To Advise Addicts…
Don’t enable people to continue with their addiction by protecting them from the consequences of their actions. Sadly, addicts usually have to “hit bottom” before they are able avoid denial and start recovery. Often well meaning people inadvertently perpetuate the addict’s behavior by not letting them experience the natural consequences of their unhealthy choices.
Don’t give money to addicts. They’ll give you all kinds of worthy reasons, but the real reason is almost certainly for more drugs.
Don’t forget that addictions are not limited to substances. We’re all addicted to sin, which ultimately is trying to be God rather than surrendering our lives to God through His provision Jesus Christ. The recovery procedure is essentially the same for all types of addictions ─ surrendering our lives to God. Each new believer needs to be discipled, and shown how to take off the old and put on the new. This will look different with different people.
Addictions have destroyed some people’s lives from early childhood (starting with the addictions of others and continuing as a learned behavior in their own lives). For such people discipling will be extensive and include basic life-skills such as functional literacy, vocational training, health and nutrition, how to handle money, etc.
Others have basic life-skills, but need to learn how to follow Jesus, get healing from past hurts, accept God’s mercy and grace, and seek forgiveness from others.
Pray for the addict and pray for wisdom in how you can best communicate.
Get a list of local resources such as Christian recovery programs, recovery meetings, knowledgeable people, etc. Be prepared for the next step if the addict is ready to get into recovery.
Lovingly share the good news of Jesus Christ and your own story, whatever it might be. Remember, every human is born addicted to sin, and that Jesus came to set us free. So, even if you have no background in substance addiction, God has certainly set you free from something and others need to hear your story. Redeemed heavy metal rock star Brian Welch entitled his biography “Save Me from myself.” We all need this!
The first three steps of all 12-step programs are sometimes abbreviated as “I can’t, God can, and I’ll let Him.” That is a great Biblical principle and a great rule for leading someone to salvation in Jesus Christ. AA’s motto “Let Go, Let God” is a phrase that was coined by the early 20th Century missionary to India and author E. Stanley Jones. This Biblical principle applies to everyone’s need for salvation, and is especially helpful when coaching addicts.
Be a good listener and pray with the person at every opportunity. Most people will accept prayer from others; encourage them to begin praying themselves in Jesus name for help.
Addicts are medicating emotional pain that they fear they cannot face without the substances. Explain that with God’s help, and the help of caring people, they will find healing for the hurts that compel them to use drugs.
To break out of denial and get into recovery, the pain from one’s own actions must become greater than the fear the addict feels towards the pain of stopping abusing substances and facing their hurts. Think of a seesaw: pain from consequences needs to go up, and fear needs to go down. Denial and apathy down, and hope up. Prayerfully do two things: let the pain increase, and do all we can to replace fear with hope. Here are helps to replace fear with hope:
Ø At every opportunity, remind the addict of the hope, love, grace, and new identity found in Jesus Christ. Keep sharing God’s story and your story, and listening to their story. Keep praying for and with the addict.
Ø Also, have a resource list handy. Go with them to visit a 12-step meeting or to another program so they can see what it is like.
Ø Prayerfully lower the fear of change. It is critical to lessen the person’s fear and increase their hope. For people who have no hope, the point of hitting bottom is often death. This is a tragedy, but we are not responsible for other people’s decisions; do your best and trust them to God’s hands. That’s all God expects us to do. Many people working with addicts burn out because they incorrectly feel a responsibility for an addict’s bad decisions.
Ø As previously mentioned, it’s critical ─ and too often ignored ─ to let addicts suffer from the consequences of their own actions. Pain is a God given sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Sadly, it often takes very painful experiences before a substance addict is ready to get out of denial and into recovery. Being arrested and not bailed out, or losing a job, is sometimes what it takes. Tough love requires us to call the police if someone attempts to drive while impaired by substances, etc. The television program “Intervention” is excellent at demonstrating tough love; friends and family stop enabling the addict by no longer giving money or housing, etc. and instead offer a 90-day in-house recovery program. They collectively make it clear that out of love and concern they are giving an ultimatum that the addict must get into recovery and that they will no longer enable them. For this to work, the addict must have family or friends who are willing and able to provide an intervention and recovery program. Episodes are available for viewing on www.youtube.com.
Ø God sometimes chooses to deliver some people at once from substance abuse when they turn to Him, but for most, it is a process. Either way, people need to be discipled. Long-term in-house recovery programs have the best success rates, especially Christian places such as Teen Challenge and Victory Outreach. If long-term in-house programs are not available or feasible, recovery meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups are available internationally. “Celebrate Recovery” and other Christ-centered recovery meetings are available in many cities in America.
Ø Just as an addict must “Let go and let God” so must a Christian adviser do the same with them. 1 Corinthians 3:6 (NLT) “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”
Appendix (concerning AA and similar recovery programs):
Some Christians are strongly opposed to vaguely spiritual recovery programs such as AA. AA is rooted in a Christian discipleship and recovery program called the Oxford Group. The founders of AA didn’t want to limit the program to Christians, so they allowed people to choose their own “Higher Power.” Many in AA and other 12-step groups trust the God of the Bible as their Higher Power. Others choose the group itself, or other ideas, as a “Higher Power.” AA and other 12-step groups are not designed to disciple people to become followers of Christ; their purpose is to help people get clean and sober. However, their steps and principles are derived from the Bible, and their “sponsor” program models discipleship in a manner that puts most churches to shame.
Whenever a new attendee shows up at a meeting, typically that person leaves with a list of names and phone numbers of people who are willing to help in their recovery. They are encouraged to keep coming back, and every meeting typically ends with the Lord’s Prayer while everyone holds hands. The new attendee is encouraged to get a “sponsor” to help them go through their steps to recovery. That sponsor is in turn being sponsored by another member, and so forth. It’s the II Timothy 2:2 principle (one coaches another, who coaches others, etc.) in practice in a practical way. These meetings have spread around the world, and do not send people to formal educational institutions. They have no local staff, buildings, or budget. It’s a phenomenal repetition of how the early church spread and multiplied throughout the civilized world, and God has blessed them for it. They do not try to be a church or replace church. Rather than oppose AA, Christians should come alongside and, when able, provide a similarly appealing fellowship that includes discipling people to follow Jesus Christ.
Can followers of Jesus borrow back from AA what AA borrowed from the Bible? Can we come alongside and develop informal fellowships that incorporate the “rigorous honesty” with one another that AA calls for and practice the “one another” New Testament commands (love one another, bear one another’s burdens, confess your sins one to another, etc.) that AA often embodies much better than churches? Can we provide a service for people in AA rather than trying to take people out of AA?
Millions around the world in 12-step recovery groups have experienced group dynamics that more closely resemble a truly Biblical church meeting than what they experience in church. We can provide similar Christ-centered fellowships that address explicitly Christian guidelines that AA does not, and affirm the good within 12-step groups rather than competing with them. Let a movement happen, in which people within 12-step groups come to Christ. Such fellowships, which address the needs of the whole person through Biblical discipleship, can have tremendous impact on society, where, as Brian Welch put it, we can all be saved from being addicted to ourselves.