Can Religion Be An Addiction?

We throw the word addiction around a lot (I.E: I am addicted to this show!”) , even though addiction is a very serious matter. If religion were to be defined as an addiction then it would be what’s called a process addiction. This study is among the many starting surface exploring defining a process addiction. As it stands now the The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) does not consider this to be a mental disorder like substance abuse but that is starting to change. The only process addiction in the DSM-V so pair-of-aces-1544445far is Gambling Disorder.

This study defined a process addiction as:

‘Behavioral addiction such as internet addiction is similar to drug addiction except that in the former, the individual is not addicted to a substance but the behavior or the feeling brought about by the relevant action. In addition, the physical signs of drug addiction, are absent in behavioral addiction. Others have stated that behaviorally addicted individuals have certain symptoms and will undergo the same consequences brought about by addiction to alcohol and drugs as well as other obsessive behaviors.’

An understanding of addictions takes quite a bit of study and there is currently quite a bit of controversy on the definition of process addictions but there is universal agreement that it is real and it is a big problem.  Addiction to religion is a virtually unresearched area as it is widely considered a valid coping mechanism for some.

‘While religious beliefs and practices can represent powerful sources of comfort, hope, and meaning, they are often intricately entangled with neurotic and psychotic disorders, sometimes making it difficult to determine whether they are a resource or a liability.’ (source)

An honest and comprehensive look at religion addiction was the 1998 book When God Becomes a Drug by Leo Booth. He defined the signs of religion addiction as follows:

1) Inability to think, doubt, or question information or authority

2) Black and white, simplistic thinking

3) Shame based belief that you aren’t good enough, or you aren’t doing it right

4) Magical thinking that God will fix you

5) Scrupulosity: rigid, obsessive adherence to rules, codes to ethics, or guidelines

6) Uncompromising, judgmental attitudes

7) Compulsive praying, going to church or crusades, quoting scripture

8) Unrealistic financial contributions

9) Believing that sex is dirty-that our bodies and physical pleasures are evil

10) Compulsive over eating or excessive fasting

11) Conflict with science, medicine, and education

12) Progressive detachment from the real world, isolation, breakdown of relationships

13) Psychosomatic illness: sleeplessness, back pains, headaches, hypertension

14) Manipulating scriptures or texts, feeling chosen, claiming to receive special messages from God

15) Trance like state or religious high, wearing a glazed happy face

16) Cries for help: mental, emotional, physical breakdown; hospitalization

Booth’s book defined religion addiction as problem that occurs in stages, a downward religion-addictionspiral of neglecting more important things for a religion. The book was ahead of it’s time and some research as starting to surface on the issue. (i.e. Religion Addiction: Obsession With Spirituality). Most explorations into the subject are focusing on how to recognize when religious practice is a problem and how to promote a healthy spirituality.

Religion certainly fulfills needs such as meaning and social belonging. In 2004 Steven Reiss defined 16 reasons why people practice religion. Due to lack of research we won’t say that religion is an addiction but we can certainly identify the similarities to addictions currently accepted by experts. We can use this information to help understand the dangers of religion, especially to the psychologically vulnerable.

More reading:

Toxic Faith by Stephen Aterburn

When Religion IS An addiction

A Reason To Believe




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