To the lay person, it may seem extremely odd that 12 step programs such as AA emphasize spiritual recovery from addiction. It probably doesn’t seem like spirituality has anything to do with either addiction or recovery. However, the spiritual component of recovery was discovered after hundreds of years trying — and failing — to treat addiction. It turns out that spirituality was the missing piece of the puzzle all along.
The Missing Piece: Spiritual Recovery from Addiction
Addiction treatment specialists have long known about the other parts of addiction: the physical and the mental. The physical side of addiction makes an addict unable to control their drinking and/or drug use. The mental part makes them obsess over getting high, even when they have been sober for a long time.
The Spiritual Part of Addiction
But why do addicts obsess over drugs and alcohol. The answer is that they are unable to live their lives. The founders of AA were greatly influenced by the world-famous psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung. Jung contended that alcohol (and drugs) didn’t just have a physical and mental effect. He pointed out that the Latin word for alcohol is spiritus — that alcohol has a spiritual effect.
What is that spiritual effect? Drugs and alcohol give our lives meaning. They are the reasons for waking up in the morning, for going through the motions…for living our lives in general. Without drugs and/or alcohol, addicts are like musicians without instruments. We are like painters without a brush, like writers without a pen. Jung identified this spiritual part of addiction. He suggested that, if addiction was a spiritual problem, then spiritual recovery from addiction is the solution.
The Spiritual Recovery from Addiction
This is how AA formed the core ideas behind the 12 steps: not only belief in a Higher Power, but a program of action that gives us spiritual recovery from addiction. The 12 steps are not only designed to help addicts recover from their addiction. Spiritual recovery from addiction means producing a whole change in personality, attitudes and actions. Sobriety only comes as a side effect of this.
In the end, it turns out that earlier recovery methods were treating the wrong thing. It’s not the addiction that is the problem. It’s the addict — his or her own ego, self-centeredness, fear, insecurity, etc. By addressing these things, addiction simply fades away.