Moralizing should be avoided in addiction treatment

First of all, morality has absolutely no place in treating any kind of addiction. While some behaviors associated with various addictions may be frustrating, unhealthy, or even illegal, looking at the person’s addiction as “bad” or “sinful” will cause biases that will counteract any gains during treatment. I am not a religious person, but seeing what I have seen in addiction treatment has made me certain that spirituality is a necessary component of treatment. However, looking at addiction as a sin is harmful.

Among the more common issues I encounter is the idea that someone who professes Christianity, for example, must be abstinent or else that person couldn’t possibly be a Christian. I’m no expert, but in an article for, I make the following distinction between religion and spirituality (click here for the full article):

  • Religion: The modes of behavior associated with worshiping an absolute deity or idea.
  • Spirituality: That which relates with the sacred

Now, if a church of any kind requires abstinence for membership, then I agree that the person shouldn’t consider him or herself a member if he or she is not abstinent. However, if a person professes Christianity because that person finds the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as sacred and it is through that sacred belief that a person expresses his or her spirituality, then abstinence has nothing to do with spirituality. Sometimes, all an addict has is her faith; heroin, for example, robs people of everything and if a shred of faith exists, then there’s hope. The worst thing that can happen in treatment is for a person to lose all avenues of hope. As a treatment provider, I find that religious membership can either be the greatest asset to treatment, or it can be the most dangerous obstacle for a person to become healthy.

If any religion robs a person of his or her humanity, and many do through enforced and legislated morality, then not only is it harmful to treatment, but it is also detrimental to a person’s spiritual health. If, however, a person finds a community through which his or her spirituality is expressed and appreciated, then that community is healthy and beneficial to treatment. In my honest opinion, religion often hampers treatment, while spirituality expression often enhances it.

Abstinence, to me, should be the goal for any treatment plan. However, that’s not always possible or feasible. There are times when harm reduction is the best it’ll get; morality tends to blind people from seeing the realities of any addiction and must be avoided at all costs.


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