Most people are somewhat familiar with the topic of addiction, whether it is through media, books, educational or prevention programs in the community; or perhaps at a more personal level, by struggling with addiction or knowing someone who is in that journey. The fact of the matter is that everyone has had an encounter with this issue whether personally or impersonally.
Addiction is a complex and compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (e.g alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine etc.) or a behavior such as gambling or pornography. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2012, 2.5 million people in the United States received substance abuse treatment at a specialty facility. These numbers do not include outpatient services, community services or treatment of other forms of addictions such as gambling or sex addiction.
Despite the significant number of people affected by addiction, the stigma persists. I personally believe stigma is reinforced by the lack of understanding of the issue and the unfortunate tendency to minimize or simplify the problem because of lack of understanding.
We hear statements such as “Why can’t you just quit using drugs?,” “Why are you using again if you completed a 28-day treatment program?” etc. The truth is that addiction is a whole lot more than just the abuse or dependence on a particular substance. It goes beyond a “habit” or “engaging in the behavior.” Addiction can be progressive, chronic and in many cases deadly if not treated appropriately. It affects a person physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It destroys families and relationships. It keeps a person captive.
In light of this reality affecting millions of people - not only outside the church, but also within - what can the church do?
It is crucial to acknowledge that the issue may exist in your church. Take the time to get to know your brothers and sisters at your local church. Some brethren may be struggling with this issue but do not feel comfortable sharing for fear of being stigmatized or rejected.
Train and increase awareness among your church leaders and members. Understanding how addiction works will give the church a better understanding of what can they do as the body of Christ to help individuals and families affected by addiction.
Determining the appropriate level of care an individual dealing with addiction needs is crucial. Professionals in the mental health and medical field can assist with evaluations, diagnosis, treatment and community resources. Get familiar with those resources. There are many Christian based programs and also professional therapists that can incorporate a faith based and biblical counseling into the treatment modality.
Create a safe environment so people can open up about their struggle and reach out to the church. By safe, I do not mean an environment that condones the behavior, but a place that promotes healing, understanding and restoration.
The Church can be a great place for accountability. The recovery journey is a lifetime commitment and the Church can play an active role in encouraging, supporting, and keeping individuals accountable.“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2); “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”(James 5:16).
The Church should make a commitment to embrace, support and encourage our brethren struggling with addiction. The support must also be extended to the families. Help in repairing relationships and supporting the families of individuals affected by addiction can make a significant positive impact in the outcome of the recovery journey.
Spiritual and moral support will be a key factor in maintaining sobriety and what a better place than the Church to receive Spiritual and moral guidance. Let’s not forget that the Church is the only one that carries a message of true hope, healing, deliverance, and eternal salvation through Christ. You and I, we are the Church.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
Annette Segura is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She received her master’s degree in Community Counseling in 2011 from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. One of her main professional goals is to be able to provide affordable mental health services to the community and help increase awareness of Mental Health issues within the Christian community. She is married to Victor, who is currently completing his MDiv at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Throughout the years both have been active in worship and teaching ministries.