will place more emphasis on faith than others. Depending on where you choose, they might have religious study or biblical readings together, optional group or individual prayer, or meditation.

There are faith-based rehabs that practice different religions, such as Jewish, Islamic, Christian, or Catholic treatment centers and there are some that focus only on spirituality, mindfulness, and meditation with no particular faith in mind.

One of the most common classes of faith-based rehabs would be Christian drug rehab. While they provide traditional treatments and detox they often use scripture as guidance and spiritual reflection. They provide individual counseling and group counseling, they emphasize God’s love and acceptance so that the addicted can find solace and fortitude.

Residential Christian faith rehabs are gone over in this manuscript, Spiritual Change in Drug Treatment: Utility of the Christian Inventory of Spirituality, by Liliane Cambraia Windsor PhD, MSW and Clay Shorkey PhD, LCW excerpted as follows:

“Residential Christian faith-based substance abuse programs (RCFBSAPs) aims to promote a drug and crime free lifestyle by developing the spirituality of those struggling with AOD problems. The administration, structure, and curriculum of these programs are based on Christian principles and on the belief in God as a vehicle for change. A supportive environment is fostered and includes participation in Bible study, church services, job skills training, spiritual counseling, 24-hour supervision, and a structured daily schedule. Residents are usually from ethnically diverse backgrounds, tend to be poor, marginally employed and housed, and have not been able to benefit from traditional public or private substance abuse treatment programs. Furthermore, these programs provide 24-hour services with no fees and serve a large portion of persons with limited or no-English language abilities. Residents are free to leave anytime though they may stay in these programs for extended periods of time, depending upon their individual needs and desires.”

Another example of a religious faith would be Buddhist rehab. Buddhism is a centuries-old Eastern practice that today is still widespread and is also applied for recovery of the substance addicted.

Some Buddhist philosophies are, more or less, that attachment and craving are the roots of all suffering, to be present now and to take one day at a time. These can be very useful principles in recovering from substance abuse. Buddhist meditation is commonly practiced at these faith-based rehabs; during meditation, focus is put on control and use of breath and repetition of a mantra, or chant.

The goal of faith-based rehabs versus traditional rehabs is to help one achieve a healthy and sober lifestyle and to become rehabilitated through faith. As there are many different faith-based rehabs it is important to isolate what one wants; a broad view of faith, a devout religious practice, or a specific spiritual foundation, and then thoroughly research what the religious practices are and what the programs require.

Studies on Faith Based Addiction Treatment

It is reported that those of spirituality or religious faith had a stronger and larger support system and better-handled stress. Spirituality and faith can give the addicted greater insight into what caused the addiction in the first place. Recovery varies in degree from person to person as well as with facilities. An excerpt from Rehab Reviews on a study from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment states:

“A paper that discussed a study on faith-based treatment programs, ‘Religious Faith and Spirituality in Substance Abuse Recovery,” published in March 2000, explored the value of spirituality and religious faith… There were 236 participants who were recovering from addiction or substance abuse.

“The study found that most people who had high levels of spirituality or religious faith were generally more optimistic when it came to their life orientation. They also appeared to have a stronger and larger support system, handled stress better and exhibited lower levels of anxiety than those who had no religious affiliation or spirituality. This provides compelling evidence to suggest that faith-based treatment programs for addiction can be effective for certain individuals.”

“While those answers will typically be more spiritual in nature, they can give the patient greater insight into their behavior and what set the problem in motion in the first place.”

Another study from the same journal, this time in 2006, by Kristin Ferguson of Arizona State University and Donna Spruijt-Metz of the University of Southern California, entitled Outcomes Evaluation in Faith-Based Social Services: Are We Evaluating Faith Accurately? goes over the effectiveness of faith-based organizations tackling substance abuse. The article simply states:

“two studies found that participants in faith-based drug treatment programs achieved sobriety and were more likely to remain sober over time than their comparison-group counterparts.”

The US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health provides an article written on religiosity and spirituality in drug treatment. The study states:

“Religiosity and spirituality (R/S) have been shown to be related to better outcomes in many health service areas, including drug abuse treatment.”

A more in-depth case study done on a focus group entitled A Focus-Group Study on Spirituality and Substance-Abuse Treatment is detailed below.

Here, its authors expound upon how length of abstinence and the severity of relapse were lessened from association with spirituality as well as how the changes during treatment were more effective and how spirituality greatly contributed to their rehabilitation once recovered:

“Length of sobriety has also been positively associated with spirituality while commitment to a higher power may lessen the severity of relapse episodes. In retrospective studies, recovering addicts frequently reported spirituality as an important component of their recovery efforts and to be helpful in maintaining changes made during treatment.

“The authors further state that they “observed that recovering addicts often undergo intense spiritual awakenings that facilitate abstinence following treatment…The descriptive studies discussed above all indicate that some substance-using patients report that spirituality is central to their lives as well as to their recovery.”

Going to a faith-based rehab and recovering one’s faith can help to finally handle the issue of addiction. It fills the hole that the addiction or drug use was filling in place of where they once put God, and puts God back in His place which allows the addicted to no longer hold the addiction in place, and let it go, now fulfilled. This is illustrated by experiences shared by participants of a focus group:

“For some, this entailed ‘plac[ing] God on the back-burner’ or ‘on the shelf’


“‘I still prayed while using, but God was not as important….Oh no, you don’t think about (God). The only thing you think about is how you’re gonna get your next fix’.”


“Others went further, putting their ‘faith in drugs instead of God’


“‘To me I’ve been messing with marijuana and other drugs for so long, they become my spirit, they become the thing I believe in every day and search for and seek out’.”


“‘Your addiction has become greater than you, you turn your life over to your addiction, over and over again’.”


In Faith-based rehab addicts can recover not only from addiction, but begin to use God the right way, instead of using God backwards, as when under the influence, in attempts to continue drug abuse as shared here:

“The only time I used to call on God was when I didn’t have no dope and get locked up—I’d be in that bullpen hurting, because I didn’t have no heroin and that would be the only time I would call on God…when I felt like I was at my rock bottom.”


“I had God, but I just had him in a different way when I was out there. I’d be like, ‘God, don’t let me get burnt for my last ten dollars’… you know, I was just using him in the wrong way.”

Participants in the study felt that God had plans for them and kept them living because of their faith and to share their knowledge with those who need it:

“Back in 2002 I was shot….I died twice on the operating table….I’m wondering, ‘Why did God let me live, (when) I done did so much bad stuff in my life?’ My mother said, ‘He has a plan for you’.”


“‘(Spirituality) gives me a reason to go on with my life…(that reason is) to try and share my knowledge with the next person”

Participants felt that their relationship with God was what made the difference in them staying clean and that spirituality was necessary for recovery:

” ‘If you want to stay clean, eventually you will get a relationship with a higher power. It may not be God, so to speak, but you have to find something greater than yourself”; “You definitely need spirituality in recovery… I don’t think I could stay clean without God. I mean I tried it on my own a lot of times and it didn’t work … this time around I have humbled myself to get down on my knees and pray, and it’s working.”

Spirituality has always guided people and has been known for giving hope to people in overcoming obstacles throughout history, in this study, it was shown to give hope once again for the addicted, set goals, and gave a reason to get on with life:

“My relationship with God gives me hope. When I wake up in the morning, it gives me reason to go on with my life.’


“It helps give me a straight frame of mind that keeps me from going out to use sometimes. Like when I get the urge to use, I talk to God and it helps me a whole lot”.


Faith Based Recovery is an Option

Many feel that faith-based rehab is the right way to go, that it is the only hope for them to recover from addiction, and that their faith guided them through it and out the other end. They found a deeper meaning in life, the world and themselves, and they were able to repair their relationship with God and heal. The often-unbearable ordeal and suffering from addiction causing physical pain, mental torture, and an empty spiritual vacuum, can be liberated in a faith-based drug rehabilitation program.

There are many faith-based rehab options to choose from, whether it is outpatient or inpatient, Christian, Catholic, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish or other. Many who don’t even have a specific religious belief are accepted at most faith-based rehabs.

Faith-based rehabs vary in quality but also in what they provide such as religious study, prayer, meditation, education, or spiritual principles, and vary in degree of religious practice.  Often times people come out of it with new friendships and camaraderie, having gone through what they went through with fellow addicts, for others, it provides a purpose by enabling them to help others of the same faith overcome similar issues.

There is a lot to be said for faith-based drug rehab and, through spiritual guidance in the course of addiction treatment, the addicted can reach recovery with a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Last modified on Friday, 17 November 2017 18:45