Depression, Spirituality, and Addiction: The Search for Meaning

I came across a statement by Sorajjakool, et. al. (2008) which inspired me to look at the interplay between depression, spirituality, and addiction:

“Depression creates a sense of spiritual disconnection…it removes hope from its path and recreates emptiness…It reaches beyond the mind” (p. 521-522).

Here depression is described as the result of a severed connection to spirituality. Corbett (2011) stated, “our spirituality is our personal myth, our way of understanding the nature of things” (p. 20). Drawing from previous writings on identity, and conjuring forth depth psychology’s interpretive lens of holding multiple perspectives simultaneously, we may interpret depression, and more specifically, depression in addiction, as an experience of profound loss.

After discussing this topic with readers I would like to include a reference to an earlier topic discussing the theoretical lens of spirituality from which I am writing:

We are also delving into the topic of loss; a loss that can be applied to an individual’s removal of hope upon an eventual path of emptiness. For the addict there may be a loss of connection with what one interprets as spiritual. Furthermore there is a loss in regard to the dissociative states endured through addiction that deteriorates awareness, allowing for a type of confabulation where the individual grasps at the false aspects of awareness and control.

As we look at the topic of loss, we are speaking to the meaning, or lack of meaning, existent in addiction. “People are hungry for meaning, a sense of identity and community wellbeing, perhaps with greater intensity than we normally recognize” (Thornton, 2001, p. 301). I connect the topic of meaning with the presented discussion of loss. Hopelessness, then, is in association to the sense of meaninglessness, which pulls at the loss of hope, leading to a depressive state. From loss my reading kept referring me to the topic of loneliness as described by Rogers (1980) which on September 29, 2012 brought me to write The Loneliness in Addiction. The loneliness, which takes up residence in the addict’s experience, is often present in various forms throughout recovery as well.

Loss of meaning for an addict is more significantly bound to the notion of awareness as the addict has embraced a chaos that has seemingly estranged the individual, the ego, from connection. The estrangement I speak of is a separation and a false sense of awareness. The lack of awareness brings us to the material residing within the shadow, material that is destined to be projected upon the environment in order to keep it separate from us and an “other”. I have written on this topic of content being relegated to the shadow in Identified Polarities: The Chaotic Tension, on November 10, 2012 and would like to reiterate a section:

“One side will be relegated to the shadow, or personal unconscious. The conflict of what ferments within the unconscious is at times projected upon the environment to alleviate the tensions created through the very occurrence of the opposing polarity being confined to the unconscious. The great struggle for an addict is that through the engagement of an addiction the shadow is able to seep out upon the environment, just as the individual is using to continuously bury the tension within the shadow” (link, para 5).

What the concept of loss might demonstrate is the experience of finding salvation from something that in the end may represent a void. Starting with loss, for the addict to seek sobriety an individual is removing a function that seemingly allowed for existence to remain. Imagine if such a connection, a journey towards moments experienced as wholeness where to be threatened. When overcome by addiction the individual has lost control to a governing agenda, a purpose, an identity, a spiritual connection of ritual, an autonomy. The paradox is then in how addiction provides a sense of a false spiritual connection, a false sense of hope, and allows the individual to seemingly breach planes beyond that of the mind. The task at hand, then, is for the addict to rebuild those connections to self and spirituality that were severed by the addiction.

Loneliness and the search for meaning, the search for spirituality, or more simply put, connectedness, is a powerful driving force within the psyche. Rogers (1980) wrote that we need to consider: “elements of the sense of aloneness” which are an “estrangement of man [woman] from himself [herself], from his experiencing organism” (p. 165). Rogers also informed:

“In this fundamental rift, the experiencing organism sense one meaning in experience, but the conscious self clings rigidly to another…with most behavior being regulated in terms of meanings perceived in awareness, but with other meanings sensed by the physiological organism being denied and ignored because of an inability to communicate freely within oneself” (p. 165-166).

When crossing a seemingly impenetrable barrier as an addict moves towards sobriety, there is loss. Although this loss is bound within a paradox, it is nevertheless a loss of a previous state of existence when the addiction ruled the psyche. In this state there is a conflicting tension seemingly of a singularity. In loss there is the dissolved notion of meaning, and as King (2008) stated “one of the primary characteristics of an existential crisis or neurosis is a sense of meaninglessness” (p. 5).

“I hold with Jung that addiction is related to a normal human drive toward wholeness which has gone awry…What we have in Jung’s theory is an account of addiction which places the motive for it at the centre of psychic functioning. This motive is the fundamental seeking for wholeness” (Naifeh, 1995, p. 134).

“The process of addiction creates an alternative reality in the addicts’ mind. Thinking becomes distorted and values get twisted” (Conyers, 2003, p. 16). The addiction is not always experienced as emptiness, but as a means of attaining wholeness and nourishment. What resides beyond the mind is a vast plane or desirable realm of dissociative states. The loss that cripples the individual who is addicted is the false sense of autonomy, a loss of autonomy, and estrangement with a personal spirituality. Carter, Hall, & Illes (2012):

Yet, “if autonomy is best thought of as self-rule, then how should we understand the loss of autonomy…The addict who suffers from a loss of autonomy is not under the control of another person, even partially; at least not necessarily…If the addiction involves a loss of autonomy it must somehow undercut the addict’s own ability to pursue her [his] goals. Addicts, it is suggested here, have compromised self-government even though they are not under the strict rule of anyone else”  (p. 142-143).


Carter, A., Hall, W., Illes, J. (2012). Addiction Neuroethics: The ethics of addiction neuroscience research and treatment. Jamestown Road, London: Elsevier Inc.

Conyers, B. (2003). Addict in the family: Stories of loss, hope, and recovery. Center City, MI: Hazelden.

Corbett, L. (2011). The sacred cauldron: Psychotherapy as a spiritual practice. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications.

King, D. (2008). Personal meaning production as a component of spiritual intelligence. Retrieved from on July 9, 2013

Naifeh, S. (1995). Archetypal foundations of addiction and recovery. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 40(2), 133-159.

Rogers, C. (1980). A way of being. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Sorajjakool, S., Aja, V., Chilson, B., Ramírez-Johnson, J., Earll., A (2008). Disconnection, depression, and spirituality: A study of the role of spirituality and meaning in the lives of individuals with severe depression. Pastoral Psychology. 56, 521-532

Thornton, S. (2001). Wounds of dislocation and the yearning for home: Re-imagining pastoral theology. Pastoral Psychology. 49(4), 301-310

© All Rights Reserved

Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex



  1. Sherrie Vinion says

    Wow, that was a very powerful article. Some of it was a little hard for me to grasp, but it makes sense. I got saved 9 years ago (grew up Catholic, but didn’t believe in the rules of organized religion so I fell away, then as I became an addict, I believed God was going to send me to hell which at the time I believed meant asleep forever, now I believe in hellfire) Anyway, I have that empty feeling all the time, sometimes it is worse than others. I am in recovery now. I have alot of guilt feelings and have done many dumb things in my addiction I wouldn’t have done sober. I had a solid strong spiritual connection with God and people for about 3 years after I got saved, but fell back into addiction and though sober now (I am on suboxone though, prescribed) I have great difficulty dealing with emptiness and depression. I used to self mutilate when I was younger and often feel like doing it again, but I resist. I just graduated from Penn State with a B.A. in Psychology and due to financial aid reasons have to wait a year to start grad school. I feel like a failure more often than a success. I have mental problems such as ADHD, MDD, GAD, PTSD plus addiction but managed to graduate with a 3.25. I can’t find a job which is depressing and I get enormous fulfillment working with people and helping others. I am working on repairing my damaged relationship with God and struggle with lonliness alot. I am married have 2 kids (my 14 year old son lives with my parents though and I hardly ever see him) but our daughter is going to be 12 in 3 weeks and is wonderful. I feel like I can’t get close to her and am afraid of hugging her sometimes because I feel I will be hurt more. I am not close to my parents or my son who is spoiled rotten by my parents. I feel helpless, defeated, and like a loser. I still want to become a substance abuse counselor though because I know I can help others. This much I am sure of.

    • says

      Hello Sherrie,

      Thank you for your comment and interest, and congratulations on your graduation. Yes, the laborious journey towards sobriety is not as straight and defined as we might have hoped it to be, though sobriety does exist. Thank you for sharing your story Sherrie. You might find the writing of Ingrid Mathieu, PhD of interests; she is a colleague who writes on spirituality and addiction.

    • Destiny Voshell says

      I Am 15 Years Old.
      And I Didn’t Believe In God Till Last Year.
      I Thought It Was All Just A Big Joke.
      But Its Not.
      I Got Bullied Last Year Because I Am Short, Depression Took Over Me.
      I Got Buried Into A Dark Hole.
      I Didn’t Talk To Anyone, I Was Always Silent.
      I Isolated Myself From Everything I Loved/Love To Do.
      I Tried Killing Myself 3 Times.
      I Was So Close The First Time.
      I Didn’t Know What Was Going To Happen.
      I Went Into Deep Sleep For A Week.
      Finally I Woke Up.
      And Noticed I Seen A Guy’s Face.
      He Told Me To Wake Up.
      So I Woke Up.
      I Didn’t Know Who He Was Till Now.
      He Knew What I Was Going Through.
      He Forgave Me For My Mistakes.
      I Started Going To Church Every Wednesday And Sunday.
      I Also Started Going To Therapy And Counselling.
      I Went On A Anti-Depressant Medicine Which Got Me Better Over The Summer.
      I Changed.
      I Have Something To Finally Believe In.
      I Don’t Care What Anybody Has To Say About Me Anymore.
      Hopefully Everyone That Don’t Believe In Him, Can Someday Find It In Themselves, That They Actually Do Believe.


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