Addiction- A Spiritual Illness

An excerpt from Spirituality & Recovery from Addictions by Mary Ellen Merrick, IHM, D. Min., MAC

Sr ME brochurelogoAddiction has been referred to as a spiritual illness. In the history of AA there are interesting comments about this. Both William James, an American philosopher and psychologist who wrote Varieties of Religious Experience, and Carl Jung, who had treated a friend of Bill Wilson for over a year, felt that a spiritual experience was integral to recovery from alcoholism. Neither man was “religious” in any conventional sense of that term but both took religious insight seriously. That both men felt “the spiritual” could mean something different than what structured religion held was so important for Bill Wilson that he honored them by calling them remote founders of AA. Jung stated that craving for alcohol was really a search for wholeness or union with God. The Latin term for alcohol is spiritus and he remarked, “You use the same term for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison.” Jung felt that the craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst for wholeness, expressed in medieval language, the union with God.

Lee Jampolsky noted, “Addiction is fundamentally a misdirected spiritual search that is rooted in a fundamental belief that, “I am not OK the way I am and there is a void that needs to be filled and something external to myself will fill this void.”

Victor Frankl concluded that substance abuse might be a response to a loss of direction within the person. A spiritual search for peace in a world of restless anxiety. The alcohol, other drugs, work, behavior provide a temporary sense of relief and feeling of control. The addiction says we can have it now, a message reinforced by the wider culture in a variety of ways every day.

Howard Clinebell stated that the insecurity and emotional malnutrition bred by an anxious, violent, and competitive society has resulted in many damaged orphans of the spirit.