Belief, Behavior, and Belonging: How Faith is Indispensable in Preventing and Recovering from Substance Abuse

Summary and Analysis

This potentially game-changing study quantifies the economic value that faith-based programs bring to drug prevention and treatment. We plan to do a more complete analysis of the report's findings but wanted to make it available sooner rather than later as it was recently widely announced.

Minimally, the report highlights the importance of supporting public policies that encourage a healthy, broad spectrum of drug abuse prevention and treatment programs. The study finds that faith-based programs contribute more than $300 billion in savings to the U.S. economy related to drug addiction. Policies which mandate Medication Assisted Treatment to the exclusion of other approaches could endanger that contribution and thereby worsen the crisis. 

We believe the report's findings suggest that the impact of faith-based programs should be part of all public policy discussions and decisions. This is not to say governments should violate First Amendment separation of Church and State, but it does say that the health benefits of faith-based programs should be routinely taken into consideration.  

Excerpted from Journal of Religion and Health

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Abstract: This study reviews the voluminous empirical evidence on faith’s contribution to preventing people from falling victim to substance abuse and helping them recover from it. We find that 73% of addiction treatment programs in the USA include a spirituality-based element, as embodied in the 12-step programs and fellowships initially popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, the vast majority of which emphasize reliance on God or a Higher Power to stay sober. We introduce and flesh out a typology of faith-based substance abuse treatment facilities, recovery programs, and support groups. This typology provides important background as we then move on to make an economic valuation of nearly 130,000 congregation-based substance abuse recovery support programs in the USA. We find that these faith-based volunteer support groups contribute up to $316.6 billion in savings to the US economy every year at no cost to tax payers. While negative experiences with religion (e.g., clergy sex abuse and other horrendous examples) have been a contributory factor to substance abuse among some victims, given that more than 84% of scientific studies show that faith is a positive factor in addiction prevention or recovery and a risk in less than 2% of the studies reviewed, we conclude that the value of faith-oriented approaches to substance abuse prevention and recovery is indisputable. And, by extension, we also conclude that the decline in religious affiliation in the USA is not only a concern for religious organizations but constitutes a national health concern.