The role of spirituality and self-determination in recovery fro drug and alcohol addiction among Indigenous people

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University of New Brunswick


Three-quarters of Indigenous adults living on reserve report that addiction to alcohol and other substances leads to problems within families and other violence. Over the last 40 years, there has been a growing body of evidence linking an individual’s spirituality with health outcomes, especially in the prevention of and recovery from addictions. Indigenous peoples have traditionally viewed spirituality as an integral part of health. Alcoholism and other addictions are self-soothing ways of numbing the “soul wounds” many Indigenous people have experienced as a result of colonialism. The purpose of this report is to examine the literature on the role of spirituality and self-determination in successful recovery from addiction among Indigenous Peoples. Accordingly, the literature on traditional cultural ways of being of the First Nations of eastern Canada has been reviewed together with the effects of colonialism on their wellbeing. The spiritual and cultural influences apparent in addiction recovery have been reviewed in relation to Indigenous Self-Determination, a social determinant of health among Indigenous people. The psychological Theory of Self-Determination, which has been developed in Western therapeutic and academic locations, and tested and used by some Indigenous scholars, has been reviewed in relation to Indigenous Self-determination, as well as spiritual and cultural influences on recovery from addiction. The question that has emerged from this discussion is whether there is room for individual choice of healing approach within the cultural imperative of collective self-determination. Finally, the implications of these findings for nursing practice, research and education are identified.