Dr. J. Scott Tonigan
University of New Mexico
Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA)
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Spiritual Growth and 12-Step Programs: An Empirical Search for Meaning
More people with substance abuse problems go to community-based 12-step programs than formal treatment, and strong evidence suggests that 12-step attendance predicts later increases in abstinence. Relative to other evidence-based behavioral interventions for substance abuse, 12-step programs are unique in endorsing the belief that spiritual growth is essential for achieving and sustaining sobriety. This presentation will first focus on the nature of spirituality as it is practiced in 12-step programs. Here, attention will be directed to distinguishing between spirituality and religiosity, how the practice of spirituality may vary between 12-step groups, and documented changes in spiritual practices of 12-step members over time. The second portion of the presentation will focus on the role that spiritual growth serves in accounting for 12-step related benefit. Drawing examples from 20 years of NIH funded research Dr. Tonigan will review the evidence that changes in spirituality are central to the success of 12-step programs. While significant strides have been made in understanding the extent and nature of 12-step programs, some important features of spirituality and 12-step programs have yet to be investigated. Dr. Tonigan will end his presentation by raising a number of issues and caveats to be considered by practitioners when reviewing the empirically-based literature on spirituality and addictions.