Faith and Addiction: Can Religion Help You Quit Smoking?

Thanks to 12-step programs and Bible verses interpreted as saying that addiction is inherently sinful, there is a strong link between faith and addiction in the U.S. and in many places around the world. But how can 12 step programs and faith in a higher power help you quit smoking?

Corinthians 6:12 reads, “Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything.” This declaration that “I will not be mastered by anything” is cited as evidence that addictions such as smoking are sinful from a Christian perspective. Add in the harm you do to your body (which doesn’t exactly “honor God”) and it’s clear that Christians (as well as believers in most other religions) shouldn’t smoke. But quitting is hard. The question is: can faith help you overcome your addiction?

Faith and Smoking Status: Do Religious People Smoke?

Despite the fact that smoking is a sin in the Christian faith, the evidence does show that some Christians smoke. A 2013 Gallup poll looked at just this issue, and found that smoking is less common in people who attend church more regularly. People who attend church at least once per week had a smoking rate of 12 %, compared to 30 % for people who never attend church. In fact, the smoking rate decreased as church attendance got progressively more common.

People ascribing to specific religions smoke at different rates, though. The lowest smoking rate is found among Mormons, of whom only 8 % smoke (and just 3% of Mormons who go to church at least once a week), followed by Jews (10 %), Catholics (18 %), Protestants or other Christians (20 %), Muslims (23 %) and non-religious people (26 %).

This shows interesting variation according to belief, with non-believers smoking the most, and the Mormon faith seems to have the lowest smoking rates. This is attributed to the explicit prohibition on smoking in the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints: when your religion outlaws smoking you’re much less likely to do it.

Faith and Smoking Cessation: The 12 Step Model

The 12 Step program for addiction treatment is an explicitly faith-based method for treating addiction to alcohol, drugs and tobacco, through Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Nicotine Anonymous, respectively. The 12 steps which the programs takes their names from allude specifically to a “higher power,” and although this doesn’t have to be the Christian God (or any deity), the program is heavily faith-based.

The benefit of this is that it helps to counteract the feelings of powerlessness which often accompany addiction. While you may feel powerless, there is a higher power than yourself which can help you overcome the challenges you face. Your faith in this power becomes a source of strength, and as well as other tasks like making a list of all persons you’ve harmed and making amends to them all (where possible), it helps you gain a sense of agency and control in your life, and over your addiction. Faith and addiction are linked in that your belief can help you make a positive change in your life.

At the heart of 12 step programs is a sense of community fostered by group counseling sessions. Not only do you get to hear the stories of people in a similar situation to yourself, you also get to share your own experiences with people who understand and empathize with what you’re going through. The sessions give you countless useful tips to overcome craving, provide a sense of togetherness and give you a group of people to be accountable to.

Should Religious People Use Other Aids to Quit Smoking?

Although the 12 step program of Nicotine Anonymous is abstinence-based, other religious groups and organizations take a more liberal approach to quitting smoking. The Bible questions site Got Questions? discusses quitting smoking as a Christian, for instance, and points out that there is no Biblical reason you shouldn’t use treatments such as patches, gums or medications if you want to quit smoking. While it recommends consulting your doctor and praying first, it does suggest that Christians shouldn’t feel discouraged from using additional support.

Do I Need Faith to Quit Smoking?

While faith can be an invaluable ally when you’re quitting smoking, it’s worth stressing that non-religious people can and do quit smoking successfully. With the use of medications, alternative nicotine products (from patches and gums through to things like e-cigarettes) and secular counseling (for example, cognitive behavioral therapy or other forms of behavioral counseling), smokers who don’t believe in God can successfully quit smoking. Regardless of your situation (and your faith), quitting smoking is a challenge, but with perseverance and determination, you can do it.

If you have faith, it can be a source of strength through the challenging process of quitting smoking, but if you don’t have faith, you can still accomplish the same thing, provided you make use of the support available to you.