Addiction & The Spiritual Quest

“It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied and most human beings live only for the gratification of it.” Aristotle

What sets the stage for addictions? On a metaphysical level, addictions are a misguided search for self-love and spiritual fulfillment. From a psychological perspective, addictions connote an absence of primal bonding.

The child’s soul is abandoned when deified parents betray trust. The absence of primal bonding, results in a body/soul split in which a desperate need for attachment and love persists. Isolation, separateness and an inability to experience oneness results and the primal need for connection, and the agony of its deprivation, leads to the emergence of the addict.

In the absence of primal bonding, the addict is driven to derive wholeness, cohesion, connection, power, and love through compulsive attachment to self-will. Hence, a mystified idealized false self forms– shielding the addict from the reality of toxic shame and offering the illusion of wholeness.

Here the onset of addiction is fueled. In an effort to secure this illusion of wholeness, a transcendent experience is pursued. For the addic,t this can take the form of alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, materialism, food or a person.

A Spiritual Disease

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung described alcoholism to A.A. co-founder Bill W as a spiritual disease, which has at its base a drive for wholeness. Feeling whole is a basic human need. A moment of ecstasy is perceived when the addict is possessed by the transcendent God-object. This experience subconsciously harks back to the primal bonding that was absent with the mother.

Over time, the addiction becomes the primal connection. It is the illusory means to satiate the yearning for the primary bond. All other connections lose meaning and become inconsequential. One’s spirituality is focused primarily on the connection to the object of addiction.

The object of addiction becomes God as it offers the temporary ‘fix’ of wholeness. At this point, the addict is driven by self-will and fears knowing him self and being known. Underlying the addict’s denial and persona is tremendous shame and fragmentation.

In the early stages, false hope characterizes the disease of addiction. Life seems manageable. The addiction is the magic panacea that ends inexplicable pain. Progressively, a power submission dynamic emerges. Within this dynamic, the soul’s capacity to move towards wholeness is denied.

The addict defers to his object of addiction, enacting the subconscious wish to return to a submissive infantile state in which primal bonding occurs. In relinquishing the spiritual choice to align with the soul’s capacity towards wholeness, the addict finds less and less of himself and seeks out isolation as the best circumstance to enjoy his high.

A Moment of Grace

Divinity enters when a desperate point of dark despair occurs. This is the moment of demystifying choice, a moment of grace, a bottom (A.A.), an ego death (Freud), ‘a dark night of the soul’ (St. John of the Cross). Conversion can paradoxically occur when the addict has relinquished his self-will and surrendered.

Addicts are over-identified with opposite extremes. In recovery, these polar opposites are incrementally synthesized towards wholeness and balance. Carl Jung suggests that addictions can teach us about our ‘shadow’ side, the disowned parts of ourselves that are embraced during the conversion experience. This conversion experience requires the addict to discover a new focus for his spirituality.

The addict’s world-view reflects a dualistic, fall/redemption theology that is hierarchical, dominating and purports that we emanate from original sin as opposed to original blessing.

This theology mirrors the addict’s dysfunctional family system and enforces a cultural and personal quest for external fulfillment of internal emptiness. This shame-based theological paradigm conveys that it is the role of the religious institution to teach self-control, avoid sin and to follow rules and values to increase one’s capital base toward acquiring a place in heaven.

Framing Recovery

Jung related that it is our alienation from who we are that is the source of our brokenness. Hence, in embracing, not dividing, we heal.

Being that primal bonding reminds us of our sacredness, its absence fosters the belief that we are disconnected from our divinity. It is through self-knowledge of one’s brokenness and separation that we are led to reclamation of self and wholeness. This process of reclamation involves challenging and altering spiritual world-views that reinforce addictive behavior.

Framing recovery in the context of one’s place in the circular larger scheme of inter-connecting life helps make one conscious of one’s existence as a spiritual being and catalyzes the grieving process in which memories of the soul’s abandonment becomes conscious.

Our connection to the spiritual is only achieved as we come to see ourselves as extensions of God and as channels for God’s will. This connection involves the paradox of honoring the ego’s need to attach while concomitantly aligning with the soul’s capacity to choose life-affirming attachments that are beyond the ego.

Addict photo available from Shutterstock

Addiction & The Spiritual Quest

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2015). Addiction & The Spiritual Quest. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Sep 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Sep 2015
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