Discipling people with addictions
These are pages taken from our ‘Good News For Real Life’ booklet. They contain short introductions to some common pastoral struggles. Think of them as conversation-starters to help us begin to understand and respond to complex issues. Not as experts but as brothers and sisters in Christ — pointing one another to Jesus with words of hope and grace.
In other words: to walk together as those with good news for real life
WHAT IS AN ADDICTION?
An addiction is a compulsive dependence on a substance or a behaviour. Commonly people struggle with addictions to alcohol, drugs (prescription or illicit), pornography, gambling, shopping, eating, work or even exercise. Addictions have a strong biological component (there can be a genetic predisposed to addictions and there is significant biochemical action in addictions which makes it physically hard to stop) and also a strong link to our internal desires (the addiction gives us something we want whether that is comfort, purpose, an illusion of intimacy or something else). People often have a love-hate relationship with their addiction – they loathe themselves for engaging in it but often pursue it so wholeheartedly they will do so at the expense of relationships, work or family responsibilities & their faith.
WHY DO PEOPLE GET ADDICTED?
No-one sets out to become an addict. Addicts are people who have usually experienced some significant pain, who have turned to a substance or behaviour for some momentary relief and, because that relief has felt so good, have kept turning to it. After a while, the effectiveness of the substance or behaviour diminishes so they have to drink more, watch more, shop more to get the same impact or relief. These strong desires combined with the very real impact the addiction has on the body’s neurotransmitters means it becomes desperately hard to stop. People usually keep their addiction hidden due to deep shame.
WHAT WON’T WORK?
Telling someone to stop is rarely effective. Pointing to Bible verses reminding them not to be addicted to much wine (Titus 2:3) has its place but won’t promote change. To help an addict, we need to (1) help them bring their dark behaviour into the light (2) address the root pain that first started the behaviour (3) show that turning to Jesus is better by far and (4) be willing to walk alongside them in a journey that is likely to include many relapses. Medical supervision will useful for all but essential for addictions to alcohol and drugs.
HOW CAN WE HELP AN ADDICT?
Show that church is designed to be a place where addicts change (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
Listen to them and encourage them to be open with key friends (James 5:16)
Dwell on the character of God and their true identity in Christ (Ephesians 1)
Explain the model of change set out in the Bible
(Ephesians 4:22–24) and identify one thing to put off and put on (work in baby steps eg spend a month replacing the belief “I am hopeless” with the truth “I have hope” by memorising and reinforcing one key verse)
Teach them about their call to holiness (1 Peter 1) and remind that God equips for this
Pray with them: for comfort, a desire to be different, strength and perseverance
Help them repent and believe their Father’s forgiveness when they fall (Luke 15:11–32)
Mutually discern practical strategies to fight and flee temptation (Ephesians 6)
Model perseverance in your own battle with sin – show them how to keep going!
Addictions, A Banquet in the Grave by Edward Welch (P&R publications)