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Spirituality May Strengthen Recovering Alcoholics' Resolve

Having a 'purpose in life' might keep them from relapse, researchers say

THURSDAY, March 22, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Many recovering alcoholics experience increased spirituality, which may help improve their chances of staying sober, researchers say.

"While people's actual beliefs don't seem to change during recovery, the extent they have spiritual experiences, and are open to spirituality in their lives, does change. This effect was also independent of their participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, which has a strong spiritual aspect," lead researcher Elizabeth A.R. Robinson, a research assistant professor in the University of Michigan Medical School's department of psychiatry and a member of the Addiction Research Center, said in a prepared statement.

The study included 154 adults with alcohol dependency or abuse who entered an outpatient treatment program. The researchers assessed 10 different measures of the participants' spirituality, along with their alcohol use and alcohol-related problems, at the start of the study and again six months later.

The participants' view of God, religious practices such as prayer or church attendance, forgiveness, spiritual experiences, use of religion or spirituality to cope, and existential meaning were among the spiritual measures used in the study.

Over six months, many participants experienced significant changes in about half the measures of spirituality, including daily spiritual experiences, the use of religious practices, forgiveness, positive use of religion for coping, and feelings of purpose in life. But there were no changes in the participants' core beliefs about God or religion.

Alcohol use decreased significantly during the study, and 72 percent of participants did not relapse to heavy drinking. The study found that participants who had increased feelings of purpose in life and in daily spiritual experiences were less prone to heavy drinking. Other measures of spirituality did not seem to increase the likelihood of sobriety.

The findings suggest that including all kinds of spirituality in alcoholism recovery programs may indeed help, the researchers said.

The study is published in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about alcohol abuse and treatment.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, March 2007
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