David L. Goetsch
Why People Turn to Drugs and Alcohol : How You Can Help (Proverbs 20:1)
Most adults know someone who struggles with a substance abuse-disorder. More than 14 million people in America 12 years old and older struggle with alcohol abuse. Almost 20 million people in the same age group battle a drug-abuse disorder. Many of these people battle addictions to both 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.
If you find these statistics shocking, they should be. Few of the tragic consequences of rejecting God are sadder or more unnecessary than drug and alcohol abuse. Small wonder, then, that 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 either kind of substance abuse are indeed “not wise.”
If you know someone who struggles with substance abuse and want to help, there are some things you will need to know. First, you need to know why people turn to drugs and alcohol. Second, you need to know some specific strategies you can use to help them deal with the 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, relief, assurance, or courage 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 drug or alcohol addiction, you will need to know the specific reasons why people turn to drugs and alcohol as well as what you and your church can do to help. Providing that information is the goal of this blog.
WHY PEOPLE TURN TO DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
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 seeking 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 sustaining choice; the only choice that will restore their lives 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 enjoy a permanent solution unless and until their recovery is anchored in Christ. This is a hard truth you may need to share in love with substance abusers.
The specific reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol are many. 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 and alcohol. 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 alcohol or drugs as offering temporary relief; a brief time of escape from the problems that are weighing them down. Here is a hard truth you may need to lovingly share with people in this category: When the bottle is empty and the pills are gone, the problems are still there. Seeking escape from problems in a bottle of alcohol or 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, at the same time, are afraid 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 or to bolster themselves to seek new thrills. A hard truth you may need to lovingly share with people in this category is that when the alcohol or pills wear off, the inhibitions, fears, and need for thrills or 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 or anxiety. For abusers in this category, alcohol and drugs are a form of self-medication. Alcohol and drugs make the pain or the anxiety go away for a while; they bring welcome relief. Unfortunately, the relief is temporary. 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 hooked on a substance 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. Because they tire 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 authority for another. What’s worse is that few masters are more cruel to their subjects 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 a bottle of 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.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE
To do something helpful and positive about substance abuse, begin by studying your Bible and praying about this issue. Pray for those who misuse alcohol and drugs as well as their families, friends, and colleagues. Pray that God will make you an effective instrument in helping the individual in question overcome drug and alcohol abuse. Know what the Bible says about this issue so you are armed with the Word of God as you interact with a substance abuser.
To speak the truth in love to others about this subject, you must know the truth, and God’s Word is the truth. Once you have studied the Bible and prayed about this issue, here some additional things you can do to help curtail drug and alcohol abuse:
Inform yourself about the problem of substance abuse. Use this information when you speak the truth in love to people who misuse alcohol or drugs or when you talk with their family members and friends. What you have to say may not be welcomed by substance abusers, but it is essential they hear it anyway. You never know when their eyes, ears, and hearts might be opened to what you have told them.
Approach those who misuse alcohol and drugs out of love not anger, frustration, or bitterness. You won’t be able to point addicts 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 addiction 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. Embracing a substance abuser is not the same as condoning substance abuse. Condemnation and rejection will just magnify the problem. 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.
Encourage your church to provide instruction on responsible behavior relating to drinking and driving (e.g. Never drink and drive, if you host a party where alcohol is served makes sure your guests are sober when they leave or have a designated driver to take them home, do not let someone you know who has been drinking get behind the wheel of a car, etc.). Never assume that people in your congregation don’t drink or that teens in your church won’t be pressured by their peers to do so. Use wise instruction to preempt drunk driving.
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.
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 and drunk driving 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.
When Christ enters an individual’s heart, the needs that lead to substance abuse don’t necessarily go away, but the person in question now 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 now 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 Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.