Catholic recovery programs
On the less intensive side, Dr. Bottaro has developed an 8-week online program that anyone can access from home called Catholic Mindfulness. It adds the Catholic understanding of abandonment to Divine Providence to a traditional mindfulness approach to healing.
"If you look into what mindfulness is, you're basically training your brain to know that you're safe, because the anxiety response is how God made us to react to danger," he said. "The problem is we overuse that...we activate our anxiety response, but most of the time we're not actually in danger. So mindfulness is basically paying attention to what's actually real right now to convince your brain that you're safe, and that corrects the brain chemistry."
"The Catholic perspective as to why we're safe is that we have a Father who loves us and who always keeps us in his hands, and we have a reason to trust that everything is going to be ok."
Vagenius refers to those in his ministry as "SAM teams" who share their time and talent, typically through talks and meetings, to offering hope, healing and reconciliation to those touched by addiction. SAM teams provide a safe, confidential place for people to seek help and referral at the parish level.
Team members do not have to be in recovery but need to be acquainted with addiction, and must be approved by their pastor.
The ministry's exact format varies from parish to parish, depending on those involved and the needs of the faith community. Vagenius' trainings provide a basic format, and the parish SAM team develops its own dynamic from that outline based on specific needs.
Depending on the person, more intensive work may be necessary, including outpatient psychotherapy and group counseling, or even residential programs.
St. Gregory Retreat Center is a Catholic residential program for adults struggling with substance abuse located in Adair, Iowa.
The program offers separate residential facilities for men and women and offers a "holistic approach that combines the very best research in psychology, health, social support, and other methodologies."
The program targets addiction behavior in four different aspects of life: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual.
Besides counseling, social activities and physical exercise, daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments are part of the residents' normal routine.
Natalie Cataldo, Director of Admissions at St. Gregory, told CNA that incorporating spirituality in the recovery process has proven to be very effective.
"Research shows that people are more successful in overcoming addiction when they have an active spirituality in their lives," she told CNA in an e-mail interview.
"Most people who come to us have had not a great past. With the sacrament of reconciliation, our guests are able to ask for forgiveness... Allowing them to feel like they are getting rid of the past, making new good habits for the future that they can start using and making better choices. It also allows for self reflection and self evaluation."
For those in post-recovery, there are programs available to help ease people back into their normal routine.
Dr. Bottaro works at one such facility, Ender's Island in Connecticut, a residential program for young men "with or without faith" who are recently out of recovery. The program provides a community in which to practice the 12 steps and support for a better transition into regular life, as well as daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments.
The biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction can be denial on the part of the individual and a perceived stigma in seeking help. Increased education and understanding from everyone in the Church can help break these barriers, Dr. Bottaro said.
"It's important to have support and understanding that there are other ways to fight these battles than just prayer, or just kind of sucking it up and hanging in there and seeing how far you can go before you get help," he said.
"Once you're looking for help, there's a wide spectrum."
This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 16, 2016.
Mary Farrow worked as a staff writer for Catholic News Agency until 2020. She has a degree in journalism and English education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.