The Spirituality of Addiction: What Healthcare Policy Is Lacking
by Cassie Steele
1 in 7 Americans live with an addiction, making it one of the most common health concerns in the country. Medical experts have struggled to find the objective root cause of addiction, leaving them with little in the way of a cure. Through my own experience of depression, I would often use drugs to self-medicate, but I overcame this after discovering Jung. He outlined his thoughts on addiction in a series of 1961 letters with Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholic Anonymous. Jung wanted advice to help one of his patients and Wilson argued that the only path to recovery was via a spiritual awakening, which provides meaning and purpose. Interestingly, the latin word for alcohol is spiritus. Jung wrote “you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison.”
A Feeling of Emptiness
Anyone will feel a euphoria when they take a drug. However, only a subsection feel compelled to take the drug over and over, even when it is causing them immense harm. Jung believed that these people had a spiritual emptiness that the drugs were able to temporarily fill. When I was at my lowest points, I was unable to understand how drugs provided temporary relief, since they were only making me more ill. I now understand that they answered spiritual questions, at least for a short time.
“The Spiritual Thirst for Wholeness”
Jung viewed religion positively, believing it to fulfill an essential human need. Humans seek wholeness and can achieve this through the use of myths, folklore and dreams to unify the unconscious with the conscious. I am personally an atheist and have therefore struggled to find meaning. However, through Jung I am able to draw on the metaphors in religion and connect them to secular spiritual concepts such as love.
Contemplative Practices as Medicine
It is clear from Jung’s writings that he believed that addiction of any kind was an attempt to reach altered states of consciousness and deeper connection to the divine. Fortunately, there are other ways to achieve a spiritual awakening. Once you take the drugs away from a person with addictive tendencies, it needs to be replaced. Patients should consider a silent meditation retreat, where their spiritual needs can be met.
If you spend enough time meditating in silence, then something profound will happen. Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris has detailed his experiences both of taking MDMA and spending years on silent meditation retreats. Both experiences are similar, but only the latter offers long term fulfilment and no negative health effects. I have experimented with MDMA and felt the dropping away of consciousness and unconditional love for strangers. However, since then I’ve found the same effect can come from daily meditation practices. If you focus hard enough, the sense of self drops away and you will feel a powerful sense of calm within. I have used this to fulfill the needs that would otherwise be provided by drugs and alcohol.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been so successful due to being rooted in religion. However, doctors and psychologists often miss this need when treating addictions. Through my life experiences, I have learnt that even the non-religious can benefit from secular meditation, which can provide Jung’s ideal of wholeness.