Religious Doctrine within #Addiction Treatment and #Recovery

Hopefully by now, regular visitors here will have been left with absolutely no uncertainty; I am no big fan of religious dogma (see example here), especially when someone tries to force those teachings upon others.

This is especially (but not exclusively) the case when people see their personal ‘belief system’ as the basis for any addictions ‘treatment’ or the fundamental tenet of any recovery support pathway. It’s your religion and I’m happy with that, I’m also happy that it supports you well, I would always defend your right to follow your beliefs but please, don’t try selling them to me (or market them to others) disguised under a grubby doctor’s white coat.

Don’t take my opinion as derision of your belief system (it is not), I can fully respect your right to follow your beliefs, however; shouldn’t we all be able to display empathy and care for our fellow humans, without having any need to dress these basic human qualities under a cloak of evangelism, or because of some blind adherence to any sacred book?

Today my week got off to a positive start when I saw some recently published academic research on a subject close to my heart – addictions and recovery support…

The question – What does it mean in practice if a recovery centre is faith-based? – is an important one. For some time now, after speaking with so many people who have gone through that process, I hold the opinion and strong concern that; religious dogma presents serious negative impacts for long-term sustained ‘recovery’ …for many people. I worry that religious dogma is also preventing some, who are clearly in need of support, from accessing the support they are looking for but worse, from actually achieving their personal goals and aspirations for addiction recovery.

What’s faith go to do with it? …researchers found 135 faith-based alcohol treatment providers in England and Wales. Three quarters of these were grounded in some form of Protestant Christianity and around half of these in turn described themselves as Evangelical. No other group came close in terms of size. (Alcohol Change)

Some of the key findings in the research that concerned (and angered) me the most were;

  • 4% of all faith-based alcohol treatment providers make religious participation mandatory
  • Poor ‘evidence-based policy’ and ‘transparency of theology and practice’ exacerbated by the competitive nature of funding opportunities.
  • Significant concern about; ‘moral and judgemental views’ on alcohol; lack of ‘expert’ knowledge and experience; clarity over ethics, theology and practice; lack of safeguarding and equality and diversity; knowledge and training.
  • Only a small minority of organisations are registered with regulatory bodies such as the National Drug

Individual accounts of ‘faith-based recovery’ understandably reflects the diversity of service-users themselves, with “significant positive and negative experiences” however; research also highlighted something that many of us have known for a long time. A large proportion of service-users are simply ‘”faking it and playing the game” – just to gain access to the support they need. A mostly expected “widespread and (understandable) pragmatic approach” …to gain at least some benefit from their engagement with the ‘service’ I suppose.

But, it shouldn’t be like this, it really doesn’t have to be that way and for me, the proverbial Doctor’s White Coat would benefit from a serous rumble or two on ‘boil-wash’ in the efficacy washing machine! 

Faith in Recovery? Service-user evaluation of faith-based alcohol treatment: Against a background of dramatic reductions in funding for public health and social
services, faith-based alcohol treatment services play an important role in the landscape of policy and practice. However, while the historical importance of religion and ‘faith’ in alcohol treatment is well known, the size, scope and significance of contemporary activities remain unclear. In order to address gaps in knowledge this research provides a systematic and detailed study of faith-based alcohol treatment services in England and Wales. (Read More)

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