Spirituality bolsters sobriety in teens, study finds

by Cheryl Keen
Posted 11/16/13, 09:00 am

A new study attributes the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to teens’ successes overcoming addiction in court-ordered substance abuse treatment.

The study by Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), University of Akron, and Baylor University looked at 195 teens ages 14 to 18 at New Directions treatment facility in Ohio, which uses AA’s 12-step recovery program. Most participants were marijuana dependent with alcohol dependencies. Researchers asked the youth about their spiritual and religious beliefs as they entered the program and then followed their progress. The study measured teens’ daily spiritual experience, defined as a “feeling of divine presence, inner peace and harmony, selflessness and benevolence.” This spirituality is independent of any religious background or denomination.

The results of the investigation were presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Association in New York City this past August and will be featured in the spring 2014 issue of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly.

At the end of their two-month treatment, most of the adolescents reported more daily spiritual experiences. Dr. Byron R. Johnson, director of the Institute for Studies of Religion and professor of social sciences at Baylor, noted, “Although about a third of the teens self-identified as agnostic or atheist at intake, two-thirds of [them] claimed a spiritual identity at discharge, a most remarkable shift.” The study also found the teens had less self-centeredness and improved social behavior.

AA is based on Christian principals. Members admit they are powerless over alcohol and need help from God or a “higher power.” They engage in prayer and sometimes Bible reading and make amends with people whom they have hurt. While some participants would like to remove the spiritual aspect of AA, others believe surrender to God is an indispensable step. Researchers believe faith-based principles of giving, compassion, integrity, and responsibility will have long-term benefits for the participants in developing character and breaking the cycle of addiction.

Dr. Maria Pagano, associate professor of psychiatry at CWRU’s School of Medicine said, “Change is possible and spiritual experience may be the key. Hopefully our results will encourage other researchers to further explore this thesis.”

Helping young people break the bondage of addiction through connecting with God, helping others, and learning biblical behavior will help them tremendously in this life. But “God-consciousness” falls short of the Gospel. Telling them of the transforming power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ would have eternal benefit. 

WORLD contributor, LaShawn Barber told readers in a March 2012 article, “I wish I could say becoming a Christian sobered me up, but I stopped drinking before I was saved. I became a Christian in part because sobriety had left me just as empty as alcoholism.”

Cheryl Keen

Cheryl, who lives in Maryland, is married with two children and seven grandchildren. She has been executive director of a pregnancy resource center for 17 years.

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