Article  Human Dignity  Substance Abuse

How to help the addict

She shivered in the church pew trying to stop shaking, but the drug withdrawal had begun.

He finally confessed that after months of saying he had stopped, his addiction to pornography was still alive and growing.

The young woman tearfully looked at me as she held her baby and pushed up her sleeves to show me the cuts and needle marks that ran up and down her arms.

“I’m addicted to sex,” the woman tearfully admitted. “I had my third abortion last week.”

If you have a family or are engaged in a community of people, it doesn’t take long to find someone dealing with addiction. Whether it is a member of your family, small group participant or a member of a congregation, there is someone near you who is struggling.

What do you do when someone you love has an addiction?

Have the right perspective

Recognize you are no better than the addict (Rom. 3:23). The truth is that we are all addicts on some level. The woman who has consistently yelled at her husband for 10 years has become addicted to seeking a certain response or outcome. She feeds her habit through indulging her anger. While the consequences of her habit are different and a bit less complicated than alcohol or cocaine, the sin problem in her heart doesn’t look all that different. All sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23), and death is not a respecter of “varying degrees” of Christians. Admitting your own need for Jesus will help you seek to love and confront your fellow sinner.

Pray. James 1:5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Dealing with loved ones’ sin can be overwhelming. Our culture has given such power to diagnosis that the church has been placed in a demeaned state. Don’t make little of God by thinking he cannot redeem the broken and give us what we need in order to respond well. While addiction may be powerful, God’s Spirit is more powerful and his Word can help (1 John 4:4, 2 Pet. 1:3). Pray that God will give you the wisdom and grace needed to walk alongside those struggling with addiction.

Trust the Lord. This may sound a bit trivial at first, but understanding that God cares more for the health of your loved ones than you ever will or could and that only he has the power to change us brings great encouragement to trust God on behalf of others. Without the love and power of God, the cyclical nature of sinful addiction cannot be broken. But God says that with him, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26). Trust that what he says is true. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.”

Love the person well. Do not confuse loving someone with doing what is comfortable. Walking with someone who is “stuck in sin” can be painful and messy. Oftentimes, loving someone well means putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Knowing when to say “no,” being willing to intervene or finding someone help is often difficult, but it is incredibly loving. Serving others well will frequently require giving up your own personal comfort.

Step out in love

Seek outside help. Knowing where and what kind of help each individual needs can be challenging. A good Biblical Counselor should have relationships with medical doctors and be knowledgeable about resources to help those enduring the physical consequences of their sin. For those struggling with extensive drug or alcohol abuse and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, hospitalization may be necessary and helpful to begin addressing the issue. I say “begin” because the vast majority of rehab facilities will not be Christian institutions. Root heart issues will likely not be addressed. But still, a person struggling with addiction can benefit from being away from bad influences while the physical body clears of the substance.

Be like Christ. Be willing to be a part of the process. When we spend years practicing sin, it often takes a long journey to change hearts, ways of thinking and therefore, habits. Even if you are not an addiction counselor, knowing the person’s story and about their relationship with the Lord can create rapport. The church body should come alongside in order to provide ongoing care, accountability, teaching and relationship. Be humble to address your own heart as you seek to be like God—consistent in nature and steadfast in love (Ps. 86:15). Remember that rehabilitation or hospitalization only lasts for a moment, but you will forever be brothers and sisters in Christ.

Understand the root

The truth is, we are all tempted to give in to idolatrous lusts. Craving what we want or can’t have is the very essence of addiction. At its core, addiction is idolatry very well practiced and deeply worn. I must confess, I often find myself tempted in such a direction. It is only by God’s grace that we are kept from such deadly circumstances.

In ministering to those struggling with addiction, we must remember that the addict is compelled by a desire for something that seems better than what he has or something he thinks he is entitled to or deserves. The tragedy is that the addict finds death at the end of his idolatrous conquest that falsely promised life. But there is a real and loving God who has promised life (John 10:10). He promises that those in Christ have life (Eph. 2:5). And, in Christ—who has overcome the world—there is always hope (Jn 16:33).

Further resources for help:

Certified Biblical Counselors

Biblical Counseling Residential/Inpatient Centers

For Further Training:

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