There is never one answer, but we welcome proven methods to help alcoholics and addicts achieve sobriety and peace. Their restored personal dignity is a gift to themselves and to the communities in which they live.
The Wall Street Journal on March 28, 2014 ran this piece on addiction recovery:
Young people who regularly attend religious services and describe themselves as religious are less likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs, a growing body of research shows. Why? It could be religious instruction, support from congregations, or conviction that using alcohol and drugs violates one's religious beliefs.
Moreover, frequent involvement in spiritual activities seems to help in the treatment of those who do abuse alcohol and drugs. That's the conclusion of many reports, including our longitudinal study of 195 juvenile offenders that will be released in May in Alcohol Treatment Quarterly.
Fewer and fewer adolescents today are connected to a religious organization. Young people are less affiliated than previous generations, with 25% of the millennial generation unattached to any particular faith, according to a 2010 Pew Research report.
The problem is more fundamental than missing church on Sunday. Young people in our study of juvenile offenders seem to lack purpose and are overwhelmed by feelings of not fitting in. Meantime, the legalization of marijuana in several states, the flood of prescription medications, and the availability of harder street drugs gives youth wide access to mind-altering substances.
There are two key elements of the 12-step program AA uses: helping others and God-consciousness. Those who help people during treatment—taking time to talk to another addict who is struggling, volunteering, cleaning up, setting up for meetings, or other service projects—are, according to our research, statistically more likely to stay sober and out of jail in the six months after discharge, a high-risk period in which 70% relapse.
Nearly half of youth who self-identified as agnostic, atheist or nonreligious at treatment admission claimed a spiritual affiliation two months later. This change correlated with a decreased likelihood of testing positive for alcohol and drugs during treatment.
A connection with the divine and service to others both seem to enhance sobriety. That's because they provide what young people like Katie have been missing: a deep sense of purpose, opportunities to provide help to other people, connections with others, and the chance to make a difference in the world. This reduces self-absorbed thinking, something AA cites as a root cause of addiction.
As a teen we will call Ben told us, "I am aware today in sobriety that my thinking has drastically changed. You take a telescope and move it a centimeter, and your whole world changes. Now I ask myself: What can I bring to the table? How can I help?"
How does a person rewire their own brain? There are many paths, but some adolescents agree with "Allen," who told us, "I need a power greater than myself to enter my life."
Mr. Johnson is a professor of social sciences at Baylor University. Ms. Pagano is a professor of child psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University