Most Christians strive to live their lives away from drug use and alcohol. So, it might come as a surprise to you to learn that one or more of your fellow congregation or friends, who is a fellow Christian, is addicted to drugs or alcohol. While surprising, it shouldn’t be. An estimated 19.7 million Americans struggle with a substance use disorder, the clinical term for addiction. And addiction isn’t symptomatic of weakness, it’s a mental disorder directly resulting from stress, environment, genetics, and exposure. While bad decisions have been made, no one chooses to become an addict. Most importantly, your support, and the love of the congregation, could be what it takes to pull your spiritual brother or sister out of their addiction, so they can heal, return to God, and get on with their life.
While there’s always the question of whether someone is actually addicted to drugs or alcohol or not, it’s often quite obvious.
People who are addicted show seeking behavior, lie, manipulate, steal, constantly use, show changes in personal hygiene, personality, and attitude, and consume more of a drug or alcohol than would be expected or normal. In any case where anyone binges, uses prescription medication outside of the prescribed usage, or relies on an illicit or prescription drug, they have a problem. You can help and here’s how.
It’s important to learn about addiction before you attempt to do anything about it. You can do so as a congregation and as a community or on your own. There are plenty of resources, including the Internet, books like Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz, High Price by Dr. Carl Hart, Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, and Dreamland by Sam Quinones do much to show addiction from different perspectives to show how addiction works, and to tackle the social stigma relating to addiction.
You can also seek out resources from groups like Al-Anon, a 12-Step support group intended for the friends and family of people with substance use disorders.
If you share a pastor or a congregation, it’s always a good idea to seek out support from the group. Talk to your pastor, share your suspicions and reasoning’s, and share that you want to help. Your pastor will have access to more resources than you. Your pastor will also have an easy means of bringing your community together as a group to help the individual, giving you more opportunities to lift that individual out of their illness. Here, it’s important to:
Communities can be powerful motivators for individuals and receiving support from their congregation can help many to motivate to change. Knowing they have a congregation of people behind them can push people into rehab and can motivate individuals as they come out of it. Why? Social support is a powerful influencing factor in recovery. And receiving that support from a loving congregation who bring spirituality and wholeness into the picture makes that better.
When you’re certain that you can approach the individual from a place of love, kindness, and nonjudgmental support, you should do so. Try offering to talk about substance use, asking questions that are nonjudgmental, and offering help. Avoid using phrases that insinuate you care about what others think or just about drug or alcohol use.
Depending on the individual’s mental state, they may react with avoidance, aggression, or even violence. It’s important to stay calm. Make it clear that you can help them get into treatment, you’re willing to talk to them whenever, and that they have resources in friends in the congregation. While you should never offer money or rent, you can offer a free place to stay, food, and support.
Doing so goes against the common idea of “tough love” or allowing a person to hit “rock bottom” so that they are forced into rehab, but research shows this does not work. Receiving love and compassion is a much better motivator to get help.
Most importantly, once you offer support, it’s important to follow through on it. Be there. Take time to talk. Stay nonjudgmental. And, feel free to discuss substance use in an open, non-judging way.
In some cases, it may be beneficial to stage an intervention with the help of your congregation. Here, it’s important to involve the individual’s friends and family as much as possible. The better the individual knows the members at the intervention, the more effective it will be. You can choose to stage an intervention on your own or to hire a professional facilitator, who will walk you through each step of the process.
Messages should focus on hope and care rather than negativity, “I want you to be healthy”, rather than, “You are a mess”, “I want you to grow and find joy in life, not in drugs” rather than, “Drugs and alcohol have ruined your life”, or, “I want to be able to talk to you again”, rather than, “The person I knew is gone”. In some cases, you can use shock tactics like the latter options, but most people respond better to messages that don’t cause guilt and shame. At an intervention, you should have each person read their message, in as personal a fashion as possible. Offer help as a group.
If the individual accepts an offer of help, it’s important to find a rehabilitation or drug treatment center offering care. In most cases, you want to look for a facility utilizing evidence-based treatment like behavioral therapy (CBT, DBT, EMDR), counseling, and group and individual therapy. You can also specifically seek out a treatment center that involves spirituality with 12-Step, its own spiritual message, and services, so that the individual can continue to seek out support from God and a congregation during treatment.
If a fellow Christian is an addict, they are suffering. While the reasons for addiction are diverse and complex, the first step to recovering and living a full life is getting treatment, and you can help.