Do science and religon have to be at odds in treatment?

by Ned Wicker

It was a refreshing experience a few years ago to hear the meeting of science and religion at the annual Spring Conference of the Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse in Madison.

In a society that has increasingly grown more secular since the 1960’s, to have a distinguished psychiatrist share his belief that religion plays a vital part in recovery is evidence to support the claim that science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Breath and spirit the same word in Hebrew

Michael T. Wikowsky, MD, MA Wisconsin Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, was the first plenary speaker of the conference and shared from his Jewish heritage. He began his remarks with an interesting point about breath.

In Hebrew, breath and spirit are the same word. We have often heard that addiction is a disease of the spirit, and so the idea that breath, which is of the body, and one’s spirit should be tied together is logical. He illustrated his point by sharing experiences he has had with teenagers.

Wikowsky has worked with teens for more than 14 years and he said that studies show that religion has a positive effect on kids, because it helps to delay their first experimentation with drugs. Instead of a first exposure coming in middle school, it would come in high school. More importantly, religion contributes to a teen’s decision to discontinue use after that first experience.

Centered in Faith

Religion, as Wikowsky defined it, is centered on faith, belief and ritual, and how people relate to themselves, each other, the world and their higher power. Wikowsky pointed out that religion is different from spirituality, which is on a personal level, transcending outside of one’s self. It’s an individual activity, but it is about relationships with others. You have probably often heard people say, “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” Spirituality would be that means toward an ultimate transformation.

The teenaged years are all about transformation, as Wikowsky explained, as there are tremendous hormonal changes, coupled with the maturation of their brain. The teenage mind is ever-changing. This results in bad decision making, as the brain is reorganizing its reward system.

Teens OFTEN much more vulnerable to addiction

The teenage years leave a person more vulnerable to addiction, and he pointed out that 10th grade is the year for the most suicides, as depression and life changes. Religion serves to help the teen through these transitions and in an ever-changing world their religion is something that does not change.

We are body, mind and spirit. Wikowsky understands the importance of the religious/spiritual aspect of addiction, as well as the scientific facts of how the human brain matures and functions.

In his work with teenagers, he embraces the religious, rather than summarily dismissing it is myth and nonsense.

Wikowsky draws from his own heritage, his scientific training and the experience of his complicated and often mysterious teenage patients, to bring two worlds together.

AODA professionals are always seeking new knowledge. The theme of the conference was “Many Roads to Recovery: New Knowledge, New Hope.”

The theme of the conference was summarized by WAAODA Executive Director Kate Nesheim, who said,

“It is our intention to bring new concepts and research to the training, which will allow each participant to better help those who suffer from addiction and substance abuse.” Sometimes the best solution is found by combining new knowledge with very old knowledge.

Treating Drug Use - Science and religion do not have to be, and I assert are not mutually exclusive.

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