Skip to Content

Is sobriety contingent upon spirituality?


An increased association with spirituality is linked to better sobriety rates among teens who receive substance abuse treatment, reports a new study.

Researchers from the University of Akron, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and Baylor University found that spirituality also increases positive social behaviors and reduced narcissism in young people who are trying to get clean and sober.

Not bound by religion

The study was part of CWRU's "Project SOS" and "Helping Others Live Sober" research initiatives, which are two ongoing studies on adolescent addiction. Researchers explored the spiritual experiences of 195 adolescents with substance abuse issues at New Directions, the largest adolescent residential treatment facility in Northeast Ohio.

Measuring "daily spiritual experiences," independent of religious beliefs or behaviors, the researchers found that most of the adolescents reported having daily spiritual experiences by the end of the two-month treatment program - regardless of their previous religious leanings, or lack thereof.

About one-third of the teens self-identified as agnostic or atheist at the beginning of the study, but two-thirds of these same teens "claimed a spiritual identity" at discharge, the researchers said.


Spirituality identity strongly predicted clean toxicology screens, reduced narcissism and positive social outcomes.

"The key message is that changes in spiritual experiences are associated with better outcomes," said Dr. Matthew T. Lee, professor and chair of sociology at The University of Akron. " Just because an adolescent is not spiritual prior to participating in the treatment project does not mean that they are incapable of becoming spiritual. Our results demonstrate that if they do become spiritual, they will tend to have much better outcomes."

The researchers suggest that spirituality can serve as the "switch" that inspires teens to take a different path toward recovery and well-being.

Results of the study were presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Association in New York City and will be featured in the spring 2014 issue of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly.

Source: University of Akron