Can Prayer Improve Treatment Outcomes after Addiction?
Do you believe in the power of prayer to create positive change? If so, then a recent study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse may support your views. According to the results of brain scans used in that study, participants experienced a reduction in cravings for alcohol after reading prayers.
Twenty members of Alcoholics Anonymous took part in the study, all saying that they had experienced no cravings for alcohol in the week prior to the study. Each sat in an MRI scanner and looked at pictures of people drinking alcohol and pictures of alcoholic beverages. On one occasion, they read the newspaper prior to viewing those pictures. On another occasion, they first read prayers from Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book.
All experienced some level of cravings after reading a newspaper and looking at the alcoholic pictures, but the cravings that they experienced were less intense after reciting a prayer from AA. The MRI scans supported their assertions: There were changes in the prefrontal cortex that controls attention and changes in the parts of the brain that are responsible for emotional control as well.
Dr. Marc Galanter of NYU Langone Medical Center was senior author. In a statement, he said: “Our findings suggest that the experience of AA over the years had left these members with an innate ability to use the AA experience — prayer in this case ? to minimize the effect of alcohol triggers in producing craving. Craving is diminished in long-term AA members compared to patients who have stopped drinking for some period of time but are more vulnerable to relapse.”
Triggers can be unexpected, striking at any time. You may feel solid and strong in recovery without a thought of relapse and then a certain combination of events, uncomfortable emotions, and opportunity add up to you standing with a drink in your hand. The fact is, however, that there is no such thing as a “surprise” relapse. Even if you weren’t paying attention at the time, by going back and retracing your steps in the weeks and days prior to the relapse, you will recognize the moments that were stressful and the emotions you experienced that ultimately added up to relapse.
One of the best ways to prevent relapse is to take the time to identify your triggers in advance. These will vary for everyone; for example, some people have stressful relationships with their parents or with their significant other that can trigger them to drink while others may find that their loved ones are nothing but supportive of their recovery.
Some common issues or circumstances that are commonly cited as relapse triggers include:
- Financial difficulties
- Arguments with close friends or family members
- Breakups or threats of breakups
- Legal problems
- Loss of a loved one
- Chronic illness
- Feeling anxious, angry, or depressed
- Being hungry or tired
Once you have identified your triggers, you can make a plan to manage cravings – sometimes before they start. For example, if you know that going to a place where you used to drink will make you want to pick up, then you can simply avoid going to that location. Or if you find yourself beginning to feel uncomfortable or upset, you can stop and check in with yourself, take a step back, and extricate yourself from your situation – and maybe even say a prayer as the study suggests, if that makes sense to you.
No matter how you choose to respond, it is always a good idea to connect with someone who can assist you in getting refocused and back on track, even if you identify the situation or event as a small thing. If it caused discomfort or even a fleeting thought of drinking or getting high, talk to someone about it.
Should Relapse Occur
Drug addiction is a chronic disease and as such may be characterized by relapse. Even with a well-thought-out plan in place for avoiding relapse triggers and a way to address uncomfortable feelings as they arise, a slip or a full-blown relapse can still occur. The key is to learn how to get back on track in sobriety as quickly as possible afterward, working through and processing what happened with the goal of making sure that it does not happen again.
After relapse, it is recommended that you:
- Seek medical help if necessary. In the event of medical emergency or an exacerbation of symptoms of an underlying medical condition,
- get treatment. Call your therapist, your sponsor, or both. It is important to hash out what happened prior to the relapse as well, as during the relapse, and the issues that occurred that stopped you from contacting them earlier.
- Create a plan that will allow you to avoid relapse the next time you face the same or similar issues. If you cannot extricate the problem from your life, then devise a plan to minimize its impact or begin to work toward an exit plan.
- Increase the positive parts of your life. This can take the form of increased attendance at 12-Step meetings or other support groups, a new holistic treatment like yoga or meditation, a new hobby like hiking or photography, or anything that lowers your stress and makes you feel more confident in your recovery.
- Build up your support network to increase your accountability and ensure you have a number of people to turn to the next time you are close to relapse.