Turning to Jesus for the treatment of substance abuse

My paper is an account of my ethnographic fieldwork in the Russian Baptist rehabilitation ministry for the addicted people. Russia is one of the world leaders in heroin and alcohol consumption, and the only rehabilitation the state “narcology” can offer is stigmatizing, punitive, and predominantly focused on the chemical aspect of substance use dependence. In this situation, the only treatment programs providing relatively reliable results are non-governmental Twelve-Step groups and religious ministries.

The ministry I am focusing on treats narcotic addiction with the complex mechanism I call Christian rehabilitation. Bodily and moral components of the program are so tightly connected that I even regard them as two aspects of one two-dimensional process: the addicted people are rehabilitated by the means of religious conversion, and they are converted to a particular kind of Christianity by the means of rehabilitation.

The rehab facilities, run by the ministry, use Christian rehabilitation to address the twofold nature of addiction, chemical and psychological. The chemical aspect is tackled by a simple abstinence, enforced by a prolonged isolation and strict discipline in the rehabs. The psychological component is treated by a radical moral transformation, a particular kind of born-again Evangelical conversion. My paper unfolds the narrative of conversion, constructed under heavily impact of the 150-years history of Russian Evangelicals, linguistics of the Russian Bible, and street and prison experience of the rehabilitants themselves.