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Religious and Faith-based Rehab

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If you’re ready to take the first step toward sobriety, there is a lot to consider. Having a belief in a higher power can draw you towards the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol. For many people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, having a strong connection to their faith can be an asset. This may include staying connected to your spiritual community, regularly attending religious services, or engaging in prayer or other traditions. If you are a religious or spiritual person, a faith-based rehab center may be a good fit for you.

Faith-based rehab programs incorporate the practices and principles of religion in an environment that addresses substance abuse with the support of your higher power and faith community. In some faith-based drug rehab programs, your religious beliefs may be a primary focus of treatment. These programs might be named after religious figures or held in nearby affiliated houses of worship. Others may incorporate other treatment modalities while keeping a significant religious influence.

Even more new-age approaches to addiction treatment incorporate various tenets of religion and spirituality with locations that may seem more like a hospital or even a residential center. Here, we will talk about the different types of faith-based rehab programs, their various approaches, and help you determine if faith-based rehab is right for you.


What is Religious and Faith-based Drug and Alcohol Rehab?

Faith-based rehab is a term used to describe a program of substance abuse treatment that draws on participants’ belief systems to help them in recovery. It is sometimes also called religious rehab. A common example of a faith-based treatment program is the peer support group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is not affiliated with one particular religion but encourages participants to call on a higher power for support.1 AA is traditionally held in a group format and draws upon reading, reflection, and discussion from a book of teachings called the Big Book.1

A faith-based rehab program does not have to be tied to a specific religion but can borrow tenets and practices from many. For many people in recovery, incorporating principles of faith or religion strengthens their commitment to treatment by creating a connection to treatment providers and other members of their program.

If someone draws hope, joy, or motivation from their faith, then participating in a faith-based rehab program can be a large asset in recovery. A 2019 paper from the Journal of Religion and Health identified that in over 80% of published literature about the influence of religion on recovery from substance abuse, faith is a positive factor.2 The authors elaborated that spirituality does not only have individual benefits for a recovering person but the community atmosphere of faith-based rehab helps them to navigate crises and find strength.2 After treatment, some evidence shows that regular participants in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have significantly higher rates of abstinence than those who do not attend AA.3

There has also been a recent push in government programs to incorporate faith-based organizations in our national response to addiction. Programs like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI) aids religious and community organizations by reaching underserved populations in need of substance abuse treatment through grant funding, training, and education.4 As we shift focus from individual responsibility to providing collective or community support, calling on faith leaders and community members can be a vital resource in combating addiction in the United States.


Religious Rehab vs. Non-religious Rehab

Religious rehab programs may differ from non-religious or secular rehabs in some areas. While a non-religious rehab may include spiritual practices like yoga, meditation, or journaling, faith-based rehab may have more religious content, such as worship services or discussion groups. Religious teachings can encourage mindfulness, create a sense of unity with one’s surroundings, and enhance your sense of individuality and purpose.5 Higher rates of attendance to faith-based support groups, such as AA, have been associated with higher rates of abstinence, in large part due to the positive relationships between group members and sense of community found there.3

There are elements of drug and alcohol addiction treatment that are consistent among most religious and non-religious rehab programs. Both program types should address the cravings and urges to use drugs or alcohol by developing relapse prevention skills. Rehab programs may use modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy or contingency management which attempt to reinforce abstinence from drinking or using drugs through behavioral cues or tangible rewards.6, 7 All addiction treatment should be evidence-based, and these approaches have become best practices in addiction treatment.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, and people of all faiths and beliefs can benefit from treating the mind, body, and spirit.8


Faith-based Drug and Alcohol Recovery Programs

Addiction treatment comes in stages, classified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as levels of care.9 Depending on your needs, you may start at a higher level of care, which means more intensive treatment or a longer time in treatment.9 Faith-based rehabs include religious teachings at all levels of their treatment programs. Religious or faith-based rehabs teach coping skills to their participants including “powerful cognitions… that give meaning to difficult life circumstances and provide a sense of purpose.”10 Creating meaning, purpose, and developing self-understanding is a benefit to the inclusion of religious practices in substance abuse treatment, as well as improvement in mental health symptoms.5

Whether rehab takes place in an inpatient treatment setting, such as a residential center or hospital, or an outpatient treatment setting, like a day program or group format, a faith-based program will draw on religious influence in its approach to treatment.8 Treatment may include medication management to treat co-occurring mental health conditions, as well as individual, group, or family therapy.8 If you are still using drugs or alcohol when you begin treatment, it may be necessary for you to undergo medical detoxification to be able to safely manage any withdrawal symptoms.8

Some common modalities used in faith-based drug and alcohol treatment include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy–An approach that targets the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the patient to identify situations where they are likely to relapse and shift their thinking and behavior.8 This modality has been shown to pair well with religious practices to uncover thinking processes that may be perpetuating substance use behaviors.
  • Motivational interviewing–An approach focusing on a participant’s readiness for change, helping to move them through the process.8 Alcoholics Anonymous utilizes a motivational interviewing framework in its peer support model, with members who have more time in recovery mentoring others to help them prepare at every stage of the change process.3 This peer-to-peer relationship has been shown to have a significantly positive effect on maintaining abstinence.3
  • Dialectical behavior therapy–An approach that encourages participants to embrace change and tolerate stressful or painful emotions more effectively.11 Dialectical behavior therapy teaches skills that help you to navigate recovery, including mindfulness and meditation, which may also help you connect with your higher power or spiritual beliefs.5

After completing a faith-based rehab program, you may also benefit from continued participation in a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous which has been shown to support rates of continued abstinence.3 You may also want to continue your established religious practices, such as prayer groups or attending worship services. By making their faith part of their aftercare plan, many people find it to be a source of strength and solace that helps the recovery process.


Find a Religious-based Rehab Center

Seeking addiction treatment is a courageous step in the right direction. Faith-based rehab can help you learn skills for preventing relapse, develop spiritual practices that benefit your mental and physical health, and find community and connection with others. Research suggests that adjoining your religious practices with addiction recovery treatment can improve your chance for long-term recovery success. Your faith is a strength that can guide you through this challenging and critical time.

If you are questioning whether a faith-based rehab program is right for you, our admissions navigators are available to help. They can review various options for faith-based rehabs in your area by using our directory of treatment centers. You may be able to locate state-funded or free or low-cost faith-based treatment facilities. You may also be able to access treatment without insurance. Visit our website to verify your insurance benefits to make sure your care is covered, call today for more information and to get started on your journey to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

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Jennifer Fifield is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for drugabuse.com and recovery.org. She holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism and a master’s degree in Health Promotion Management. Jennifer has served as a content editor on numerous articles, web pages, and blog posts within the medical, dental, and vision industry. She has 15+ years of experience in higher education including writing/editing, administrative, and teaching positions within the health/wellness, accreditation, and health communications areas.
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