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Incorporating Spirituality into Recovery from Addiction

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Recovery often begins in crisis. The crisis usually stems from a violation of an important belief or value. Some examples might be:

  • I no longer am who I think I am, or who I want to be.
  • I am no longer heading in the direction I want. I've wandered from my path in life. I've lost my way. It's time for me to find my way back. Otherwise, my life isn't worthwhile.
  • My life and values are not aligned. My behavior is immoral.

churchOf course, our actual thoughts may not be as clear and specific as these examples. Nonetheless, recovery typically begins at a crossroads. One road is the road I'm on. Travel is getting pretty difficult. It might be time to turn down this other road and head in a different direction.

After realizing this crisis is occurring, the next step is to uncover the beliefs and values that give meaning and purpose to life. It is useful for people to identify how they violated their beliefs and values because of their addiction. At the beginning of treatment, a cost-benefit analysis of the addiction is a helpful motivational exercise. A person can perform this cost-benefit analysis alone. Ideally, they will do it in preparation for a meeting with a professional helper (such as a therapist). The cost-benefit exercise allows people to see how their addiction caused them to violate their beliefs and values. This exercise provides an excellent window into a person's beliefs and values. These beliefs and values establish a foundation for a better life. At the same time, they provide the motivation to change.

  • "I don't think this is how God wants me to live my life." This statement illustrates the value of pleasing and obeying God.
  • "I was so drunk I couldn't take care of my kids." This statement illustrates the value of family and responsibility.
  • "My wife is not in great health. She has been so devoted to me her whole life. Now she needs me. I want to be there for her." This statement illustrates a value of duty, love, and reciprocity.
  • "I'd have so much to give the world if only I wasn't so screwed up on coke." This statement illustrates a value of achievement, success, and making a positive contribution.
  • "If I keep this up I'm going to die." This statement illustrates the value of life itself.

If addictive behavior does not violate any values or beliefs, there is little reason to change. For instance, a dying cancer patient may be quite "drugged up" on pain medications. But, the cancer patient has not violated any beliefs or values. We probably would not even consider this behavior as addictive behavior. This would true even if there were usual signs of addiction, such as cravings.

If you are interested in becoming more aware of your own value system, you may wish to review The Personal Values Card Sort, developed by Drs. Miller, C'de Baca, Matthews, Wilbourne at the University of New Mexico. It is available for free at You can print out the 83 value cards to sort and rank.

In summary, it is clear that the violation of deeply held beliefs and values is a significant consequence of addiction. Therefore, restoring these beliefs and values becomes an important component of recovery. In terms of our working definition of addiction, this violation is a negative consequence. The capacity to align our actions with our beliefs and values is what separates mature human beings, from immature ones. This capacity ultimately distinguishes human beings from other species. If we routinely act without thinking, and instead act according to every craving, whim, or impulse, we are operating at the developmental level of a two year-old child. Ultimately, recovery is a process of restoring our humanity. By fully embracing life, we can live according to our meaning and purpose, as we understand it.