Religion and Spirituality in Recovery: Different But Equally Important

May 9, 2023

We often use the terms spiritual and religious interchangeably, but it’s essential to note that while they share similarities, the two concepts remain distinct from one another. Both play a crucial role in overcoming substance abuse and maintaining long-term sobriety.

The most recognizable intersection between religion and spirituality lies in the belief that there is a power greater than us in the universe which inspires, strengthens, and holds us accountable for our actions while we exist here in this mortal plane.

“As we come to recognize and accept this higher power, our life takes on additional meaning and purpose,” said Preston Dixon, COO at Renaissance Ranch, a collection of faith-based recovery programs in Utah and Idaho.

Religion and Spirituality in Recovery: Different But Equally Important

(Priscilla Du Preez/ Unsplash)


For religious people, this higher power represents a deity, be it God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, or others. While faith traditions differ, one common trait among most is that they are organized along formal doctrines and expected rules of conduct. The religious practice also includes outward manifestations of faith, such as sacraments, prayer, and temple worship.

As a member of organized religion, you become part of a faith community where church meetings, services, and other activities combine to create a spiritual support structure around you and others who share your beliefs. Your religious convictions also serve to hold you accountable for your actions. For example, Islam forbids drinking alcohol. In this case, a potential motivation for a Muslim trying to overcome alcohol addiction could include his desire to repent of his actions and follow Allah’s teachings more earnestly.


The essence of spirituality is a little more ethereal. It isn’t usually based on a faith tradition but rather represents a more personal, introspective exploration of one’s meaning and purpose in life. Your greater power could be anything related to you and your experiences, such as the energy of the universe, nature, your spouse, a community of like-minded believers, or an addiction counselor.

Unlike in religion, cultivating spirituality doesn’t need to involve a set belief system, ritualistic practices, or even a greater faith community. Your inward focus guides you as you seek answers to questions and personal growth. Spiritual persons may use yoga, meditation, journaling, or other immersive experiences to find the transcendence and awakening they seek.

In the proper context, religion and spirituality can work well together. The faith tradition on which we base our recovery programs at the Ranch emphasizes the need for individuals to develop a deep and abiding relationship with God, their Father in Heaven, and His son, Jesus Christ. Yes, obeying the commandments and worshiping according to the doctrines of the church organization is essential, but only if a daily, personal connection with the deity bolsters those works.

Two Methods, One Purpose

Religion and Spirituality share a common purpose – to bring about a ‘spiritual awakening.’ Psychologically speaking, this awakening sparks a shift in our thoughts and actions. We do not want to live merely to please ourselves anymore. Instead, now that we can feel that intense love and acceptance from someone or something more significant, we desire to extend that to others by modifying behaviors that hurt those around us and ourselves. We also have hope for the future, giving us a foundation to heal more permanently.

Just how crucial is having a spiritual awakening to our long-term recovery? According to one study by Lyons GCB et al, 82% of substance abuse patients who experienced a spiritual awakening during treatment remained completely sober after 12 months. Of those who did not go through any spiritual change, only 55% reached the same milestone.

David, one of the Faces & Voices of Recovery, said this about what spiritual change did for him:

“I experienced a spiritual awakening soon after pledging abstinence for the umpteenth time. The difference this time was that I never picked up again. The decision came easy in a moment of clarity, use again and lose everything or give it up and explore life in sobriety. Two years were clean, and I was miserable. Rather than give up, I decided to work a twelve-step program and attempt to grow spiritually. Gradually, the real victory was revealed in freedom from myself and with a plan to move forward.”

“Our faith-based treatment center relies on Christian principles to open the hearts and minds of our patients to experience their worth in the sight of God,” Dixon explained. “When they realize just how much they mean to Him, and how He loves and forgives them, they begin to turn the corner on their fight against substance abuse.”

Whether you refer to your higher power as God or someone/something else, the fact remains that when we embrace a power greater than ourselves, we begin an intense spiritual journey that can transform us and help us achieve life-long sobriety. If that sounds like something you’re looking for, call us at 855-736-7262.