Substance Abuse: Pain and Healing

by James Rudy Gray

Since the most prevalent mental health problem in the United States is substance abuse, the odds are high that a Christian counselor or pastor will be called on to help a person dealing with this problem. What can you do?

Nearly all addicts or alcoholics will have some pain in their lives that they have not dealt with properly. They have tried to escape it or self-medicated themselves. Every addiction has some pleasure or reward in the beginning; otherwise, no one would ever become an addict or alcoholic. However, the pleasure quickly turns into torment and the person surrenders his or her life to the drugs and/or alcohol. When the cycle of addiction has gone this far, an addictive personality has been created.

The bondage of drugs and alcohol can be broken, but not without purposeful and powerful intervention. The touch of God's grace at the point of deepest need is indeed the place where deliverance begins. If a person has surrendered his or her life to drugs and/or alcohol, the obvious cure is for that person to turn around, and surrender his life to Jesus Christ.

God uses means to accomplish His purposes of grace. A person will need to detoxify his body before real progress can be made. A person must do something he has become expert at not doing: being honest. Most of all, a person must learn to walk day by day in truth and willingly be accountable to people who love him or her.

For many, perhaps most, that will mean enrolling in a Christian treatment program. Usually, an eight-week residential program is best. I teach and counsel at a Christian rehab facility. The motto there is "Alcoholics and drug addicts are being delivered one day at a time through Jesus Christ." I would recommend that any pastor dealing with a drug-dependent person or an alcoholic should help that person enroll in such a Christ-centered program. The success rate where I serve is over 65%.

There is a great deal of debate that revolves around the alcohol question in our culture. Since it is a legal drug, social drinking is an accepted form of behavior among many professing Christians. Personally, I reject that option in favor of a position of abstinence. In fact, there is no other position for a recovering alcoholic.

Other Christians, however, may choose to imbibe. That can be a dangerous choice and exhibit a poor testimony. A person weighing 160 pounds who consumes two drinks (or two cans of beer) within an hour will experience a degree of intoxication. Four drinks in an hour's time will cause that same person to have a reaction time 200% longer than nondrinkers.

Behind every addict or alcoholic is a story of pain. The hurt is often so deep and buried that the individual seems to have forgotten it. But they really haven't forgotten. One of the keys to ongoing sobriety is to deal with pain and replace it with the forgiveness and power of God's love. The process of becoming sober is important. However, this is only one step. The pain must then be faced and overcome through appropriating the truths of God's Word.

Harold E. Doweiko in his book, Concepts of Chemical Dependency, presents a vast amount of research and theory regarding substance abuse. Despite all the debate circulating around the idea of a disease model or a medical model for addiction, he states forthrightly, "For each addicted individual, a spiritual awakening appears to be an essential element of recovery." Chemical addiction often reflects a misguided attempt to gain control over life or the pain in one's life. This becomes the mother of all contradictions because the reward and pleasure that was gained at the beginning of drug and alcohol use soon becomes an addiction that takes control of the person's life.

There are personal and practical issues that must be worked through while a person goes through rehabilitation. There are often severe financial problems, relationship problems, and extremely low self-esteem. In a systematic way, a person can learn to live in the truth and take his or her life back (recovery). Jesus Christ is still the way, the truth, and the life. At the base of every program that is really successful is unrelenting devotion to God and His Word.

When a person graduates from the rehab program, that individual and the family will need continuing attention and help within the boundaries of genuine love. Substance abuse can be overcome. It may take time. It will mean making some tough decisions. It may involve a time away from home in a residential ministry. In the end, the journey to recovery begins with the first step. That may be the most important part pastors can serve in the process.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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