The wise do recover from addiction

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Big buddha statue at Wat muang, Thailand

ResearchBlogging.orgWisdom’s not a very scientific term is it? We sort of know what it means, but it’s vague and not really something to value or measure in scientific literature – right? It’s a bit like spirituality; you might get a dozen different definitions depending on whom you talk to. That hasn’t stopped researchers exploring what wisdom might mean in recovery. In fact they’ve been exploring this for at least a decade, so what do I know? In a recent paper by Julia DiGangi and colleagues wisdom is pinned down a little bit. Here’s what they say:

“Wisdom is a complicated and broad term that has been defined as a form of knowledge linked primarily to an awareness of and connection to oneself, one’s surroundings, and others.” They point out the term has expanded to ‘include aspects of spirituality and connectedness to nature.’

So you’d think we’d be on safe ground to say that wisdom might be challenging to measure accurately and consistently. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be measured in a meaningful way. Indeed, there is a validated scale to measure it! In their study DiGangi et al recruited 116 women substance dependent women of whom 96% were attending 12-step meetings. They were recruited through Oxford recovery houses. The Foundational Value Scale (wisdom tool) and 12-step participation questionnaire were used and relationship between the two compared. And the findings?

An exploratory analysis revealed that participants who reported having a “spiritual awakening” and considered themselves members of 12-step groups reported significantly higher levels of wisdom. Twelve-step meeting attendance was not significantly related to wisdom scores. Findings suggest certain aspects of 12-step involvement are associated with wisdom and may play a role in substance abuse recovery.

A lot of the research on 12-step efficacy centres on the role of social networks, but this finding around spirituality reminded me of a couple of studies from last year. The first recruited more than 500 members of Narcotics Anonymous and found that those who acknowledged a ‘spiritual awakening’ were less likely to crave substances. Other researchers looked at the Project Match data and found that AA attendance led to better outcomes partially mediated through spiritual practices.

I am left with questions. If wisdom and spirituality are potentially helpful for recovery should treatment services be discussing them as concepts with clients or is it enough to make active linkages to 12-step groups? Do we even have the language or understanding to do this? What about the spirituality naysayers; what should we say to them? Is there an equivalent wisdom in SMART Recovery groups?

Wisdom may seem a little woolly to begin with, but this study shows it can be studied and that the findings are relevant. And after all, who doesn’t want to be a little bit wiser?

DiGangi, J., Majer, J., Mendoza, L., Droege, J., Jason, L., & Contreras, R. (2014). What Promotes Wisdom in 12-Step Recovery? Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 9 (1), 31-39 DOI: 10.1080/1556035X.2013.836869

Galanter, M., Dermatis, H., Post, S., & Sampson, C. (2013). Spirituality-Based Recovery From Drug Addiction in the Twelve-Step Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous Journal of Addiction Medicine, 7 (3), 189-195 DOI: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e31828a0265

Kelly, J., Stout, R., Magill, M., Tonigan, J., & Pagano, M. (2011). Spirituality in Recovery: A Lagged Mediational Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous’ Principal Theoretical Mechanism of Behavior Change Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 35 (3), 454-463 DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01362.x

[This blog was first published in May 2014]

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