The role of spirituality and religiosity in aiding recovery from alcohol and other drug problems: An investigation in a national U.S. sample


More Americans than ever before are identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” Both spirituality and religiosity (S/R) are of interest in the addiction field as they are related to alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems and are central to some recovery pathways. Yet little is known overall about S/R identification among people in recovery, the role these play in aiding recovery, and whether they play more or less of a role for certain subgroups (e.g., men/women, different races/ethnicities; those with treatment or 12-step histories). Here we characterize S/R and its associations with AOD recovery in a nationally representative, cross-sectional sample of U.S. adults (N = 39,809) screening positive to the question, “Did you use to have a problem with alcohol or drugs but no longer do?” (final weighted sample n = 2,002). Weighted chi-square and Poisson-distributed generalized linear mixed models were used to assess S/R and test for differences across subgroups on extent of spiritual, and religious identification, and the extent to which these had aided individuals’ recovery. Participants mostly reported being moderately spiritual and religious, and that overall, religion had not helped them overcome their AOD problem. In contrast, spirituality was most commonly reported as either not helping at all, or having made all the difference in terms of helping individuals overcome their AOD problem. Further, substantial differences were observed by race/ethnicity across both spirituality and religiosity, and to a lesser degree between men and women. Black Americans reported substantially more S/R than Whites, and that these often made all the difference in their recovery. The exact opposite trend was observed for White and Hispanic Americans. Prior professional treatment and 12-step mutual-aid use were both related to greater spirituality, but not religiosity. Overall, spirituality but not religion, appears to play a role in aiding recovery, particularly among those with prior treatment or 12-step histories, but women and men, and racial-ethnic groups in particular, differ strikingly in their spiritual and religious identification, and the role these have played in aiding recovery. These differences raise the question of the potential clinical utility of S/R in personalized treatment. 

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Last updated on 04/09/2020