What Is Religion Addiction

Hands trying to catch flying birds

Religion Addiction is not designated as a mental disorder by the Diagnostic Systems Manual for Mental Disorders (DSMV) but the criteria for addiction listed below from the DSM guide how an addiction functions and takes over a person’s mental life.  Faith, religious activities, thoughts and rituals can become a habit and then a harmful compulsion. Religion is an integral part of life, even a way of life in itself for millions of people and is seen as normal and beneficial. Since millions of people practice a variety of religions with varying degrees of faith and intensity, it can be difficult to tell when practice becomes a harmful obsession.

For many it may seem impossible that that belief and practice can get out of control and be harmful. But when passion overtakes responsibility and reason, the result can end up damaging people and their relationships rather than improving them.


The passion for religion leading to destructive obsession goes back to the beginning of time. Differing beliefs and religions that become mass obsessions have been the driving force behind hundreds of wars that ravaged the world throughout history. Examples of faith and religion gone wrong are everywhere from Biblical times, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Reformation when Protestants fought Catholics, to the Witch Hunts of Colonial America, right to the present all over the world. Beliefs that become obsessions, either for political or personal reasons, have made people harm themselves and others in a variety of gruesome ways throughout the ages. Religion can also go bad when leaders in authority within a religion abuse vulnerable parishioners in the name of God. 

Short Term Effects

People’s moods are elevated when engaging in religious thinking, activities, services and rituals. And the mood drops when the activities are over, requiring a boost of more religion to feel okay.

Long Term Effects

Similar to substance abuse, people need more of an activity to feel the same high, and eventually do not feel anything no matter how hard they try. So they strive for more and more, always chasing an elusive high and withdrawing more and more from people and life until the “love” of religion has made life unmanageable.


Depression, anxiety, fear and other conditions can result when people are prevented from doing whatever behavior they are addicted to.

Method of Abuse

Religion dependence/addiction can be described as practice that is extreme in frequency and duration, relatively resistant to change, and often accompanied by an irresistible impulse to think about, discuss, bring religion into every area of life, attend activities and watch programs and listen to music, and be intensely involved even when such practices interfere with other personal demands and relationships.

Criteria for Dependence

  • Tolerance: need for increased amounts of religion to achieve desired effect; diminished effect with continued use of same amount of practice.
  • Withdrawal: characteristic withdrawal symptom (e.g., anxiety, depression, anger) and more practice is undertaken to relieve or avoid symptoms
  • Intention Effect: religious practice or events and involvement in church activities is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  • Lack of Control: a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control practice
  • Time: a great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain practice (e.g., programs, radio, retreats, prayer, church activities and events)
  • Reduction in Other Activities: social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of religious practices
  • Continuance: religious practice is continued despite strained or damaged relationships.


  • Preoccupation occurs when religious beliefs and thinking constantly about religious activities get in the way of daily life. An example is when religion becomes the topic of discussion no matter what is going on, and inappropriate religious comments and sayings never cease. Looking forward to something that gives pleasure is normal. But generating a chemical high through anticipation—planning and execution to the point that it interferes with personal relationships is part of the preoccupation phase of any addiction.
  • Rituals and Behavior Patterns Creating rituals around religion outside of services and activities is another way of preparing obsession. An example of this might be a favorite religious show on TV or the radio, having to be there, sit in the same chair, drink the same tea, be exactly on time, plan the entire week around them, and be in extreme pair or discomfort if something or someone gets in the way. If the ritual is interfered, anxiety and depression results. When rituals become obsessive and are played out daily, or even hourly, it can turn into religious addiction.
  • Participation is similar to any addict’s using. This part of the process is the most intense. It is the act of picking up the drug and putting it into your body. It provides relief, like a sexual relief or a food binge or over exercising, however the addiction is used.
  • Aftermath is when there is the realization that the way we acted hurt people around us. Or somehow caused us to behave in ways that are against our moral standards. There may be an understanding that we have broken our own rules and feel badly about it. Feeling bad about having done something often leads to the urge to seek relief by engaging in the addictive behavior again.

Definitions from Addiction Treatment Magazine, Process Addictions, The Diagnostic Systems Manual of Mental Disorders and other sources