How Sikhism Can Combat Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

This article will explore how Sikhism can address substance abuse and alcoholism

The 12-step program is one of the most well-known faith-based programs. Such 12-step programs include popular treatment options such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA).

Some people have touted 12-step programs as affordable and effective ways of addressing substance abuse. While the programs were initially based on the Christian faith, different 12-step programs address different people of different faiths or no faiths at all. Similarly, there are also programs for addiction that acknowledge the Sikh faith. This article will explore how Sikhism can address substance abuse and alcoholism.


Addressing Addiction

Similar to 12-step programs, Sikhism encourages people to acknowledge that they have problems. There are five sins that a Sikh should avoid: anger, pride, lust, greed, and attachment. Alcoholism and addiction to drugs represent an unhealthy attachment.


Substance abuse and alcoholism are often caused by mental distress. Distressed people may consume drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication. Unfortunately, drugs can make one more susceptible to stress and depression. Dependency and tolerance may develop and people may become addicted to drugs or alcohol.


Finding Peace

In Sikhism, followers find their path to peace by avoiding sin. They can overcome sins by finding their path back to God. This is a similar sentiment used by other faith-based and holistic recovery programs that encourage addicts to rediscover their purpose through God.


Research studies on the efficacy of Sikh-based addiction recovery programs have studied devotion in the religion. Programs within the Sikh communities encourage those struggling with addiction to seek assistance at Sikh temples.


Followers participate in Sikh initiation rites. They pledge abstinence to alcohol and drugs. The Amrit Sanskar (the Amrit Ceremony of Initiation) is a pledge for a lifetime of abstinence and devotion, although some programs only require devotees to make this pledge for a year. Conventional rehabilitation often requires addicts to participate in treatment for at least one month, typically for three to six months. Therefore, a one-year pledge is a longer period that may be more effective for some addicts.


Acts of Charity

Acts of charity are another tenet of Sikhism that can help address addiction and substance abuse. Sikhs believe that humans cannot directly experience universal consciousness because it is too vast. Devotees should instead seek God through acts of charity.


Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, emphasized that the acts of charity must be genuine and authentic. He warned that pilgrimages, penances, and ritual giving do not provide charity properly.

Sikh temples have a langar, a communal eating area where the rich and the poor sit together. This symbolizes the religion's emphasis on sharing. According to the religion, sharing with others is one of the aspects of positive living. Others include meditating on the nature of God and earning a living through one’s own efforts. Sharing is an aspect that can help people who are struggling with mental distress and substance abuse.


Research findings suggest that acts of generosity may positively influence one’s life. If we define generosity as giving abundantly and freely, this definition is consistent with the Sikh view of charity. In this view, generous acts are genuine and do not have hidden motives. Some factors influencing generosity include a strong sense of right and wrong and feelings of empathy and compassion. Devotees of Sikhism emphasize such aspects of generosity.


Studies at the University of Michigan, the University of California, Berkeley, and other universities found that people who volunteer or give other types of help are healthier. The studies indicate that giving has a link to psychological health. Adults who volunteered gave generously or were willing to help others had a stronger sense of vitality and self-esteem.


Faith-based programs have demonstrated how aspects of faith and spirituality can be used as protective factors for substance abuse. Followers of Sikhism and other religions can participate in recovery programs that incorporate aspects of their faith as part of their holistic recovery programs.


Adam Durnham
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