Drug Abuse: How You Can Help Prevent It
Every year almost 20 million young people struggle with a drug disorder. More than 65,000 people in America die of drug overdoses every year. This number includes those who die from overdosing on illicit drugs as well as prescription opioids. If these statistics shock you, they should. They are tragic. That is the bad news. The good news is these tragedies are preventable, and you can play a role in preventing them.
For the most part, people who indulge in substance abuse do so in an attempt to fill voids in their hearts. They turn to pills in search of the peace, comfort, relief, courage, or assurance only God can give them. This is an important point for Christians to understand. If you are going to speak the truth in love to people who struggle with drugs or their loved ones, you will need to know the extent of the problem in America and the reasons why people turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place.
DRUG ABUSE IN AMERICA: EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM
Chances are you know someone who struggles with drug abuse. If so, you are not alone. Most people know someone who misuses drugs. The individual in question might be a family member, friend, colleague, or neighbor. If the drug abuser you know is a loved one, friend, or colleague, their misuse of drugs probably affects you too. The negative effects of drug abuse are never confined to just the abuser. They can spread through a family, church, business, or neighborhood like a poisonous vapor. This is why as a Christian you must be prepared to speak God’s truth in love to people who misuse drugs. When you point drug addicts to Christ you are pointing them to the only true and lasting way out of their dilemma.
The extent of the drug-abuse problem in America is shocking. Here are just a few facts about the size of the problem:
Almost 20 million Americans aged 12 and older struggle with a drug disorder every year. This is almost 40 percent of all adults.
The majority of people (74 percent) who struggle with drug addiction also struggle with alcohol-abuse.
Almost four-percent of the adolescent population in America (ages 12 – 17) struggles with a drug disorder every year. This means 1 out of every 25 adolescents in America is a drug abuser.
More than two-million young adults (18 – 25) struggle with a drug disorder every year. Heroin use in this age group doubled over the past ten years.
More than four-million adults aged 26 or older struggle with a drug disorder every year.
More than one-million senior citizens (aged 65 or older) struggle with a substance abuse problem every year (substance abuse includes drugs and/or alcohol).
Cocaine is a one of the most frequently misused illicit drugs. More than 950,000 Americans struggle with cocaine-abuse every year.
Heroin is another frequently misused illicit drug. More than 650,000 adults aged 12 or older struggle with heroin-abuse every year. The largest at-risk group for heroin use consists of Caucasian males who reside in large cities and are aged 18 to 25.
Prescription drugs consisting of pain relievers, tranquillizers, stimulants, and sedatives affect even more people in America than either illicit cocaine or heroin. Approximately 1.7 million American adults aged 12 or older suffer from a prescription-drug disorder every year.
WHY PEOPLE TURN TO DRUGS
People turn to drugs for different reasons. If you understand these reasons, you will be better equipped to cut through the fog of confusion, misdirection, and denial addicts often use to justify their choices. The word “choices” used here is important. Nobody forces people to misuse drugs; doing so is a choice. Since misusing drugs is a choice, it follows that people who choose to engage in substance abuse can also choose not to. Although this is true, it does not mean choosing to avoid drugs is an easy choice. In fact, for some individuals, turning their backs on drugs is the most difficult choice they will ever make. This being the case, it is important to give substance abusers the support they need and to show them there is a better choice for coping with their demons.
People who misuse drugs need to know they can choose God instead of substance abuse and that doing so is the right choice. In fact, it is the only choice that will restore their lives and sustain them permanently. God can fill the void in their hearts and give purpose to their lives. This is where you come in. As a Christian, you can point them to Christ and share His truth with them. No matter how much counseling and rehabilitation they receive, they are not likely to restore their lives permanently unless and until their recovery is anchored in Christ. This is another of the hard truths you must be prepared to share in love with substance abusers.
The reasons people turn to drugs vary from person to person. What follows are some of the more common reasons:
Escape. People who feel overwhelmed by life or the need to fill a void in their hearts often turn to drugs. They might be dealing with stress, broken relationships, abuse, loneliness, grief, financial problems, job or school-related pressures, family demands, feelings of failure, isolation, or a host of other emotional stressors. They see drugs as offering temporary relief; a brief escape from the problems weighing them down. Here is a hard truth you may have to lovingly share with people in this category: When the pills are gone, the problems will still be there. Seeking escape from problems in a bottle of pills just makes the problems worse in the long run.
Enjoyment. Some people turn to drugs seeking enjoyment, thrills, or instant gratification. Abusers in this category may be bored or they may have timid personalities that prevent them from participating fully in social activities. If the latter applies, they probably feel the sting of peer pressure for not participating. This just makes matters worse. For people in this category, drugs serve as courage in a bottle, a way to overcome inhibitions or to bolster themselves to seek new thrills. A hard truth you may have to lovingly share with people in this category is that when the pills wear off, the inhibitions and need for thrills or instant gratification will still be there. Drug-induced highs are temporary. Further, these temporary highs are never worth the lows that follow when the effects of the pills wear off.
Relief. Some people turn to drugs because they suffer from chronic physical pain, emotional problems, or anxiety. For abusers in this category, drugs are a form of self-medication. Drugs can deaden physical pain temporarily, allow one to forget emotional problems for the moment, and make anxiety go away for a while. In all of these examples, drugs bring welcome relief, at least in the short run. Unfortunately, the relief is temporary. Further, the more drugs people use for relief, the more they need. Those who self-medicate using drugs are traveling down a one-way street to disaster. Eventually, abusers in this category build up a tolerance to drugs. As this happens, they require heavier and heavier does to get the same effect. Eventually they reach a point where no amount of self-medication can bring the relief they seek.
Control. Some people turn to drugs because they tire of being under the control of an outside authority and want to rebel. The unwanted authority figure in question might be a parent, supervisor, guardian, teacher, coach, or anyone else in a position of authority. Because they tire of being expected to follow someone else’s rules, substance abusers who seek control purposely choose behaviors that break the rules by misusing drugs. For people in this category, substance abuse is a form of rebellion. Misusing drugs is a way of thumbing their noses at authority and taking control for themselves, or so they think. What substance abusers in this category do not understand is that by turning to drugs they are just substituting one form of control for another. In short order their lives will be controlled by pills. All they have achieved is exchanging one master for another, and few masters are harder on those they control than drugs.
The needs that drive people to misuse alcohol or drugs are understandable. The problem is not so much in having these needs but in seeking to satisfy them with a bottle of pills. People who do this are looking for help in the wrong places. As a Christian, you know the only source of lasting help for substance abusers is Jesus Christ. Consequently, your role in helping people who misuse alcohol and drugs is to point them to Christ.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP PREVENT DRUG ABUSE
To play a positive role in preventing substance abuse or in helping addicts escape it, begin by studying what the Bible has to say about this topic. Helpful verses for providing wise counsel to substance abusers or their loved ones include the following:
1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” This verse may help you speak the truth in love about the dangers of drugs to someone who misuses them. Drugs are tools the devil uses to take control of people and ruin their lives. Individuals don’t gain control of themselves or their lives by using drugs, they lose control and they lose it to the evil one whose goal is to ruin them.
1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” This verse may help you speak the truth in love to someone who is spending time with the wrong crowd, a crowd of drug users. The message you can convey to people who are making this mistake is “Bad company ruins good morals.” This, in turn, can ruin your life. People who tempt or pressure others to use drugs don’t care about them, but God does. Spending time in the company of the Holy Spirit rather than peers who encourage substance abuse is the better choice.
Matthew 6:13: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This portion of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:13 may help you speak the truth in love to substance abusers who are allowing themselves to be tempted by drugs or those who pressure them to use these substances. By turning their backs on drugs, people you care about can deliver themselves from evil.
To speak the truth in love about substance abuse, you must first know the truth, and God’s Word is the truth. Knowing what the Bible says about this issue will equip you to point the way to Christ for substance abusers. The verses recommended herein are just to get you started. The Bible has much more to say about the issue of substance abuse.
Once you have studied what Scripture teaches about substance abuse, pray that God will intercede on behalf of those who misuse drugs and alcohol as well as those who love and care about them. If you are not sure how to pray about this issue, recite the following prayer:
Lord, I am concerned about (Joseph). He is clearly misusing drugs and alcohol. I fear he is seeking refuge from the problems that are weighing him down by turning to liquor and pills. Will you have mercy on Joseph and intercede in his life. Help him turn from substance abuse to you and fill the void in his heart with the love, strength, and reassurance only you can provide. Will you also comfort Joseph’s family members and friends who care about him and show them how to help him? If it is your will, help me play a positive role in turning Joseph from the path he is on to a path that leads to you. I lift up this prayer in the Holy name of Jesus. Amen.
When you have prayed for the individual you are concerned about as well as his or her family and friends, the next step is to make sure your children and grandchildren learn to place their troubles at the feet of Jesus Christ rather than turning to drugs. Teach them that life in a fallen world is filled with ups and downs, but the Holy Spirit is always right next to them and available to help. If we, as Christians, raise our children right, we can reduce substance abuse substantially in just one generation.
Having studied the Bible, prayed, and made sure your own children and grandchildren know that a heart filled with Christ is far better than a body filled with pills, here are some other things you can do to help prevent alcohol and drug abuse:
Inform yourself about the problem of substance abuse with the information in this column as well as from other sources. Use this information when you speak the truth in love to people who misuse drugs or when you talk with their family members and friends. What you have to say may not be welcomed by substance abusers, at least not at first, but it is essential they hear it anyway. You never know when God might open their eyes, ears, and hearts to what you have told them.
Approach those who misuse drugs out of love not anger, frustration, or bitterness. You won’t be able to point substance abusers to Christ if you make them defensive, and pointing them to Christ is the best way to help them.
Encourage your church to confront this issue openly. Urge your pastor to preach on the subject of substance abuse and to ask recovering addicts to speak to the congregation about their experiences. Embrace people in your church or community who are struggling with substance abuse rather than condemning them. Condemnation and rejection will just magnify the problem of drug abuse. Encourage your church to provide face-to-face counseling for substance abusers and their family members. If your church is too small to afford a Biblical Counseling Center, establish a relationship with one in a larger church and make referrals. Make sure the counseling services are open to church members and non-church members alike.
Make sure your church doesn’t overlook the children of substance abusers. Provide counseling, instruction, and support for them too or make referrals to churches or organizations that can. The children of substance abusers are often the worst victims of this scourge.
Encourage your church leaders to partner with other churches and organizations that provide services to help substance abusers and their family members. Make sure your church can either provide direct services to children of substance abusers or has a partnership with another church or organization that can.
Make preventing substance abuse part of your church’s youth program. It is less costly, less time-consuming, and more effective to prevent these problems than to treat them.
Substance abuse will be much less of a problem in a Christ-centered culture. Be prepared to make this point when you speak God’s truth in love to people who struggle with this problem. When Christ enters an individual’s heart, the unmet needs that lead to substance abuse don’t necessarily go away but the person in question now has a healthy and lasting way to deal with them. Instead of seeking relief, courage, or comfort in a bottle of pills, the individual in question can now seek these things in the loving arms of Christ.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com