The Benefits Of A Non-Spiritual Addiction Treatment Program
The opioid crisis has become a drug overdose crisis, but faith-based 12-step programs are not the only—or, necessarily, the best—option. Many people prefer non-faith-based rehab based on science, not faith.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths due to drug-related overdoses—after declining by 4.1% from 70,237 in 2017 to 67,367 in 2018—increased by about 4.6% to 70,980 in 2019 and by 18.2% to 81,230 for the last 12 months ending May 2020.
The rate of alcohol-related deaths—liver disease, overdoses involving alcohol, with or without another substance—also increased, more than doubling from 35,914 in 1999 to 72,558 in 2017.
Why People Prefer a Non-Religious Drug Rehab
Addiction was once thought to be a moral failing, making faith-based treatment appropriate. Now, most addiction specialists conclude that substance use disorders are a chronic illness, no more related to morals than diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer. It has a genetic component but also may be caused by trauma or co-occurring mental health issues.
For those that are uncomfortable with a faith-based remedy for a medical condition, a better option may be a secular program. Discomfort can inhibit recovery.
Some reasons that may compel individuals with SUDs to seek a non-faith-based rehab program include:
- They have a different faith. AA and similar programs use language and prayer drawn from Christianity. That may make those with different faiths or no faith uncomfortable.
- It didn’t work. Not everyone who goes through drug or alcohol rehab remains sober. Between 40% and 60% relapse in the first year. If their first attempt was in a faith-based rehab, individuals may want to try another approach.
- Bad associations. They might have a bad experience with religion: a strict or abusive religious upbringing, molestation by a church official, or other trauma.
- Cultural identity. Everyone has a slightly different worldview, based on life experiences, environmental influences, and other factors. If a faith-based rehab is too different from that of the clients, it may be the wrong treatment for them.
- They prefer science-based treatment. While 12-step treatment isn’t anti-science, A rehab that only uses faith-based treatments may overlook the best evidence-based treatments, such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
describes their religious identity as atheist or agnostic
attend Church weekly
that describe themselves as Christian
Non-Faith-Based Alternatives to AA
Peer support is available to those who want to freely interact with others in various stages of recovery but who do not want the focus on spirituality or a religious doctrine common to classic 12-step programs. Some are as effective as AA or NA.
Some of the major alternative groups that are not faith-based include:
- SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training). This group has a four-point program: building and maintaining motivation; coping with urges; managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and living balanced lives.
- LifeRing Secular Recovery. LifeRing follows a “3-S” philosophy: Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Help. Simultaneous membership and participation in other programs are welcomed.
- Women for Sobriety (WFS). This female-centered program uses 13 acceptance statements instead of 12 steps. The emphasis is on personal growth and personal responsibility.
Behavioral Therapies Used in Non-Religious Programs
Behavioral therapies are one of the best weapons in the fight against addiction. These therapies work to resolve any negative influences, thoughts, and behaviors within individuals’ lives that could be feeding their addictions.
Behavioral therapies were developed for mental health disorders, but they are also effective for substance use disorders, as well as when both disorders co-occur: dual diagnosis.
Therapy will work to instill a feeling of empowerment, capability, hope, and an acceptance of and readiness for change. Coping, relapse prevention, and interpersonal skills will all be taught so that a person can better absorb the benefit of rehab and conquer the challenges after.
Researched-based behavioral therapies include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). A psychotherapeutic technique that teaches clients to monitor their inner dialogues and to identify emotionally charged thoughts.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). A variation of CBT that teaches coping skills: pain tolerance, emotional regulation, and being fully aware in the moment (mindfulness).
- Motivational interviewing (MI). A therapist uses open-ended questions of clients to get them to realize they want to change.
Sessions may be offered in an individual, group, or family setting as appropriate. We have taken the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of exposure and transmission of the Coronavirus to those in our treatment programs, allowing them to focus on their recovery.
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We have taken the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of exposure and transmission of the Coronavirus to those in our treatment programs, allowing them to focus on their recovery.
Benefits of Non-Faith-Based Programs
- Non-faith-based rehab–based on evidence, science, and repeatability–may work where faith alone does not. Faith can work wonders for those who believe, but not necessarily for those who do not.
- Non-faith-based rehab incorporates different treatments because no one method works for everyone. These approaches include psychotherapy, medication, exercises, nutrition, contingency management.
- Non-faith-based approaches require individuals to take more responsibility. They may not be responsible for their addiction, but getting better requires them to do the work and continue doing it, maybe for the rest of their lives.
What Other Types Of Non-Religious Programs Exist?
Alternative programs include adventure and wilderness therapies—the use of outdoor activities, sometimes as boot camps, to promote physical, mental, and spiritual recovery.
They also include holistic therapies, including:
- Mind-body-spirit techniques (yoga, tai chi, meditation)
- Biophysical practices (acupuncture)
- Art and music therapies
- Meditation (qigong)
- Equine therapy (riding and caring for horses)
No one treatment works for everybody. The right treatment program is one that the individuals find comfortable, whether that incorporates evidence-based techniques, faith-based therapies, or both, and provides support after rehabilitation.
- cdc.gov – Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2017–2018
- aha.org – CDC: Drug overdose deaths up 4.6% in 2019
- emergency.cdc.gov – Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- nih.gov – Alcohol-related deaths increasing in the United States
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Twelve-Step-Based Programs
- chronicle.com – Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer?
- vatican.va – Catechism of the Catholic Church
- christianity.com – What Does Testimony Mean in Christianity?
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Is Alcoholics Anonymous religious, spiritual, neither? Findings from 25 years of mechanisms of behavior change research
- archives.drugabuse.gov – Drug Abuse and Addiction: One of America’s Most Challenging Public Health Problems
- health.usnews.com – Why Do Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse So Often?
- store.samhsa.gov – TIP 59: Improving Cultural Competence
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Comparison of 12-step Groups to Mutual Help Alternatives for AUD in a Large, National Study: Differences in Membership Characteristics and Group Participation, Cohesion, and Satisfaction
- pewtrusts.org – Medication-Assisted Treatment Improves Outcomes for Patients With Opioid Use Disorder
- mayoclinic.org – Cognitive behavioral therapy
- nami.org – Dual Diagnosis
- depts.washington.edu – Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Motivational Interviewing as a Counseling Style
- vox.com – Alcoholics Anonymous works for some people. A new study suggests the alternatives do too.
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – A Longitudinal Study of the Comparative Efficacy of Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, SMART Recovery, and 12-step Groups for those with AUD
- nami.org – Psychotherapy
- drugabuse.gov – Contingency Management
- sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Alternatives to 12 Step Therapy
- researchgate.net – Adventure Drugs Rehabilitation (ADR). Adventure therapy program for patients in rehabilitation for substance abuse. A Handbook for Addiction Counselors
- hcn.org – Do wilderness therapy programs really work?
- researchgate.net – Revisiting Holistic Interventions in Substance Abuse Treatment
- portal.ct.gov – Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services
- who.int – Approaches to Treatment of Substance Abuse (PROGRAMME ON SUBSTANCE ABUSE)
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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