IThese are what I believe to be important similarities between religion, and drug abuse.
| The evolutionary advantage of religion is said to be rooted in religious super powers. An example would be someone who was once a man who spared no thought for his neighbors, with a new belief in the divinity of jesus christ, now finds himself commanded by God to love his neighbors, and finds to his surprise that maybe he in fact does love his neighbors. This creation of an altered identity, for our brain processes our beliefs as apart of our identities, allows the person to become someone else, a better self. This fascinating result of religious belief does in fact apply to less than virtuous traits as well; in the case of demonic possession, for example.
I believe it is this same function of the brain which attracts people toward drug abuse. Let's take the example of tobacco addictions. Many people use tobacco to "relax" although the effects of the chemicals in tobacco produce the opposite effect. Therefore someone who has smoked cannot be said to be any more relaxed than they were before; they are actually less relaxed. However could it be this same function of belief, and an altered self, which allows them to be someone who is more relaxed?
The second step in alcoholics anonymous is admitting a belief in a higher power. The entire program is actually centered around religious belief, and the fundamental principle that a "higher power could, and would" help them "if it were sought." This of course begs the question that there is something wrong with who they are. Although a physical dependency is a big problem, many people still continue to go to daily AA meetings years after their last drink. So then these lost souls must not be looking for a cure for their physical ailment, but perhaps instead have sought the entire time, fixes for who they are. It is only when the cognitive dissonance of their religious identity with alcohol becomes too great, that they seek a new religious identity in AA.
Although drug abuse does have many horrible effects on the body, for the addict, the positive effects of an altered perception of the world, and an altered identity, outweigh the negatives. An addict's altered identity may extend well beyond the realm of immediate physical effects of drugs. This can be best observed in the differences of regular drinkers, and alcoholics. Although regular drinkers enjoy the physical effects of alcohol, and some of the less enjoyable effects such as hangovers, alcoholics may enjoy a new freedom from themselves. The alcoholic no longer must worry about having enough money for rent, for example. Instead an alcoholic needs only enough money for another drink. No longer must an alcoholic worry about their hygiene, health, or even their regular responsibilities. They need only worry about where they will get another drink, for either unconsciously or consciously they are no longer their former selves; just whom they are now is only defined by alcohol.
This must not be construed to include all addicts. Some addicts will begin, and continue their addictions for many other purposes. Pure habit, for example. Considering that groups like alcoholics anonymous are the most successful, and widely used methods of getting sober, I'd find it hard to believe that this is not the case for the majority of drug abusers.
In a sense what religion, and drug abuse do to a user psychologically is produce a person, or a state of being which is capable of dealing with pain, suffering, and confusion.
The pain, and suffering may be caused by things outside of their control, however pain is still a phenomena that comes from within. Therefore any circumstance may be used to justify extreme agony. It may be then comforting for a suffering person to become nihilistic. It acts as a way to remove the added pain of effort. When a person becomes too rigid in their ideal of a meaningless existence, simple tasks can become confusing. For example it's important to shower, usually everyday, for a variety of reasons. A nihilistic person, however, may ask themselves "Why I am showing? Ultimately what's the point?" To that there is no answer, and the desires of being social, and having pride in oneself, begin to conflict with the all encompassing nihilistic world view. Creating a confused individual indeed. This confusion, and meaninglessness do have alternatives. The first is religion. All knowing, and all too willing to create rules, and structure for living, even going so far as give the simplest actions profound meaning in the afterlife. A second alternative, drugs, give structure to an addicts day as well. Every hour, on the hour, a smoker will probably prefer one more cigarette. Not only that but drugs are not cheap. A user must develop some daily routine to produce some monetary stability. Working, begging, or stealing, each course of action includes many things a user must do to provide themselves with the ultimate meaning of life, which is with many drugs, a near complete escape of life.
It is for these reasons I have outlined, that the religion of drug abuse, continues to be the fastest growing religion in the world.