Substance Abuse By A Loved One
Substance abuse is a problem of monumental proportions in the United States. More than 14 million Americans 12 years old and older struggle with alcohol abuse. Almost 20 million people in the same age group are drug-abusers. Many of these people are addicted to alcohol and drugs. 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 those who overdose on prescription opioids. Further, more than 10,000 people die every year from drunk-driving accidents. Drug and alcohol abuse have become so common, most adults know someone who struggles with a substance abuse-disorder.
If you find these statistics shocking, they should be. Small wonder Scripture warns against substance abuse. For example, in Proverbs 20:1 we read: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” This verse from Proverbs could just as easily apply to drugs as to alcohol. People who allow themselves to be led astray by any kind of substance abuse are “not wise.”
If you have a loved one who is a substance abuser, there are some things you need to know. The first is why people turn to drugs and alcohol. Second, you need to know some specific strategies for helping substance abusers deal with their problem. Broadly speaking, people who misuse drugs or alcohol do so in an attempt to fill voids in their hearts and lives. They turn to pills, the bottle, or both in search of the peace, comfort, assurance, courage or relief from pain—physical or emotional—only God can give them. This is an important point for Christians to understand. If you want to speak the truth in love to people who struggle with substance abuse, you need to know the specific reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol. With this understood, there are some things you can do to help substance abusers conquer their addictions.
People turn to drugs and alcohol for a number of different reasons. If you understand these reasons, you will be better equipped to cut through the fog of confusion, misdirection, and denial substance abusers often use to justify their choices. The word “choices” is important. People choose to misuse drugs and alcohol. This being the case, they can choose not to, but they need to know there is another alternative, and they often need support in pursuing that alternative. You can let them know about the better alternative, and you can provide the support they need while pursuing it.
People who misuse drugs and alcohol 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 sustainable choice; the only choice that will restore their lives permanently. God can fill the void in their hearts and lives and give them purpose. Nothing else can. This is where you come in. As a Christian, you can point substance abusers to Christ and share his truth with them. No matter how much counseling and rehabilitation they receive, substance abusers are not likely to enjoy a permanent recovery unless and until their recovery is anchored in Christ. This is a hard truth you will need to share with loved ones who have chosen substance abuse.
The specific reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol are many and varied. What follows are some of the more common reasons:
Escape. People who feel overwhelmed by life or need to fill a void in their hearts often turn to drugs and alcohol. They might be dealing with stress, broken relationships, physical or emotional abuse, loneliness, grief, financial problems, job or school-related pressures, family demands, feelings of failure, isolation, or a host of other factors. They turn to alcohol or drugs for relief; a brief time of escape from the problems weighing them down. Here is a hard truth you must be prepared to share with people in this category: When the bottle is empty and the pills are gone, the problems will still be there. Seeking escape from problems in a bottle of alcohol or jar of pills just makes the problems worse in the long run.
Enjoyment. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol seeking enjoyment, thrills, or instant gratification. Abusers in this category may be bored or they may have timid personalities that prevent them from enjoying a satisfying social life. If the latter applies, they probably want to participate in social activities with their peers but are hesitant to do so. For people in this category, alcohol and drugs serve as a form of courage in a bottle, a way to overcome inhibitions. A hard truth you must be prepared to share with people in this category is this: when the alcohol or pills wear off, the inhibitions, fears, and need for instant gratification will still be there. Alcohol or drug-induced highs are temporary at best. The same is true of the “courage” found in a bottle. Further, these artificial highs are never worth the lows that follow when the effects of the alcohol or pills wear off.
Relief. Some people turn to alcohol and drugs because they suffer from chronic physical pain, emotional distress, or anxiety. For abusers in this category, alcohol and drugs are a form of self-medication. Alcohol and drugs make the pain or anxiety go away for a while; they bring welcome, albeit temporary, relief. Further, the more of these substances people use for relief, the more they need. Those who self-medicate using drugs or alcohol are traveling down a one-way street to addiction. Eventually, abusers in this category reach a point where no amount of self-medication can bring the relief they seek, yet they are now addicted nonetheless.
Control. Some people turn to alcohol and drugs because they tire of being under the control of an outside authority and want to rebel. You see this with teens who turn to drugs or alcohol. The authority figure in question might be a parent, supervisor, guardian, teacher, coach, or anyone else in a position of authority. Tired of being expected to follow someone else’s rules, they purposely choose behaviors that break the rules: misusing drugs or alcohol. For people in this category, substance abuse is a form of rebellion. Misusing alcohol or drugs is a way of thumbing their noses at authority and feeling as if they are taking control for themselves. The point they miss is that by turning to drugs or alcohol they have simply traded one master for another. What’s worse is that few masters treat their subjects more cruelly than drugs and alcohol.
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 alcohol or 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.
Monica didn’t know what to do. She had never felt so distraught in her life. Her husband, Ralph, did not drink when they met and married. This was one of the things that attracted Monica to him. But Ralph’s job required him to socialize with clients. Ralph was an excellent corporate attorney, but he was no social butterfly. In fact, he hated the socializing requirement of the job. Ralph was shy and felt awkward in social settings.
To bolster his courage, Ralph started drinking before and during social events. He used alcohol to prepare himself for the hand shaking and backslapping that went with his job, and it worked. Liquor loosened him up and made his social obligations endurable. This was the good news. The bad news was that Ralph soon became dependent on alcohol, and not just to get him through social occasions. Monica began finding vodka bottles stashed in his car and in different locations throughout their house. Ralph had become a closet addict.
Unsure of what to do, Monica approached their pastor for help. Pastor Matthew was surprised to learn Ralph had developed a substance-abuse problem; he had always been—in the pastor’s words—such a “straight arrow.” He told Monica she could play an important role in helping her husband overcome his addiction. “Monica, to do something helpful and positive about Ralph’s substance abuse, begin by studying your Bible and praying about this issue. Pray for your husband. Ask God to help Ralph overcome his need for alcohol. Then ask him to make you an effective instrument in helping Ralph.
“Monica, familiarize yourself with what the Bible says about this issue so you are armed with the Word of God as you interact with Ralph. Your husband is a devout believer who will be moved by the Word of God.” Then the pastor jotted down several verses and handed them to Monica. “Call these verses up on your computer and print them out. Sit down with Ralph and go through them one at a time.” The verses Pastor Matthew gave Monica were 1 Corinthians 19-20, Galatians 5:21, Romans 13:13-14, Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:29-35, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, Ephesians 5:18, and 1 Corinthians 5:11.
“Monica, ask Ralph to come and see me. I will be happy to get him enrolled in a Bible-based program that will start him on the road to recovery. Understand that Ralph may not want to hear what you have to say at first, but it is essential you tell him anyway. God will have to open his eyes, ears, and heart, but when he does your words will sink in. Monica, this is going to be a frustrating experience for you, but it is important that you approach Ralph in a spirit of love and support rather than anger, condemnation, or bitterness. Christ is the solution to Ralph’s problem, and you won’t be able to point him to Christ if you make him defensive.”
Monica followed Pastor Matthew’s advice and thus began a journey of ups and downs that lasted more than a year. Fortunately, Monica persevered and Ralph eventually met with Pastor Matthew who enrolled him in Bible-based recovery program. The program was effective, and Ralph not only conquered his alcohol addiction, he became sufficiently confident to engage in social events without alcohol. He learned to find his confidence in Christ rather than a bottle.
When Christ enters an individual’s heart, the needs that lead to substance abuse don’t necessarily go away, but the person in question has a healthy, effective, and lasting way to deal with them. Instead of seeking relief, courage, or comfort in a bottle of liquor or pills, the individual in question can seek these things in the loving arms of Christ. Point substance abusers you want to help to Christ. He is the only permanent solution to their problem.
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