In general, immigrants to the United States start with less of a risk of alcohol use disorder than do native-born Americans, but that risk increases the longer they stay.
Karl Marx famously wrote that “Religion … is the opium of the people,”, but religion can help people avoid opioids, alcohol, and other substances. Maybe. Sometimes.
According to the Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, people who are more religious, with high frequencies of worship and stronger spiritual values, have lower rates of substance use disorder.
However, when members of faiths that prohibit any use of alcohol or recreational drugs do start to use, their “substance use can become severe.” Substance use disorder becomes more likely.
Hindus and alcohol
Hinduism is one of the—if not the—oldest surviving religions (although the name only dates back to about the 12th century). While Hindu religious belief does not prohibit alcohol use entirely, Hindu spirituality and addiction do not go together.
Mahatma Gandhi favored total prohibition. The Indian Constitution, adopted upon independence from Great Britain, says “the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition … of intoxicating drinks and of drugs.” Five Indian states have complete bans on alcohol.
A study of Hindu men who were born in India but moved to Britain found that those who were religiously observant and regularly attended services were least likely to drink regularly.
So, for those individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) and strong religious faith, finding a Hindu rehab center—or at least a Hindu-friendly facility—will likely improve the odds that the addiction recovery process will be successful.
Hindus and drugs
Ironically, there is a long association with drugs in Hinduism, dating back to one drug in particular: soma. No one knows exactly what plant was used to make soma, but it allegedly had hallucinogenic effects. It probably dates back to proto-Indo-Iranian history.
According to the Vedas—four Hindu sacred texts—Soma was a god, the master of plants, and associated with the moon, prosperity, and healing; a specific plant; and a drink made in part from the juice of the plant that was used as an offering during religious ceremonies and consumed by priests.
Candidates for the soma plant include:
- A mushroom containing psilocybin, a well-known hallucinogen (though it is not a plant but a fungus).
- Bhang, an edible form of cannabis (although bhang is mentioned separately in the Vedas). A modern Indian drink, thandai, incorporates bhang.
- Ephedra, a plant that produces the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
- A concoction of several plants.
Soma is also the name given to a universal sedative given to pacify the populace in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World.
Other drugs associated with Hindi Indians include opium, hashish (a resin of cannabis that dominated the western European cannabis market from the 1990s until the early 2000s), and tobacco.
Hindu family values and addiction
Not that Hindus are forever taking drugs or that the religion encourages it. Among practicing Hindus, alcohol and drug abuse are rare.
In Hinduism, the family is not just financial or social support. It is spiritual support. Many have family gods. Women, especially wives, are considered extensions of the Hindu goddesses and responsible for instilling religious values and beliefs.
That’s within the family. In the wider Hindu society, even among many in the U.S., religious and spiritual duties and rituals are intended for members of the Brahman caste or varnashrama. They do not make up a proportionate part of the Hindu immigrant population, however. For devout Hindus in the U.S., rehab requires spiritual, familial, and addiction professionals.
To a large extent, Hindu rehab is much like secular rehab, which is largely like other religious rehabs. The difference is that Hindu rehab is respectful towards Hinduism and Hindu culture. The failure to incorporate such respect may make rehab less helpful and even harmful.
Some Hindus who could benefit from rehab believe their chronic pain or substance use disorder are because of karma or even the “evil eye” and therefore there is no need to treat it. Either they deserve it or, by suffering through it, even unto death, they have the chance to progress spiritually.
In such cases, a Hindu-based rehab may convince them to seek help where a purely Western approach would fall on deaf ears.
While a Christian rehab program may include the Christianity-based 12 steps that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous and a secular rehab might focus on scientific evidence-based treatments, Hindu rehab may include or substitute concepts and imagery from Hinduism.
In addition to detoxification (detox) or tapering off from abused substances, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one-on-one psychotherapy, and group therapy, Hindu rehab may include Hindu meditation.
This is not pandering or condescension. Meditation is not exclusively a Hindu practice, a religious practice, or even a spiritual one. Science agrees that meditation can be used to treat substance use disorder.
There are many types of meditation. What Westerners think of as meditation is a type of mindfulness or mindfulness meditation: sit quietly and concentrate on the moment, your surroundings, your breathing.
Hindu meditation is sometimes called transcendental meditation, at least one form of it. You become not so much aware of your surroundings as transcending them, focusing on yourself, your inner being.
Practicing meditation also can treat related or co-occurring symptoms such as depression and hypertension, even stuttering.
Meditation can be practiced singly or in groups. Members of Hindu support groups or other self-help groups may practice meditation together for its therapeutic as well as its religious purposes. In India, authorities are trying to curtail substance abuse through self-help groups.
No two rehab approaches are the same. Every treatment program needs to be tailored to the individual. The same applies to cultures and faiths.
Talk with one of our treatment specialists . Call 24/7: 949-276-2886
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Epidemiology of Alcohol Abuse Among US Immigrant Populations
- books.google.com – Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Second Edition
- web.archive.org – The Constitution of India, Part IV: Directive Principles of State Policy
- indiatvnews.com – List of states that have imposed complete ban on alcohol consumption
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – The drinking habits of Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and white men in the West Midlands: a community survey.
- globalpsychiatry.files.wordpress.com – Euphoria, Chapter IX: Hinduism, Lord Shiva and Substance abuse
- britannica.com – Soma: Hinduism (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
- ancient.eu – Religious Developments in Ancient India
- rbth.com – How Russian scientists cracked the secret of a Vedic ritual drink
- bbc.com – The Intoxicating Drug of an Indian God
- historyofayurveda.org – Soma: The Nectar of the Gods
- thehindu.com – The height of addiction
- health.qld.gov.au – Health Care Providers’ Handbook on Hindu Patients, Section 2: Hindu beliefs affecting health care
- drugabuse.gov – Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Science Says, 8: Medical detoxification
- mayoclinic.org – Cognitive behavioral therapy
- mayoclinic.org – Psychotherapy
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse, Chapter 9: Time-Limited Group Therapy
- pdfs.semanticscholar.org – Working with Hindu Clients in a Spiritually Sensitive Manner
- mayoclinic.org – Mindfulness exercises
- bbc.co.uk – Reflections on Meditation
- thehindu.com – Self-help groups to supplement enforcement, check demand for drugs