Christians and Addiction

[This article was first written for Artisan Magazine]

Although most addiction problems have complex social and personal difficulties at their root, Mental Health Services are often involved in helping people recover. This article discusses some of the approaches used from a Christian point of view.

Are addictions and substance misuse illnesses? Perhaps not like pneumonia or cancer, but with time many substance misuse problems become something more severe. The person loses control, becomes trapped and cannot help themselves. If they could, they would have. If family and church could, would they not have? In these situations, seeing a mental health professional may be part of the answer.

 

Understanding Addictive Potential


There are some things that have the ability to take us more quickly down the slippery slope. Heroin is the classic – cheap, reliable, quick to act and withdrawal can be relieved by taking more. Alcohol is cheaper, more easily available and can be made reliable if we stick to our favourite high-alcohol brand.

Other substances have strong psychological drivers such as a pick-me-up when feeling down or blanking-out unpleasant reality – so not surprisingly substance misuse is more common if we are going through a rough patch or have things in our lives to which there seems no other answer. A Christian faith certainly helps, if only to remember that there are always other answers where God is concerned. However, repeated failures and a lack of support from the church can dim this truth and our relationship with God.
 

Stages of Change


One model of addiction called the Transtheoretical Model describes five stages to full recovery. Pre-comtemplation is the mouth saying ‘Yes’, but the person’s life crying ‘No’! Contemplation is serious thinking about giving up, leading to Preparation for stopping in the next month. Action is the actual stopping [but also starting a new life]. Maintenance is six months onwards – and for some a lifetime of abstinence, though for others sadly a return to the pre-contemplation stage.
Prochaska-DiClemente
Understanding our stage is vital. We all think we are ready to give up tomorrow, but the old adage says we must give up for ourselves and not for our spouse/family/job... There must be sufficient motivation. An addiction therapist will help with this process using a technique called Motivational Interviewing. Different exercises at each stage help us move through the process. For some, setting a goal of reducing the level of misuse may be more realistic than going for abstinence.

Working through stages is something Christians should be familiar with. We often look for a ‘magic touch’ from God or the Holy Spirit, but the Bible actually teaches a staged approach to many things. A good example is the famous “renewing of the mind” passage in Romans 12v2. If you look closely, you will see that a prerequisite is to “no longer be conformed to the pattern of the world” [that is, to begin reducing the drugs we are using], and only then go on to be able to “discern God’s will” and "renew our minds".

 

Getting Help


The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is to say “I am an alcoholic” – and the church community badly needs to do this. Addiction is a hidden problem in most churches, and the isolation many with addictions face only compounds their problems and can lead to depression which will make recovery even more difficult. Another key aspect of recovery is to make honest friends with those who are not addicted, and this cannot be done if the topic is taboo.

Medication may also be offered and can be helpful but only if combined with a comprehensive program of change. There are drugs that make drinking very unpleasant, others that decrease the craving somewhat and, if there is also depression present, anti-depressants may be helpful.

Please do seek professional help, especially if others have noticed a change in you. Your GP will be able to put you in touch with an addiction therapist. For the most part, they will be glad that you have a faith to grow and a community to join as the addiction is left behind.


More can be read about Addiction and how it can be helped medically at www.cmf.org.uk/index/addiction.htm.
Rob Waller, 13/06/2007