#106 – Episode 106 – The Roots of Addiction: Religious Abuse


Religious abuse, as one of the roots of addictive behaviour, is explored in this episode. Chip and Veronica discuss how religious language and indoctrination sow the seeds for alcohol abuse; they read out stories from people who have grown up experiencing some kind of spiritual abuse.

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“Addiction just doesn’t happen one day, it has roots.” – Veronica Valli

I’ve been thinking about the subject of religious abuse and wanting to do a podcast episode about it but honestly, I’ve been a little nervous because it’s such a personal and sensitive subject.

I want to approach the topic as a psychotherapist and shed some light on it through the lens of the experiences we encounter in our work because I really think this doesn’t get discussed nearly enough.

So, for this episode, we’re looking specifically at how religion, the language in religion, and God are used as weapons. We’re also sharing some of our community members’ stories of their personal experiences with religious abuse.

Let’s start with a definition. Dr. Jamie Marich gives a great definition for spiritual abuse as “whenever a person or system in a position of power uses God or any other spiritual construct as a weapon to control, manipulate, or demean, spiritual abuse occurs.”

In my psychotherapy practice, I saw so many clients come in with a combination of drinking problems, anxiety, and incredibly low self-esteem and when we dug in, there was a clear connection between the religious messaging they grew up with and how they felt about themselves.

“The parents have persuaded themselves that there is no choice. This is the only way.” – Chip Somers

For parents who are deeply committed to their religion, it’s such a core part of their lives that it’s unthinkable not to share it with their children. Unfortunately, sometimes it has become so fundamental to the parents that they can’t imagine being open-minded about it or giving their children a choice.

That’s what happened to Colleen whose parents sent the clear message, “God loves you but, but you are selfish, evil, and shameful.” The fundamental thread that ran through her and many others’ upbringing around religion was: There is something inherently wrong with you and you need a savior. If you dare question that faith, or those in authority in the church, you are sinning against God.”

How can you argue with God if, from the time you’re a small child, you’re told over and over again, you’re born a sinner and need to repent? How do you overcome a lifetime of believing you are, at the core of your being, broken and wrong? Those are the huge questions Colleen grappled with from a young age.

“I find that’s the abusive part, where you are taking people at such a young age and indoctrinating them.” – Chip Somers

These parents give their children very strong messages with very harsh consequences – that in any other context would be considered inappropriate for children – and that is where I find the biggest issue. It may come from a place of wanting the best for your child but sadly, how that is expressed usually is the furthest thing from love, caring, or nurturing for the child.

There are countless stories just like Colleen’s of how growing up in strongly indoctrinated religious families have caused many problems later in life.

Let’s open up this conversation about the language that’s used in religion and the way that religion is used to abuse people because it’s not getting the results that I think people want to get, which is to have people love God, love their religion and to be happy.

Something has to be done differently.


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