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This article will focus on Faith Based Rehab and the ethos that underpins specific faith groups desire to help and support those addicted to drugs and alcohol into a new or renewed spiritual lifestyle.

The information presented does not cover every faith-based organisation in the UK as each organisation differs in the provision of service they offer. Whatever their religious beliefs.

In short Faith Based Rehab is not one size fits all and this is how WE work, and WE all work the same. Each unit has its own individual style.

However, the spiritual principle of Altruism lies heavy in the presence of Faith Based treatment as those delivering the programme of recovery are connected to and believe in their version of a Higher Power such as God.

NB: This is appropriate as the UK is a multi-cultural community rich in diversity and religious belief.

In an attempt to outline what Faith Based Rehab can provide the Christian religion will be chosen to represent the one portion of Faith Based Rehab or Treatment currently available in the UK.

Christian Faith Based Rehab has been chosen as there are many well established Faith Based Rehabs in the UK linked to Christianity.

Faith Based Rehab Treatment

The History of Faith Based Rehab

Again, the history will depend on the faith leading the treatment for those with substance use disorders. 

Examples of Religious Faiths:

  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Buddhism
  • Judaism
  • Hinduism
  • Taoism
  • Sikhism
  • Mormonism

In some of the above religions the overuse of alcohol and drugs is kept a secret as the user may not want to bring ‘shame’ to their family.

However, whatever the religion addiction does not discriminate meaning the religious faith of an individual will not stop chemical dependence from occurring.

The Christian Faith has been operating Faith Based Rehabs for two centuries and can be described for illustrative purposes. In essence it is easier to discuss Christianity as their support has been more overt than some other religions.

Also, it is important to remember alcohol and drug problems are not a new phenomenon. The overuse of alcohol for example can span many generations with references to Beer Street and Gin Lane 1751 William Hogarth as an early depiction of the problems of alcohol.

The temperance movement sprung up in the UK in and around the 1830s with various parties trying to implement this way of life some parties rallied for reduced levels of drinking and others for total abstinence which created subgroups to evolve.

One such party was The League of the Cross was founded by Catholics supporting total abstinence from alcohol in 1873.

At one point the temperance movement tried to restrict Sunday drinking hours to be met with riots as the Sale of Beer Act 1954 was repealed.

There was also a class element to all off the above the temperance movement was created by the upper classes to try and control the working classes. Almost to train them not to drink, as much, and spend their money on more productive things.

In response to Temperance the working classes created the Teetotal organisation which called for total abstinence from alcohol in essence to prove to the Upper Classes they were trustworthy as a class and could conduct their business in a respectful manner.

Again, showing attempts to reduce the harms associated by overuse of alcohol is not a new concept.

In 1847 The Band of Hope Leeds was founded to protect children from the dangers of alcohol towards them – this is more in line with current government legislation aimed at putting children first such as GIFREC Getting It Right for Every Child.

Before the implementation of Social Work Services in the UK it could be argued that religious organisations were in essence responsible for taking care of the ‘less fortunate’ in society and the ‘sinners’ of the world.

NB – Sin is a term attributed to Christianity and known as an immoral act considered to act against God’s Will.

NBB – the terminology in this document is related to Faith Based Rehabs and is open to the readers own perception.

In essence organised religion took on the role of many front-line services today. By maintaining law and order within communities, performing health related duties, caring for orphans, feeding the poor and housing the homeless.

Many Faith Based Rehabs or areas of treatment were historically not recorded as helping those less fortunate as they were ran by followers of a religious vocation or social and moral duty. And not for profit.

This makes it hard to quantify the amount of people supported by Faith Based Rehabs over the years. As they can be autonomous if they operate on a voluntary basis.

The reporting systems in place may display polar opposite results. For example, an outcome for statutory service could be to place an individual on a methadone programme (this is recorded) and an outcome for a Faith Based Rehab maybe they turned to God and accepted Jesus Christ as their saviour (not recorded as subjective).

Christian Beliefs that underpin Faith Based Rehab

There are many verses in religious text that encourage the support of those whom have fallen on hard times.

The use of alcohol and drugs in a problematic manner is viewed as a sin in Christian Faith and the ultimate goal is to help the sinners become liberated from their sins.

However, Christians are fully aware that all humans sin and are motivated to help substance users stop their destructive cycle and break the chains that bind them to the bondage of sin.

There may be a multitude of areas in which freedom is required.

Modern day Christianity is empathetic and encouraging. As well as realistic, not all who attend will see Jesus Christ as their saviour and Gods only son.

But the belief that no human is beyond redemption holds firm. Nobody is considered unable to be ‘saved’ from the bondage of self.

An example of an active Christian Community Rehab 

The following is an example of a Faith Based Rehab currently in operation in the City of Glasgow. This rehab programme is based in the community and attendees are not removed from their home environments whilst they recover.

Referrals:

Referrals arrive from many areas such as:

  • Self-Referral
  • From a church elder
  • By an organisation supporting the individual such as; community drop ins or commissioned services

Funding of their place:

No funding is required as the Christian community rehab receives funding from:

  • Christians who want to donate 10% of their monthly wage to this particular rehab
  • Christians who make large donations a couple of times per year
  • A special collection within a church wanting to support the rehab
  • Trusts and foundations set up to support faith-based rehabs
  • And other donations

The recommended steps to entry are:

  • Attending the community rehabs Evening Support Groups
  • Discussing the principle of abstinence and if stopping problematic drug/alcohol use is what they want to do?
  • Deciding if they are ready and open minded to hear the word of God whilst abstaining from alcohol and drugs (participants may not be believers).

What about Detox:

  • The organisation works in line with statutory services providing Opiate Replacement Therapy ORT when a participant is at the tail end of their detox.
  • Those wanting to stay on their ORT medication can attend Evening Support Groups until they are ready to start reducing
  • Those using alcohol problematically can seek help from a GP or alcohol/drugs service for a detox when they are ready to commit to the main Rehab Programme on offer.

The Main Rehab Programme:

  • Is based in the community
  • Holds 4 Recovery Groups per week
  • Discusses recovery and verses from the Bible
  • Can be led by a story of Hope from another who conquered addiction and found God.
  • Links the New Testament from the Bible to Community Based Recovery

Understanding Jesus:

The programme breaks addiction into three components:

  • Initially choose to use alcohol or drugs
  • Then the choice becomes a dominant choice
  • Eventually there is no choice left

After there is no choice left substance use is seen as a slavery and help is required to break free.

Jesus will help those suffering from substance use disorders by ‘liberating from sin.’

The message of recovery and Jesus Christ as salvation soothes those broken through addiction and begins to heal the heart.

Aftercare:

The Hope is that those attending this Community Rehab will have uncovered or recovered a belief in Jesus Christ and will continue attending the Evening Support Group for help with their abstinence from alcohol and drugs as well as their faith.

Integration into a local church and carrying the message of their recovery to others still in the negative cycle of substance misuse is in line with the spiritual principle of altruism.

A fulfilling principle that means people keep what they have been freely given by freely giving to others – a spiritual way of life is encouraged.

Insights on Faith Based Rehab or Treatment

Insight one:

Not much has been written about faiths other than Christianity this is in part due to the overt and longitudinal nature of Christian Based Rehabilitation centres.

In this faith there are two types of organisations:

  • Solely church funded
  • Partial state funded partial church funded

The way a Faith Based Organisation is funded will change the programme on offer as commissioned services are bound by conditions and are monitored with results being recorded.

A difference could be the funded rehab delivers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy CBT as a form of therapy and the non-funded rehab discuss passages from the Bible as a form of therapy.

Insight two: 

It is clear that religious organisations support their church members however support may by covert to avoid shame to the family living with the substance users.

What is unclear is the many and varied ways in which each religion supports their members and by what means.

Again, support is being shown but not written about via the internet and this article would be more informative if a fuller picture of how different religious communities deal with substance use disorders.

Insight Three:

Stigma is alive and thriving. This word is of particular interest as, in the act of acceptance of God as the highest power of all, in each religion, is to achieve forgiveness.

Forgiveness or absolution of past sins is the ultimate goal for those in religion however the shame or stigma placed upon a person directly stops them from seeking forgiveness from their saviour as they would need to admit they had a problem first.

Hiding the problem, in some cases, full families are working hard to keep their loved one’s drug or alcohol use a secret.

Insight Four:

A culture of us and them still exists between statutory and third sector drug/alcohol services.

Just as in Beer Street and Gin Lane 1751 Hogarth depicts those who drink beer are of a higher moral standard than those who drink gin who have the lowest of morals.

Invisible lines spring up between services due to many reasons.

However, in some cases statutory and charity-based services have managed to work together as both realise ‘it’s better together’ and ‘we need each other’ to deal with the magnitude of problems drug and alcohol use brings to every section of society.

Insight Five:

Addiction to substances hazardous to health is subjective. The user has a problem when they identify their self as having a problem.

The desire to seek help must come from within and an acceptance that drugs and alcohol have become a problem a problem too big to conquer alone.

Therefore, the choice of treatment modality can also become subjective i.e. I want to take Opiate Replacement Therapy ORT, or I want to become total abstinent from alcohol or drugs or I need to recover my faith to recover.

No one person can force the choice. The choice lies within.

This is why different services will meet different needs however all services should work together to ensure a person’s needs are met and they are not inadvertently or advertently forced to fall a programme they may have stumbled across in their search to find freedom from active addiction.


Faith Based Rehab can be residential, or community based and are each autonomous in the sense they deliver their own programme in line with their own faith or in some cases how they are funded.

Residential Rehabs can deliver a programme for up to one year and the main focus remains on the teachings of the Bible (accurate for Christianity) and doing good deeds for others by re-integrating back into a community as a positive asset to that community.

Individuals can find out about entrance into Faith Based Rehabs through their local places of worship, if the church is not connected to Faith Based support, elders can signpost an individual seeking help to an appropriate service.

In most towns a church ‘drop in’ to feed the most vulnerable may have links into Faith Based Rehabs. Connecting with these drop ins and expressing a desire to achieve abstinence may assist a referral into rehab.

However, individuals can self-refer directly into Faith Based Rehab and after consultations and assessment a decision will be reached by the organisation re possible admittance.

Faith Based Rehabs are most easily accessed by connection to a church invested in helping drug/alcohol users achieve abstinence and turn to God. If the participant has lost their faith and looking to re-ignite this or has never turned to God but is open to this move.

Then Faith Based Rehab is a good option for those wanting to change their life abstain from drugs and rekindle their faith.


About the author

Dr Conroy

Dr Steve Conroy is the clinical lead for Abbeycare Scotland and is responsible for delivering primary care drug and alcohol services to people with addiction problems in one of Scotland's largest Health Board areas. He is active in research in addictions and has been invited to speak at conferences both in the UK and abroad. Read more about Dr Conroy on LinkedIn


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