Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Spirituality as an Intervention for Treating Addiction

How developing a daily spiritual practice can minimize substance use.

Key points

  • Spirituality is the direct experience of our own essence.
  • Spirituality is an important bridge between recovery and developing a relationship with a higher power.
  • A trauma can be experienced as a daily microaggression, such as anti-LGBTQ bias and time spent in the closet.
Rosario Janza / Unsplash
Source: Rosario Janza / Unsplash

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I worked for a national LGBTQ organization, and one of my primary responsibilities was to help organize new member recruitment events.

The events always took place at bars across the United States and were a way to attract new members.

Once, when I secured a venue for a new market at a non-bar, I was called to meet with the president of the organization at the time.

He told me I’d have to find a new venue at a bar.

Even though the location was perfect for our event, and they were going to give us a great deal, we couldn’t have our event somewhere that wasn’t a “gay bar.”

He told me, “The bar is for gays what the church is for straights.”

At first glance, the comment sounds problematic. But if we were to explore the history between the LGBTQ community and the church, his comment was a fair assessment.

For years, certain religions have failed to accept LGBTQ people. And, for that reason, the LGBTQ community has had to create alternative spaces to gather, connect, celebrate, and, essentially, worship.

After nine years of sobriety and 11 years working at a popular gay bar in Los Angeles, what I share with others from my experience is that what people do at a bar and what they do at church is ultimately the same: the pursuit of a connection with something beyond the realm of this world. It’s just that one source is sustainable and one isn’t.

It’s not that bars themselves are bad; it’s that everything, including bars and the reason for which we go, is consciousness.

If a person doesn’t have a strong enough foundation to sustain themselves while seeking fulfillment through substances, the results can lead to addiction.

I had always looked at increased rates of drug and alcohol use in the LGBTQ community through the lens of identity shame, but, to get a complete picture, it’s important to see substance use as a coping mechanism to anesthetize the pain from trauma.

Most of us think of trauma as rape, murder, death, war, or a catastrophic event or natural disaster. And while these are unequivocally traumas, a trauma is also experienced as a daily microaggression, such as anti-LGBTQ bias and time spent in the closet.

Any person who has experienced the closet has known shame—and identity shame compounded over time is itself trauma.

Spirituality as an effective intervention

The goal of spirituality and a daily spiritual practice is to have something in our lives that keeps us connected to who we truly are.

A spiritual connection and the development of a daily spiritual practice also gives us something to turn to during life’s most difficult moments. It’s not that a daily practice changes our outside circumstances, but having a daily spiritual practice is like having a readily available first-aid kit.

The most important tip I often share with clients about the development of a daily spiritual practice is that a spiritual practice is something we have to practice.

Meaning that it’s something we have to consistently show up for and do.

The second most important tip I like to share about developing a daily spiritual practice is to incorporate what I call the three “S’s”: surrender, service, and self-connection.


Because just like each grade in school has requirements in order to pass, we can’t skip a lesson we’re meant to learn in our lives. When we surrender, we allow for the lessons we’re meant to learn to naturally emerge.

A colleague recently said that she always tells herself before doing anything, “This is going to work out better than I could have ever imagined.”

Not only do I love how it sounds, but it’s something I use to remind me to surrender the outcome after I take action.


Because, well, acts of service can immediately shift our mood. The quickest way I’m able to go from feeling hopeless to hopeful is by getting outside of myself and doing something on behalf of someone else.

Not only an apple but also an act of service a day quite literally helps keep the doctor away.


Because the more we connect with ourselves, the stronger and more positive of an impact we can make out in the world.

If we want to see the most beautiful, colorful, and unique-looking fish, we have to go to the deepest parts of the ocean. The same can be said for our lives. The deeper we go inside ourselves, the more beautiful treasure there is for us to find.

So, what is spirituality after all?

I once heard someone describe spirituality as “the direct experience of our own essence.”

I’ve since taken the meaning on and think it’s more than just an explanation of spirituality; it’s the reason why spirituality and having a daily spiritual practice is an effective intervention for treating addiction.

For members of the LGBTQ community, who far too often develop in the closet and experience identity shame and trauma, connecting to the experience of our own essence can be deeply reparative.

The more that an individual facing substance use challenges can develop a meaningful spiritual connection of their own understanding, the more they can recover themselves and experience repair.


Brown, A. E., Pavlik, V. N., Shegog, R., Whitney, S. N., Friedman, L. C., Romero, C., Davis, G. C., Cech, I., Kosten, T. R., & Volk, R. J. (2007). Association of Spirituality and Sobriety During a Behavioral Spirituality Intervention for Twelve Step (TS) Recovery. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 33(4), 611–617.

Rowan, N. L., & Faul, A. C. (2011b). Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered People and Chemical Dependency: Exploring Successful Treatment. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 23(1), 107–130.

Small, D. E. (2001). Understanding higher power: Spirituality in the recovery process from alcoholism and other addictions. (Dissertation Abstract).

More from Chris Tompkins
More from Psychology Today