5 ways to help our loved ones with addiction and mental illness

June 8, 2018

Mental health issues, addiction, and the spiritual struggles that are so often entangled in the two have been a part of my family’s life ever since I can remember. Learning to love someone who wrestles in such drastic ways is hard, raw, terrifying, and frustrating. Yet, it has also made me richer in compassion, understanding, humility, and the experience of God’s mercy and grace. There are no easy answers or one-size-fits-all solutions that will magically fix our loved ones’ lives. Instead, as I’ve learned over the years and with plenty of mistakes made, there are ways we can try to wrap our arms around them and point them to the Savior who is acquainted with and can shoulder their sorrow. Though I’m no expert, I hope what some of what I’ve learned can help others in the church. Here are merely a few of those things that I’ve gleaned and am still seeking to grow in:

1. Don’t abandon them: I remember a talk I heard about helping addicts that said we usually, as a punishment, try to remove the one thing those with addictions need most: community. Though it’s appealing and situations vary, isolating someone who wrestles in whatever way is generally a terrible idea. I did this. I threatened this as a “consequence.” And I’m ashamed of it now. Yes, staying with someone who battles addiction or severe mental illness can be difficult and might upend our lives, but putting myself in their shoes, I can’t imagine how I could continue on if I was the one who was cut off from help. The Lord can heal in miraculous ways, but sometimes he doesn’t, and it’s impossible to understand right now. So, we should be in it for the long haul with our loved ones. Our God has not abandoned us, so how could we give up on others?

2. Remember they are a person, not a project: This truth hit me like a ton of bricks during a hard, prolonged season with one of my loved ones. I was spinning my wheels, trying to figure out how to help this person. Nothing was working, I was hurting and getting angrier, and the things I was learning and praying didn’t seem to do anything. I realized I was treating my loved one, overall, like a project, not a person made in God’s image. I’m a fixer and have prided myself on being able to reference this Bible verse or that resource to help with whatever problem you’re having—because I believe in the power of the Word. But while my instinct may have good in it, it’s not all that helpful, and frankly, really frustrating to people I love, especially those who struggle with mental health. I came to realize that situations are more complex than I know. I had the tables turned on me during a season where I was the one who was battling with anxiety. I’ve learned the value of being quick to listen, slow to speak, and assuring my loved ones that I am all in, no matter what.

3. Recommend and foster help: The circumstances, causes, and needs are many, so, as Christians who aren’t specific professionals, we shouldn’t be quick to speak of things we don’t know and offer to diagnose someone’s problems with our “expertise.” Instead, we should point our loved ones to a variety of resources: doctors for a physical exam, counselors, mentors, pastors, facilities, and more. And we should be willing to help them get what they need, whether it’s money for medicine, a friend to accompany them to counseling, a phone call to a doctor, or a visit while in rehab. Some of my suggestions to my loved one were helpful, and others were terrible, but the Lord used them all in this person’s life in ways I can’t understand—ways that, in this situation, have led to thriving. We need to be humble and patient in our suggestions, but we should also, as much as we can, make sure that someone who desperately needs it gets help and a chance to get well.

4. Fight for their life and their soul: The moment we were purchased with Christ’s blood, we ceased to be our own. We’re in a spiritual battle for souls, and the stakes are high (Eph. 6). We simply can’t retreat to our comfortable lives and expel anyone who takes too much effort. Those grappling with addictions and mental health often take a whole lot of work that doesn’t fit in a neatly packaged box. But that’s not what we’re called to, anyway. When someone can’t fight for themselves and is tempted to think life is too hard to live, we have to try our best to stand in the gap and shoulder their burdens (Gal. 6:2). We share the transforming gospel with those who are non-Christians, and we remind those who are Christians of the good news that saves and continues to sustain them. It doesn’t mean we will be able to see all people saved, whether physically or spiritually, but it does mean we will leverage our lives in an intentional way for those who are hurting, showing them that they matter and displaying a picture of the unconditional love of the Father.  

5. Always, always hold out hope: Many people with addictions or mental illness are in an incredibly hard war for hope. They need to be reminded that while they still have breath, there is always an opportunity for new mercies. They need to be pointed back, over and over again, to the Savior who stands with outstretched, nail-pierced hands. They need us to take up the shield of faith for them and extinguish the arrows from the enemy that are pelting them day in and day out. As Christians, we are the people of hope—a hope through Christ that does not disappoint—and we should always be ready to carry this salve to our loved ones whose wounds run deep.  At the end of the day with my loved one, I tried to repeat that this person wasn’t beyond help, saving, forgiveness, or love. The same is true of us who don’t face the same battles. We were once without hope in this world (Eph. 2:12), and what a privilege it is to be able to carry a real, lasting hope—a hope with a Name—to our fellow sojourners.

I’ve come to see that some of the biggest blessings in my life, in ways that put Romans 8:28 on display, are my loved ones who have taught me what it is to persevere in love. I would never wish their struggles on them, and I pray for their healing and rejoice in what the Lord has already done. There are truly no easy answers or shortcuts. Yet, God is not wasting their affliction, though it can seem like that’s true. He is using their stories in ways that we cannot comprehend. And it’s my privilege to get to stumble along beside them and point them continually to the One who’s standing in front of us, holding out his arms, inviting us to lay down our burdens and rest in him.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, help is available. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling @800275TALK (8255). Trained counselors are available 24/7.

Lindsay Nicolet

Lindsay Nicolet serves as the editorial director for the ERLC. She oversees the day-to-day management of all content and resources from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have a daughter and a son. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24