Although there is in the 21st Century much research defining alcoholism (addiction) in terms that can be useful, in my view, researchers often ignore the spiritual aspect of addiction and recovery. In addition to the mental-emotional and physical-medical-neurological-aspects of addiction, the spiritual effects of the disease of addiction must be addressed. Alcoholism is a “spiritual malady” per the basic text of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64). There is a growing body of research examining the role of spirituality and religion in the development (or not) and treatment of addiction. This blog post, however, will just briefly look at the anecdotal (based on experience, not scientific research) evidence suggesting that the alcoholic or addict may have an innate spiritual deficit disorder.
Abraham Twerski, a noted psychiatrist and researcher in the addiction and mental health field, has said:
“When a person is not feeding his spirit properly, it is not like an iron deficiency or a Vitamin A deficiency. They suffer from SDS‚ a spirituality deficiency syndrome. *** Spirituality means being the best human being you can be. *** My work with alcoholics and drug addicts has convinced me they cannot recover without spirituality…(speech, 11/02/2009, Saint Peter’s University).”
Based on my years of counseling alcoholics and addicts and my own personal recovery, it is clear to me that most alcoholics and addicts trace feelings of personal alienation and emptiness to times in their lives that predate their use of alcohol or other drugs. Indeed, many seem to have felt they were “on the outside looking in” from their earliest memories. Some of the other words used to describe this spiritual deficit include these: a hole in the soul; soul sickness; alienated; numb; empty; fear-filled hopelessness; fear of impending doom. If I were a philosopher, I might say that all human beings have an emptiness or existential pain (angst) that they strive to fill with activity (jobs, careers, hobbies), sex, relationships, and the like. Fortunate individuals are able to develop a personal relationship with a God, Higher Power, or other source of spiritual strength early in life and the willingness to nurture that relationship throughout their lives.
Some individuals, however, fill their spiritual vacuum with alcohol or other drugs, or other addictive behaviors. These individuals describe their early reactions to use of alcohol or other drugs something like this:
“For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt normal, unafraid, beautiful or handsome, smart, able to be social and interact with others.”
This reaction to drugs or alcohol can be overwhelmingly attractive for someone who has spent life in fear of being crushed by a cosmic rock at any moment, resulting in an ongoing effort to continue to achieve that reaction through drug or alcohol use, resulting in addictive disease. In a loose sense, the alcoholic or addict has found a “reason for being” through use of alcohol and other drugs. Tragically, seeking meaning in life through addiction often leads to spiritual bankruptcy and, for some, actual death. In my experience and the experience of many in the addiction field and in the 12 Step communities, addressing the spiritual aspects of addiction is essential to long term recovery.
So, perhaps it may be helpful to look at the alcoholic or addict (or potential alcoholic or addict) as an individual who has a spiritual deficit disorder that needs to be addressed.
As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, 09/08/2017.