opinion | Faith healing should not be a mainstream treatment for addiction

Alison Gill, vice president of legal and policy at American Atheists, who helped draft the law vetoed by Gov. Hochul, said her organization regularly hears from people who have been coerced into religious treatment by judges or employers. “The courts have made it very clear that this is unconstitutional,” she said.

There are good historical reasons for the strange combination of faith and medicine in addiction care. By the 1930s, the health care system had retreated from treating alcohol and drug problems, leaving few options for those who needed help.

After a stockbroker, Bill Wilson, and a proctologist, Bob Smith, known as Dr. Bob, started AA in 1935, stories of his success restored hope for recovery. Physicians began to develop formal treatment programs focused on this. This became known as the Minnesota model because it was developed in that state in programs like Hazelden, which is still a leader in the field.

Many people with addiction—including myself when I wasn’t given any other treatment option—find aspects of 12-step programs helpful. But Research suggests that the active ingredient in their success is peer support, not the steps themselves, as secular groups appear to be similarly useful.

Many people find success with AA less than the half of 12-step participants are abstinent for a year after starting, and it is clear that additional options are needed. Since the 1990s, researchers have known that different approaches to alcohol use disorders—such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational therapy—are the same Effective in reducing heavy drinking and its consequences.

Given all of this, since 12-Step groups are free and available outside of professional care, it makes little sense for the state or insurers to pay for rehabilitation centers that use the 12-Step therapy groups and the daily schedule for these services to like they’re doing right now. Instead, government payers and insurers should spend their limited resources on approaches that aren’t free elsewhere and that don’t have constitutional problems.

When it comes to opioid use disorders, religious elements of 12-step programs can be especially damaging. Narcotics Anonymous, the group that focuses on opioid addiction, is philosophically opposed to the most effective drugs – methadone and buprenorphine. The group says in its literature that NA is a total abstinence program—so people taking these drugs are not considered “clean.” This is an article of faith, not a principle based on data.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/11/opinion/faith-addiction-treatment.html opinion | Faith healing should not be a mainstream treatment for addiction


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