• Debbie Powers, LMFT

Religious Addiction

Updated: Feb 25

"They become enmeshed into a shared psychosis with those around them"

Religious Addiction, a possible new diagnosis characterized by an obsession with an organized belief system which can have devastating effects on the individual and their family.


This could be considered behavioral addiction, which may be categorized as a Process Addiction. Process Addictions include addiction to the internet, gambling, exercise, shopping, work and gaming. It is similar because it allows the individual to escape from painful feelings.


Physically, Religious Addiction acts as any other Process Addiction in the brain. It stimulates and increases the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. There is an attachment to the dopamine receptors or alteration on how the receptor reacts. This increases the reward pathway. Each time they are involved with their addictive behavior, it reinforces the channel. When the action is repeated over and over the compulsive behavior becomes an involuntary behavior which reduces pain and anxiety. When the person feels this relief from anxiety, they learn that this works, I will do it again.


Just like any other addiction, Religious Addiction gets progressively worse. I will demonstrate this by breaking the progression into three stages.


First Stage:


Possible characteristics of the person addicted to religion:


Anxiety

Abusive to family members

Failure to meet family obligations

Distorted perception of time

Need to increase time doing the behavior

Finding it hard to stop doing the behavior

Don’t have to think for themselves

Low self-esteem and feeling isolated

Driven by guilt to earn God’s favor

Focused only on their own wants and desires

Will do anything to relieve their pain

Intolerance of other faith groups

Experience of religious “highs”

Struggle with the concept that God is loving and forgiving

People are born evil

Believe in punishment

If you don’t follow the rules… God will not forgive you

Love the rituals

Most have obsessive compulsive disorder

Most come from rigid parenting

Most would call themselves a "perfectionist"


Middle Stage:


Compulsion to do more

Losing control, cannot stop

Denial sets in

Recruitment of others to justify they are doing the right thing

Withdrawal symptoms

Feeling like it is never enough


End Stage:


Loss of self

Can’t stop attending rituals of church

Find they are getting high at these rituals

May find they are emulating those around, raising arms, speaking tongues, chanting, etc

They are feeling a great relief of pain by doing these actions

They isolate from everyone who does not believe their way

Home-life falls apart

Bankruptcy or extreme high debt, some have given all of their money to to church

Neglect their responsibilities

Their school work or jobs are neglected

They have emotional and mental breakdowns, may cry frequently

Black and white or right and wrong thinking

Magical thinking sets in, they may think they are “healers”

They believe they have God’s powers

Reality slips away

Intolerance of others

They are convinced that the world is evil

Compulsively praying

Can only be friends with people who believe as they believe

Need to home school children because the system is EVIL

They turn their backs to medicine, only God can heal

Depression

Receives messages from GOD

Wears a glazed over happy trance-like face


Lastly, they become enmeshed into a shared psychosis with those around them.


This addict can hit a very low bottom, leading to death and even suicide. To name a few examples, The People's Temple of the Disciples of Christ, Scientology, Rajneeshees' Oregon paradise, and many more.



As in any other addiction, this becomes a family addiction. Religious Addiction is more accepted by society than some of the others. The denial of the addict is very strong and can be easily rationalized. Your chances of reaching them are slim.


I will not get into the treatment of this addiction in this article but would recommend to the family members to seek a professional therapist that is trained in addiction to learn to cope with the Religious Addiction.


Written by: Debbie Powers, MA, LMFT, NCAC I

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, National Certified Addiction Specialist


Reference: Chery Zerbe Taylor, Pastoral Psychology, Volume 50, No. 4, March 2002.

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