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Faith-Based Detox Programs

Substance use disorders are among the costliest medical and public health problems in the United States, with 23 million people needing treatment every year but only 25% actually receiving it.1 Detox, the first acute stage of substance abuse treatment, generally lasts 3 to 7 days and may be used to stabilize the user and manage the difficult and, in some cases, dangerous withdrawal effects that arise when stopping alcohol and drug use. This initial phase may or may not include medication-assisted treatment (MAT), depending on the type of substance you abuse and other specific factors.2

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), at least 300,000 patients with substance use disorders or acute intoxication end up detoxing in general hospitals annually, while others detox in different settings.3

Faith-based detox programs are often rolled into longer-term inpatient or outpatient treatment and are sometimes considered religion-based treatment ministries.4 That is, treatment consists of traditional therapeutic approaches with an emphasis on religious values or spirituality.

What Are They?

Faith-based treatment ministries have a history of serving those in need and offering:4 

  • Social services (housing, childcare, job training, etc.).
  • Drug and alcohol addiction rehab programs (detox, inpatient, and outpatient rehab).
  • Identification with various religious or non-religious traditions or services.

In general, detox can be medical (medication-assisted) or non-medical (without the use of medication or with limited medical oversight—sometimes referred to as “social detox”); a health care professional will determine what you need. The course of alcohol and drug withdrawal detox can be unpredictable and is influenced by varying factors such as the type of substance abused, your physical and mental health, and how long you’ve abused your drug of choice. Having supervising medical staff who are prepared for all situations is wise for many people.

Some faith-based detox programs may be able to provide similar detoxification services to other treatment facilities but will additionally incorporate religious components like prayer and congregational services.4 These spiritual elements are not only able make a recovery setting more familiar or comfortable for those seeking this type of recovery, but they also serve a therapeutic function—some studies suggest that prayer may help certain individuals reduce alcohol intake and ward off cravings.5

Faith-based detox programs pride themselves on promoting a sense of meaning and encouraging self-discipline that enables users to improve their self-worth and internalize their values, with a strong reliance on a Higher Power or God.4 They provide a structure of discipline that was not present during the chaotic addictive lifestyle.4 There is much in the scientific literature that strongly supports the idea that spirituality and religion can improve health.6


Having strong faith and a reliance on spiritual values are cornerstones of recovery for many people. Faith-based programs emphasize this and integrate these values into treatment. Spiritual beliefs and engaging in group activities can give hope and strength, as well as provide meaning during stressful times.6 Members can commune together, finding the will to recover through faith-based group activities.

Including faith in detox may also encourage certain behaviors that promote avoidance of drugs, such as:6

  • Social support that encourages abstinence or moderation.
  • Healthy activities that aren’t conducive to drug use.
  • Support of pro-social values by the religious affiliation that includes leading a drug-free life.

Low-cost, accessible faith-based treatment modalities often open up desperately needed health services for street-based substance abusers.4 One of the most well-known non-denominational recovery organizations is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and evidence suggests that embracing the 12-step tenet of depending on a Higher Power corresponds with higher abstinence rates.7

Several well-known faith-based programs exist, such as Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army (which requires its residents to attend church services), and Refuge Recovery Center, a Buddhist-based addiction treatment center in Los Angeles. Community involvement is a strong factor related to successful recovery outcomes.6

Additionally, components of faith-based programs, such as prayer services, have shown to be effective in reducing the desire to drink or use—prayer puts the recovering person in a general mindset of requesting support (for serenity, courage, and wisdom) and may generate concepts and emotions (such as gratitude, hope, and surrender) that may result in increased self-control and fewer cravings.6  

Besides offering alcohol and drug detox, a number of faith-based programs offer a range of support services beyond treatment, such as:5

  • Housing.
  • Childcare.
  • Counseling.
  • Meals.
  • Employment training or support.
  • Referrals to health care services.

According to one report, “Community prevention coalitions regularly involve faith-based community leaders of diverse religious denominations in the design and implementation of drug addiction services.”5  National and local community-based and faith-based organizations, in collaboration with SAMHSA, are working to ensure that people with or at risk for a mental health or substance use disorder have the opportunity for a full, healthy life that includes a job, a home, and meaningful relationships with family and friends.3

What to Look For

If you are searching for a detox program, there are certain things to look for. One of the most important things to do is choose a reputable program that includes clearly stated, ethical processes for:

  • The screening and assessment process, which should be thorough and conducted by a trained clinician.
  • How the facility hires its staff, including finding those who are certified, licensed, trained, and experienced in drug and alcohol detox.
  • How the detox protocol is conducted (e.g., medical detox and withdrawal management, social detoxification, etc.)
  • How they help you transition to the next level of care (inpatient, long-term outpatient).
  • How they incorporate faith into the program (e.g., prayer times, ability to meet with a clergy member, etc.).

After completing detox treatment, patients may transition to inpatient treatment, which ranges from 30 to 90 days or longer, depending on the person, or to a long-term outpatient program, which meets for fewer hours per week to help maintain recovery.2 Some inpatient and outpatient facilities offer detox as well as a structured program. These programs are effective for people with co-occurring mental health disorders or for those with more severe psychological issues. It is best to ask as many questions as possible and do the research before selecting the right detox program for you. Learn about Alcohol and Drug Detox Helplines


  1. Greenfield, S., Azzone, V., Huskamp, H., Cuffel, B., Croghan, T., Goldman, W., & Frank, R. (2004). Treatment for Substance Use Disorders in a Privately Insured Population Under Managed Care: Costs and Services Use. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 27(1), 265–275.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2013). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment: A Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP 45).
  4. Washington State Department of Health, Division of Alcohol & Substance Use. (2006). Faith-based Organization and Chemical Dependency Recovery Support Legislative Report.
  5. Ghahremani, D. (2017). Craving, prayer, and the brain. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 43(1), 1­–3.
  6. Laudet, A., Morgan, K., & White, W. (2006). The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliations with 12-step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems. Alcohol Treatment Quarterly, 24(1-2), 33–73.
  7. Sandoz, J. (2014). Finding God through the Spirituality of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Religions, 5, 948–960.