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.
Possible characteristics of the person addicted to religion:
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"
Compulsion to do more
Losing control, cannot stop
Denial sets in
Recruitment of others to justify they are doing the right thing
Feeling like it is never enough
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
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
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.