We are blessed to live in an era in which we have treatments for many conditions previously considered terminal – addiction being one of these. There are many therapies which are now known to be effective for the treatment of all types of addictions. This includes both medication and non-medication therapies. There are also many people who are living proof of this fact who have gone from the depths of despair and hopelessness in the pit of their addiction yet were able to get help and went on to have happy, healthy lives. 

You can experience this healing as well. Just as addiction itself isn’t limited to any type of person, the effectiveness of treatment is proven for all who seek it and persevere in it.

For many who suffer with addiction, starting the journey toward recovery is the hardest step. This is true of all of us when faced with a new challenge. Fears and anxieties about how and where to begin can keep us from taking that first step. There are so many options available, how can anyone know where to start? 

Many people are also extremely self-conscious about getting help, especially for conditions as embarrassing as addiction. Fear and anxiety about being seen walking into a treatment center or doctor’s office and possibly recognized by someone you know often prevents people from seeking help.

Telehealth has emerged as a powerful tool for the treatment of addictions. It provides access to care from the privacy of your home or other preferred location without risking the potential embarrassment and exposure of being seen and recognized at a treatment center or clinic. It has made it easier to access this care as it can be done from your phone or computer wherever you are. This technology is also much more convenient as it requires less time out of your day to meet with your provider than in person care which can require spending several hours in a clinic. These factors increase the likelihood of treatment success and maintaining sobriety as it also makes continuing in treatment easier. Perhaps the greatest benefit of telehealth over traditional in-person care is it makes it much easier to reconnect with your provider to restart treatment in the case of possible relapse.

The Spiritual Component of Addiction

It has been understood for some time that a large part of addiction has to do with our spiritual life. It is recognized that our spiritual life impacts both our vulnerability to become addicted as well as our ability to recover from an addiction. This is why 12 Step Groups refer to a “higher power” and consider our relationship with this being essential to success in recovery. Many recovered addicts attest that many of their unhealthy behaviors were attempts to “fill a God-shaped hole” in their lives. They also testify that it was only when they recognized this and began to seek God and his power to heal them that they were able to maintain sobriety and heal.

As Christians, we know that graces are available to us through prayer. This is repeated throughout the bible, with some of the more popular verses being Matthew 21:22 “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith,” and Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” 

But did you know that the power of prayer has actually been proven by science? Check out this article about the effectiveness of prayer on drinking habits in the publication National Review from April 2018: 

Consistent with the theory that religious faith increases self-control, prayer has also been found to reduce unhealthy behavior. For example, across a series of studies, researchers found that the more people prayed, the less likely they were to drink heavily. This wasn’t just because highly religious people are less inclined to do so to begin with. The researchers found that people assigned to pray daily for four weeks drank about half as much alcohol as participants in a control condition who were not directed to pray. Similarly, in a study that measured behavior over time the researchers observed that a person’s prayer at an earlier date predicted a reduction in alcohol consumption at a later date.” 

This was also the subject of study and a book by Dr. Gerald May called Addiction and Grace (1988). It had been his observation as an addiction psychiatrist that the patients who were able to achieve and maintain sobriety actively maintained a spiritual life and those who did not were more likely to relapse. In retirement he undertook a formal study and analysis of this hypothesis which confirmed his observations as well as brought him to a greater understanding of the nature and problem of addiction:

It is addiction that keeps our love for God and neighbor incomplete. It is addiction that creates other gods for us. Because of our addictions, we will always be storing up treasures somewhere other than heaven, and these treasures will kidnap our hearts and souls and strength. Because of our addictions, we simply cannot-on our own-keep the great commandments. Most of us have tried, again and again, and failed. I think our failure is necessary, for it is in failure and helplessness that we can most honestly and completely turn to grace. Grace is our only hope for dealing with addiction, the only power that can truly vanquish its destructiveness. Grace is the invincible advocate of freedom and absolute expression of perfect love.

Necessity of the Sacraments for Recovery

Though all people have access to grace through prayer to God, and Christians have access to additional graces through the Scriptures, faith in Jesus Christ, and baptism, few Christians or even Catholics are aware of the extraordinary graces available to us through the reception of the other 6 sacraments of the Catholic Church. Through the sacraments, Christ continues to be able to “touch” those who are ill that they might be healed. (Luke 6:19) All of the sacraments have the power of healing. However, it has been demonstrated and testified by many who practice our Catholic faith that regular reception of sacraments of reconciliation and eucharist are the keys to victory over addictions.

In the sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, we begin the healing process by admitting our failures and our need for God to help us make better choices. Once we have done this our “slate is wiped clean” and we are able to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is going through this cleansing process that makes us able to receive his help.

Once we have repented our former sinful actions and tendencies we are then ready to be filled with the most powerful source of grace there is – the actual Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present and available to us in the Eucharist. There is no more effective way to be filled with the grace, power and love of God than to be united to him physically by receiving him in Holy Communion!

Jesus promised us in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” As Catholics, we believe he fulfills this promise through his presence in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. What an unbelievable gift he has given us! Let us be sure to receive these gifts as often as possible and allow him to heal us of all our wounds and needs. The only limit on God’s ability to heal us is our willingness to respond to his invitation! Do not limit your potential for success!

How Catholic Addiction Medicine Differs from Other Christian Treatment Services

I believe that your potential for success in addiction treatment hinges on the combination of the modalities described above. Many other programs include spirituality, however, believe that all forms and practices of religion are essentially the same and offer the same benefits. As a Catholic provider, I want my patients to be aware of the extraordinary power and graces available from the active practice of the Catholic faith, and so specifically encourage this.

Another significant difference is that most Christian treatment programs and even many secular programs do not support or provide medication therapies for the treatment of addictions, as well as the physical and emotional problems that often accompany addictions. As a board certified physician in both family medicine and addiction medicine, I include the treatment of physical problems because if left unaddressed, can impair recovery. 


Author: Leslie Massoglia, MD, Former Addiction Specialist with MyCatholicDoctor

Editor: Samantha Wright, Director of Education and Online Resources with MyCatholicDoctor

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