Although spiritual change is hypothesized to contribute to recovery from alcohol dependence, few studies have used prospective data to investigate this hypothesis. Prior studies have also been limited to treatment-seeking and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) samples. This study included alcohol-dependent individuals, both in treatment and not, to investigate the effect of spiritual and religious (SR) change on subsequent drinking outcomes, independent of AA involvement.
Alcoholics (N = 364) were recruited for a panel study from two abstinence-based treatment centers, a moderation drinking program, and untreated individuals from the local community. Quantitative measures of SR change between baseline and 6 months were used to predict 9-month drinking outcomes, controlling for baseline drinking and AA involvement.
Significant 6-month changes in 8 of 12 SR measures were found, which included private SR practices, beliefs, daily spiritual experiences, three measures of forgiveness, negative religious coping, and purpose in life. Increases in private SR practices and forgiveness of self were the strongest predictors of improvements in drinking outcomes. Changes in daily spiritual experiences, purpose in life, a general measure of forgiveness, and negative religious coping also predicted favorable drinking outcomes.
SR change predicted good drinking outcomes in alcoholics, even when controlling for AA involvement. SR variables, broadly defined, deserve attention in fostering change even among those who do not affiliate with AA or religious institutions. Last, future research should include SR variables, particularly various types of forgiveness, given the strong effects found for forgiveness of self.