Addiction and the Counselor

by James Rudy Gray

James Rudy GrayAddiction to drugs and alcohol continues to be a huge problem in our world. The drug of choice for most addicts is still alcohol, but most addicts today use multiple drugs.

In the Christian community, how can we effectively help addicts?

I have worked with a residential alcohol and drug addiction ministry for over 10 years. The success rate has been estimated to be over 60% which is rather phenomenal. I have also counseled with addicts individually or in marriage counseling situations. One of the most rapidly growing addictions, however, is not related to a drug at all-pornography.

With the convenience of the internet, pornography addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Professing Christians are becoming addicted to this type of behavior at an embarrassingly high rate. Gambling is another addiction that continues to snare many people including professing Christians. There are many other addictions, some more destructive and others less so, but all corruptive and hurtful.

Individual counseling for addictions is not nearly as effective as group type settings. Many churches have started various types of recovery groups. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Narcotics Anonymous meetings continue to be a large avenue of help for many. The key to helping an addict is to first enroll the person in a residential program. Why? That is the best first step for success.

Dr. Stephen Arterburn has stated, "After 30 years in the addiction field, I have come to believe in a recovery model that integrates physical, emotional and spiritual treatment, best delivered at some point in an intensive inpatient or residential program."

This type of treatment works best because it puts the addict in a new environment and with other people who are also recovering from an addiction. Accountability is high in programs that work. Alcoholics and drug addicts are typically accomplished at the art of deceit. I have had hundreds of addicts tell me that they are some of the best liars in the world! That type of deceit can pervade an individual counseling situation, but it loses most of its power in a group setting with other addicts. As the old saying goes, "You can't con a con artist."

After a period of time in a residential center (usually 8 weeks or so), the addict has had time for his or her mind to clear and to remain sober for a while. Hopefully, they have learned some things about themselves and the importance of faith in God and obedience to His Word. They then "graduate" from the program and go back into the world they recently left. This is when the real test begins. This is also when they must be sure they have a sponsor, mentor, or accountability partner. They need to attend weekly group meetings to help in their ongoing sobriety.

Once the person has broken the addictive habit, they face the challenge of knowing themselves and the reasons behind their addictive behavior in the first place. In most cases, some type of pain is behind the move into addiction. It is important that after the addict has come through a good Christian residential program, they follow-up with individual counseling and discipleship. Individual counseling will work much better after the time in a residential program. I believe the counselor must be part of a team working with the family of the addict and the sponsor or mentor as well.

I do not believe there is an addictive gene. Some people may be more prone to addictive behavior than others but those are personality issues. Learning to identify, accept and even appreciate the person they are in Christ is a large challenge in the follow-up process. Learning to be the person God has created and redeemed them to be is the positive hope for those in recovery. Addicts can be helped. God works to convict, free, and empower them through His Spirit and by His Word. I have seen this work hundreds of times. Some fail, but those who truly deal with sin and self honestly will find hope.

In John 8:34, Jesus said, "Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." Is addiction sin? Yes. It is sinful thinking and behavior that possesses a person. It often creates chemical dependencies. But the cycle can be broken and the person can be set free. In John 8:32 Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free." Sin binds in many different ways. Truth sets a person free through one way-Jesus Christ Himself. The foundation for personal change is Christ and His truth. He uses many different means, but He is the only source and power for lasting change.

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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