This article was written by Hanan Hashem, M.A. Ph.D. Candidate, Mariam Rasheed, LMSW, and Issra Killawi, B.A. It was reviewed by Madiha Tahseen, PhD.
Among Muslims, more than one in three people say they know a person who has or is struggling with addiction. [1] Sadly, stigma surrounding substance use in the Muslim community can be a big barrier towards recovery. 

This Ramadan, you or someone you know may be looking to cope with their addiction. Here are 4 helpful strategies to move closer towards recovery during this blessed month:

Give Yourself A Head Start Before Ramadan

Abstaining from food and drink in Ramadan can impact your thoughts, feelings, and mood throughout the day. If you decide to stop using during fasting hours, these feelings can be accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, making it difficult to stay sober. Here are some things to consider:
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  • Withdrawal effects can be different depending on the substance and from person to person. An alcoholic who stops drinking alcohol will experience different withdrawal effects than a regular marijuana user who stops consuming THC. Learn about the withdrawal symptoms you may experience. 

  • Before Ramadan, try fasting once or twice a week to get a better sense of how you feel physically and emotionally during the fast. Take note of any irritability, mood swings, upsetting thoughts or physical symptoms like sweating or difficulty sleeping.

  • Have a plan
    for how you will cope with your withdrawal symptoms. For example, you can plan to take more frequent breaks during the day, exercising before or after fasting, and avoiding caffeine to reduce anxiety. 
It can be especially helpful to meet with an addictions counselor to address your symptoms. He/she can help you recognize and manage predictable withdrawal symptoms if you decide to reduce or stop using substances during Ramadan. Finding a mental health professional with substance use training can take up to a month or two, so start early to ensure that you have support during Ramadan.

Set Up A Healthy Support System

Ramadan is a time when people look forward to coming together, but the fear of being judged by others can keep you feeling lonely and isolated. This Ramadan, tap into a circle of support that will be there for you on the journey towards recovery.
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  • Stay busy in the company of others by having suhoor together, breaking your fast together, praying salah or taraweeh in congregation, attending religious community events, and being involved in community service. This can help you cope with cravings. Loneliness and isolation often fuel an addiction. 

  • You may have a difficult time fasting due to withdrawal symptoms, so surrounding yourself with loved ones who will help you stick to your goals this Ramadan.  Make them aware of your intention to recover and that their emotional support is important to your healing process. 

  • Ask a trustworthy friend to be your “safe person” – someone who you can text or call when you are losing motivation. He/she can remind you of your efforts, progress, and reward for persevering.
Maybe being around certain people in your life can be a trigger for your use. If so, have a plan to minimize time spent around those individuals during Ramadan. If you don’t have someone to lean on, try joining a support group like Alcohol Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous. Support groups can be a great way to receive support, encouragement, and comfort while learning new coping skills.

Set Realistic Ramadan Goals

When Islam came to the people of Mecca who drank alcohol plentifully, it did not start with abstinence. Instead, alcohol was forbidden in a series of three phases over the span of 17 years! [5] No matter how motivated you may be feeling about your recovery this Ramadan, abruptly stopping substance use may not be the best first step for you. Depending on the severity of your addiction, a cold-turkey approach can be more harmful and lead back to addiction. To set safe and realistic goals for Ramadan, it’s important to work with someone who is trained to support you on the recovery journey.
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  • Find a trained professional who can help you Identify your capacity to fast this Ramadan. He/she can help you understand whether fasting every day is a possibility for you or explore other options, like fasting every other day. Your therapist may recommend medications such as naltrexone and suboxone that can be effective in stopping cravings. He/she can help you cope with your symptoms if you decide to utilize medication in Ramadan.

  • Make sure to share the recommendations you received from a therapist with a religious scholar you trust who can help you determine whether you are exempt from fasting and if you should make up missed fasts. 
While the benefits and blessings of Ramadan are incredible, realize that recovery may take months, years, and even decades – depending on the severity of the addiction. Ramadan might not be the month of complete recovery, but it can be a steppingstone towards leading a healthier lifestyle.

Apply Healthy Coping Behaviors

Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to substitute unhealthy coping mechanisms (i.e., using substances), with healthy coping behaviors. Here are some ideas:
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  • • Mindfulness: Since Ramadan is the month of the Quran, mindfulness can be practiced as you read the Quran and its translations or listen to podcasts/videos about the revelation and context of the Quran. It can also be practiced during prayer, as you engage with Allah (SWT) and ask for His guidance and help. Focus on the present moment and your relationship to the meaning and words you are hearing or saying. Throughout the month, pay attention to the difficult thoughts and emotions that come up for you, and accept them without judgment or negativity.

  • • Take a Closer Look:
    For many people, Ramadan is a clarifying time with minimal distractions and a chance to prioritize what matters most. Use this blessed month to reflect on your relationship with substances and gain awareness of the reasons you may turn to substance abuse. With a therapist, understand how substances impact your brain and body and find alternative ways to manage the pain or emotions that you experience.

Stay Hopeful When Dealing With Relapses

Recovery is a process – and it often includes relapses. But relapsing during a day of Ramadan while fasting can be harder than relapsing on any other day in the year. You may feel more shame for not only falling back into the addictive behavior, but for also breaking your fast. You may have negative feelings about yourself or question your sincerity as a Muslim because of your struggle with addiction.
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  • First, know that your addiction does not prevent you from being worthy of Allah’s (SWT) mercy. This Ramadan, reaffirm your hope in Allah (SWT) and know that He loves to forgive those who ask for forgiveness and strive to do better. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best sinners are those who repent.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī) Allah (SWT) hasn’t left you alone when you relapse, He’s just building you up each time so you get stronger and gain self-awareness in your recovery, inshAllah (God-willing). 

  • Second, know that
    Tawbah (repentance) is accepted when a person sincerely commits to avoiding the mistake again. For your repentance to be sincere, take the time to understand what led you to relapse. If you do relapse, journal and document how you are feeling and what caused your relapse. What did you learn? Write down practical steps you can take to avoid falling into the same triggers. Know that there is always something to learn from a relapse. 
Lastly, do a good deed immediately after relapsing. If you broke your fast, talk to a religious scholar to understand what you need to do to make up for breaking the fast. If you relapsed outside of fasting hours, donate to charity or pray a Sunnah (additional) prayer. Realize that how you deal with relapse is key to your recovery. If you deal with relapses in a constructive way, those small bumps in the road will only make you stronger and closer to recovery. Know that the process of overcoming our desires is a shared struggle for all Muslims, and this process is lifelong. As you cope with your addiction, remember that Allah (SWT) is All-Merciful; He knows that we are imperfect and runs to us when we walk to Him. This Ramadan, use these strategies to make strides towards your recovery. And know that there is reward in every step you take on this journey.
References:

1. https://www.ispu.org/substance-abuse-and-addiction-in-the-muslim-community/


2. Abu-Ras, W., Ahmed, S., & Arfken, C. L. (2010). Alcohol use among US Muslim college students: Risk and protective factors.
Journal of ethnicity in substance abuse, 9(3), 206-220

3. Verdurmen, J. E. E., Smit, F., Toet, J., van Driel, H. F., & van Ameijden, E. J. C. (2004). Under-utilization of addiction treatment services by heroin users from ethnic minorities: Results from a cohort study over four years.
Addiction research & theory, 12, 285-209. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1606635042000210347

4. American Psychological Association. (2008, June).
Genes matter in addiction. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/06/genes-addict  

5. Ali, M. (2014). Perspectives on drug addiction in Islamic history and theology. Religions, 5(3), 912-928.