Magazine article Insight on the News

Spiritual Void May Play Role in Drug Use

Magazine article Insight on the News

Spiritual Void May Play Role in Drug Use

Article excerpt

A new clinical emphasis on religious solutions to addiction is being dovetailed with a standard therapeutic model of drug dependency. "There is evidence that spirituality is an element in recovery from addiction," says William Miller, research director for the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addiction at the University of New Mexico. Yet religion is ignored as a therapeutic tool because conventional researchers "don't have a clue how to measure spiritual constructs.... Simply to ignore such a major source of potential healing is to violate scientific curiosity."

Miller spoke at an April conference in Lansdowne, Va. The three-day meeting, "Spiritual Dimensions in Clinical Research," was described by many of the 70 participants as a major step toward moving research on the R-word - religion - into mainstream medical science. Summarizing research findings, several speakers characterized the substance-addicted life as lacking meaning, purpose and joy. "Drug abuse is not a problem with drugs, it's a problem with pleasure," said Roy Matthews, head of Duke University Medical Center's alcoholism and addiction program. He described pleasure as a chemically triggered, "insatiable" drive. "Pleasure is the basis of addiction, and it would seem pleasure is a solution to addiction. The most pleasurable part of religion is the experience of God."

Dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain, acts on neurons to create feelings of well-being and euphoria. Extrapolating from research of the brain's blood flow and alpha waves, Matthews believes that spiritual activity by the mind may have a similar chemical effect.

Frank Gawin, senior psychiatrist for drug-abuse research at the University of California at Los Angeles, points out that cocaine withdrawal is clinically recognized as "anhedonial" or "the absence of joy and the intensification of boredom." According to Gawin, "Addiction is a kind of craving. It may be in [the medical study of] craving that we have a door between science and the spiritual."

Research on addicts indeed may become the first area in which spiritual elements - which are associated with particular psychological effects - can be part of controlled scientific studies. Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, with its 12-step program that stresses the healing influence of a higher power, has long been a nonscientific testing ground of spiritual therapy for addiction. …

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