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Lack of Meaning in Life Linked to Substance Abuse, Depression

Lack of Meaning in Life Linked to Substance Abuse, Depression

A lack of ultimate meaning in life, considered an important dimension of spirituality, is associated with alcohol abuse and drug addiction, as well as other mental health problems including anxiety and depression, according to a new study at Florida Atlantic University (FAU).

Although adult attachment styles and spirituality have been shown to be protective factors against depression among people being treated for drug addiction, no studies to date have examined how these two factors together are related to depressive symptoms in this population.

The researchers examined how adult attachment styles (secure vs. insecure) and two distinct spirituality dimensions (existential purpose/meaning in life and religious well-being or the perceived relationship with God) are associated with depressive symptoms.

Working in collaboration with Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches (BHOPB), a substance abuse treatment center in Palm Beach County, the researchers developed a model that looks at how creativity, service, and solitude can be used in addiction treatment to foster purpose and meaning in life.

They found that encouraging people’s creative talents (painting, writing), giving them opportunities to serve others, and helping them to connect to core values and their true self through prayer and meditation helped them to discover ultimate purpose and meaning as part of their recovery process.

An important finding in their research shows that having an insecure attachment style appears to be a risk factor for developing depressive symptoms. Another significant finding shows that the existential-purpose and meaning-in-life dimension of spirituality seems to be the most important factor related to depressive symptoms.

The researchers note that although their findings suggest that practitioners should consider focusing on promoting improved interpersonal relationships for individuals with insecure attachment styles, they may want to place fostering purpose and meaning in life as a higher priority for treatment planning.

“Programs such as the 12-step model might want to take into consideration the relative importance of the two spiritual dimensions and put into place programmatic support for the development of purpose and meaning in life rather than only stressing the perceived closeness to God,” said researcher Tammy Malloy, L.C.S.W., chief clinical officer at BHOPB.

The new findings are extremely important because they shed light on different ways to help individuals in treatment addiction, noted John R. Graham, Ph.D., professor and director of FAU’s School of Social Work.

“This in turn not only helps the clients receiving treatment, but also improves how addiction professionals do their work — contributing to the health and well-being of the broader community,” added Graham.

The study is published in the Journal of Social Service Research.

Source: Florida Atlantic University

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Lack of Meaning in Life Linked to Substance Abuse, Depression

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Lack of Meaning in Life Linked to Substance Abuse, Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 15 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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