In an exclusive study ‘Attachment Style, Spirituality, and Depressive Symptoms Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment’ published in the Journal of Social Service Research, researchers from the School of Social Work in the College for Design and Social Inquiry at Florida Atlantic University and Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches (BHOPB) reveal that a lack of ultimate aim in life – an essential factor of spirituality – shares a close link with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as mental health issues including anxiety and depression.

Prevalent Treatment Of Addiction

Addiction is currently amongst the most dreadful health issues in the US. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that by 2020, issues relating to mental health and substance abuse will be the leading cause of global disability – even outgrowing physical illnesses. In 2009, about 23.5 million Americans, between the ages of 12 and above, were in need of rehabilitation, amount soaring up to approximately $11 billion.  

One of the most commonly employed prototype for addiction treatment is the ’12-step model’ from the 1930s, which is based on spirituality. Adult attachment variation and spiritual factors have been observed to protect against depression during rehabilitation treatments. Surprisingly, however, there has been no clear answer as to how nurturing spirituality could help people deal with addiction. Moreover, how these factors together help relieve depressive symptoms has also not yet been examined.

Developing A Research Model

Associate Professor Gail Horton, Ph.D. and Associate Professor Naelys Luna, Ph.D. from the School of Social Work in the College for Design and Social Inquiry at Florida Atlantic University, along with Tammy Malloy, LCSW, Chief Clinical Officer at the Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches (BHOPB) studied how the two concepts, adult attachment styles (secure vs. insecure) and two different spiritual dimensions (meaning in life vs. perceived relationship with God) were linked with depressive symptoms.

The researchers developed a model that observed how creativity, solitude and service could be used for treating addiction by nurturing meaning and purpose in life. They discovered that encouraging an individual’s creative talents, such as writing and painting, allowing them to serve others, and helping them identify and connect with their core values through meditation and prayer helped them discover their ultimate purpose in life. All these factors combined together, significantly, improved the recovery process.

Key Findings And Suggestions

It was discovered that insecure attachment styles increased the risk of developing depressive symptoms. Moreover, the research showed that meaning-in-life or existential-purpose approach was the most important aspect associated with depressive symptoms.

Horton and Luna stated that even though their research suggests focusing on improving interpersonal relations and attachment styles, practitioners should also consider nurturing existential aspects while planning treatments.

‘These findings are extremely important because they shed light on different ways to help individuals in treating addiction’, stated John R. Graham, Ph.D., Professor and Director of FAU’s School of Social Work. ‘This will not only help clients who are receiving treatment, but will also improve how professionals working towards eliminating addiction – contributing to the health and well-being of the broader community’.