Faith In Recovery Pt. 7: How Religious Communities Combat Addiction
Shared Suffering for Communities and Different Approaches to Solving it.
“And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if they have saved all of humanity.”
While the societal and individual problems of addiction can be universal there is a gigantic range of ways to treat these problems. They can be divided along political, societal, geographical, the personal ethics of individuals, and a host of other factors. World Religion News has focused on religion combined with treatment and the diversity of approaches based on divergent religious doctrines and the success rates of programs. Because the privacy protection of drug programs it can be difficult to exactly measure the effectiveness of support programs.
Faith In Recovery 7: How Religious Communities Combat Addiction[/tweetthis]
These are four distinct religious communities each having their unique struggles and successes with drug rehabilitation.
In the Middle East, the conservative, traditional interpretation of Islam has made the penalties draconian. Several laws have the death penalty for drug use and there is a sizable minority of individuals who believe only harsh discipline is the solution. Drug use is considered “haram” and must not be used in any way. This has created a silencing effect for those afflicted and slowed government intervention for treatment programs.
This is evolving as the number of drug users in some Middle East countries has skyrocketed. In Iran, there are between 1.2 to 2 million addicts (this is a conservative estimate) and Afghanistan has similar numbers. This is due to the increased production of heroin in Afghanistan, the availability of cheap methamphetamine derivatives, and the inability to receive treatment.
Examples of treatment are steadily increasing. Iran has nearly 1,300 addiction treatment centers and the Iranian government has stated it has treated nearly 700,000 people by last March. Treatment is mostly run by non-governmental organizations that emphasize personal empowerment. This is especially true for programs for women, who make up 10% of the addict population in Iran.
Read the previous articles in this series: Faith in Recovery
Based on the principles of Sharia law, there is less emphasis on using prescription drugs to help individuals detox. Afghanistan has treatment centers which mostly subscribe to the “cold turkey” philosophy, which increases the likelihood of relapse. The fact that the Taliban supports local treatment centers shows the changing mindset around addiction with traditionalist Muslims.
One of the most extreme treatment centers in the world is located in Thailand. The Wat Tham Krabok Monastery includes hard labor and the consumption of a herbal concoction that causes projectile vomiting, meant to rapidly promote detoxing, and is consumed on a daily basis.
Thai Buddhism is part of the Theravada school of Buddhism that focuses on personal liberation. Buddhists believe addiction is a form of attachment, which is the cause of suffering. Therefore addiction is an extreme version of what every Buddhist learns in the Four Noble Truths, the foundation of their religious belief.
Most of the monks at the monastery are former addicts and people come from around the world to be treated for their addictive tendencies. The program begins with incoming patients taking a sacred vow called Sajia that has supposed mystic properties. The Sajia is taken very seriously. There are no repeat visits to the monastery and breaking the Sajia is considered a grave offense. The Sajia represents a lifelong commitment to sobriety.
Patients stay from a week to a month. Treatment includes daily use of the herbal drink, a single meal, and chores beginning at 4:30 AM. Patients pay nothing beyond food costs during their stay.
Does the program work? Although there is little scientific evidence to support the success of the program, patients declare “it changed my life.” Many people who stay at Wat Tham Krabok are serious drug and alcohol addicts who believe this is “their last chance” to get clean.
Wat Tham Krabok has treated 110,000 people since 1959. A review of 65 individuals who attended the program found 90 percent complete the program and 60 percent remained sober after 1 year. WRN reported previously in our series that the one-year mark is a significant indicator of long-term sobriety.
Latter-day Saints represent just over half the population in the state of Utah. Historically Utah was settled by Mormons to escape religious persecution and even engaged in an armed conflict with the United States Federal Government for the ability to have substantial self-governance.
Utah is going through another historic period with the rate of opioid addiction and suffering caused by it. From 2000 to 2014 there was a 400 percent increase in opioid overdoses. One person dies each day from opioid overdose. For most users in Utah, the gateway drug toward addiction is prescription painkillers, not recreational drugs. Because Utah leads the nation in per capita use of prescription drugs, the proliferation has created a huge potential for addiction.
Mormon women might have unique difficulty in overcoming addiction. Some interpret Mormonism to mean women should be in charge of the household based on traditional gender roles. This creates two issues. First, the cultural notion of being constantly cheerful as the foundation of the family unit might mask an addiction problem and lead to self-denial. Second, some Mormon women have used stimulants in order to juggle the hectic schedule of a wife and mother. While this is not a universal target, there are been the criticism that treatment centers do not tailor their programs to the issues dealt with by female Mormon addicts.
Some have argued the Mormon church has been slow to act based on denial of the problem. It is unclear if this is linked to the teaching of the Mormon church, referred to as the “Words of Wisdom.” The Words of Wisdom teach that many adulterants should abstained from including alcohol, drugs, and caffeine. Being addicted to drugs is seen as both an individual struggle and a tactic by Satan for control of the soul.
Mormons have developed a version of the Alcoholics Anonymous program as a specific treatment program. As WRN has reported AA allows individuals autonomy in surrendering to a Higher Power. For Mormons, this Higher Power has to be God as described in their teachings.
As WRN wrote in our article on popular Christian programs, there is a diversity of treatment programs beyond the Mormon version of AA. Most of the popular facilities in Utah that use religious principles combine spiritual guidance with therapeutic and medicinal techniques. A unique advantage Mormons have is that the strong ties of Mormons in Utah create a support group that can be greatly effective in people remaining clean after attending a facility. The fact that the group has an easy self-identification based on religion makes it easier for individuals to both initially and continuously attend support events.
The Hasidic Orthodox Jewish community is considered to be insular. With a very conservative interpretation of Judaism, there are strict rules governing practitioners behavior. Yet this community has not been able to escape the ravages of addiction. There have been noted cases of Hasidic Jews dying of opioid addiction and religious leaders commenting “we’re definitely losing more people to drugs.”
A connecting theme to the previous commitments is the lack of openness about addiction. Because of religious teachings that describe addiction as a moral failing, members of communities are less likely to talk about their personal issues. This can influence the lack of quick and appropriate action by community leaders. The increased personal destruction, no longer able to obfuscate itself, has caused Rabbis to begin to learn more about drug treatment and encourage members to speak out about their problems.
Treatment facilities operate the same way as most other religious programs. A mix of religious and secular practices are used as a way to give the most effective treatment. A major difference of a Jewish treatment program is the inclusion of a kosher diet. It is unclear if the diet helps assist in the healing process.
None of these communities rely solely on religion for rehabilitation. Even though each strongly ties addiction, in general, to a religious problem, the intersection of emotional, mental, and physical recovery needed to overcome the dependence on narcotics or alcohol changes the nature of the programs. Interestingly, the program that is most deeply tied to religious teachings, the Tham Krabok Monastery, is also the sole program that includes outsiders and individuals that may not be Buddhist. The fluid dynamism of both Eastern thought and Buddhism in general as a philosophical position, as much as a practiced religion, may be directly responsible for it.
Those who are interested in a program that tied to a specific religion can look at our previous articles in the series that give a list of programs and tips on how to choose the program right for you.
Read the previous articles in this series: Faith in Recovery
- Rehab International
- Financial Tribune
- Caminore Recovery
- Australia News
- Lions Roar
- Hope Rehab
- Salt Lake Tribue
- The Fix
- American Addiction Centers
- Rehab Center
- Saint Louis Jewish Light