Updated data showing faith can help support recovery prompts, skepticism

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By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — An updated version of a 2019 article that cites the presence of religious beliefs as aiding recovery, particularly from mental health and addiction issues, has been met with both support and skepticism.

Brian Grim, founder of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, published the original article, “Belief, Behavior and Belonging: How Faith is Indispensable in Preventing and Recovering from Substance Abuse,” in 2019 with his daughter, Melissa.

In it, they stated, “Life-saving medications and psychological interventions are important components of rescue and recovery; however, they are not enough. Religion and religious participation can solve the many problems that lead people to addiction to alcohol and/or drugs that medical interventions alone cannot solve.

Brian Grim put the article in a fresher light after the Pew Research Center released a report Sept. 13 forecasting the religious landscape 50 years from now, suggesting that depending on how certain trends continue, Christianity will be a plurality of America in 2070 rather than having the majority status it enjoys today.

It is possible, Pew added, that those with no religious affiliation outnumber Christians.

“We find that 73% of addiction treatment programs in the United States include a spirituality-based element, as embodied in the 12-step programs and fellowships initially popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, the vast majority of which emphasis on trusting in God or a higher power to stay sober,” Grim said in a Sept. 17 statement about the study.

“Faith, religion, and spirituality are defined a little differently, but each has a positive effect on preventing dangerous behavior and can help break the cycle of addiction,” Grim told the Catholic News Service. in a telephone interview on September 23. the foundation’s headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland.

He called the situation a “crisis”.

Grim’s findings won a vigorous acquiescence from Professor Thomas Plante, who teaches both in the Department of Psychology at the Jesuit University of Santa Clara and also at Stanford University School of Medicine, both in California.

“In a nutshell, declining religious commitment clearly has potential negative consequences for mental and physical health,” Plante said in a Sept. 23 email to CNS.

“There is a great deal of research over the past few decades that demonstrates that religious engagement is helpful in a variety of ways when it comes to reducing risk for a number of illnesses, both physical and mental,” said he added. “That includes dependencies.”

Plante said, “We also know that religious affiliation provides the kind of community support that is often lacking in our culture. Finally, religious commitment offers meaning and purpose as well as various strategies for coping with stress.

In May, Plante published “Minding the Gap: Spirituality in Clinical Practice During Rising Secularization and Mental Health Needs,” which partially covers the same topic as Grims’ 2019 article.

“Clinicians who are spiritually and religiously informed, trained, and engaged can help bridge this gap between high stress and low religious engagement right now,” Plante said in her article.

“They can do this by creatively engaging clients with secular versions of spiritual and religious tools for better health and well-being or by working with clients to find new ways to use spiritual and religious strategies. religions with whom they feel comfortable, regardless of their lack of religious affiliations and interests.”

James Murphy, professor of psychology at the University of Memphis, took a closer look at Grims’ theory.

“Social support is one of the most critical factors in supporting recovery from substance abuse and other mental/behavioral health issues and religious engagement is a way for many people to engage constructively with others and to support them,” Murphy said in a Sept. 23 email to CNS, with the words “one way” in bold.

However, “there is no evidence that faith is essential ‘to prevent and cure drug addiction,’ he added. “Although many people report that spirituality and/or religious commitment have contributed to their successful recovery, many people recover without any spiritual belief or religious commitment.”

What there is evidence of, he noted, is that “declining social connections more generally contribute to poor mental health outcomes in the United States, as well as other critical factors such as the availability of opiates, the marketing of alcohol to young people, and the widespread availability of guns; people who own guns are at a much higher risk of suicide.

Murphy issued another caveat.

“I agree that religious engagement is a common and often very helpful way to connect with others that can certainly support the recovery of many people, and that people who are religious are generally less likely to develop disorders. related to alcohol or drugs,” he said.

“This is especially true for people from faith traditions that have norms against alcohol consumption, such as members of Evangelical Christian, Islamic, or LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) denominations,” said he declared.

But Murphy stressed that he didn’t want “to create the impression that it (religious involvement) is necessary or that declining religious involvement is causally linked to poor health outcomes.”

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