I have a friend whose adult niece had become quite promiscuous. She couldn’t NOT have sex with the guys she dated. Whether sleeping around had become a remedy for loneliness, revenge for the husband who had left her, or just a pattern she had developed, she felt she couldn’t alter her behavior.
My friend, who loves peanut M&M’s, always had a stash in her purse and on her kitchen counter. In fact, it had been her practice for several years to indulge in this taste treat every single day. She felt they were something she simply couldn’t resist.
So she made a pact with her niece. “If you won’t have sex for three months I won’t eat an M&M.” Granted, one of these addictions is far riskier and more damaging than the other but each of these women struggled to resist what they knew was not good for them.
“If you won’t have sex for three months I won’t eat an M&M.”
Such is the nature of addiction. Paul described it perfectly in Romans 7:19. “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” What a frustrating and vicious cycle to be repeatedly compelled by something which seems beyond our control.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine released a public policy statement with its definition of addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” That’s all too complicated for me to understand completely but I do know that it involves increased dopamine (aka the “feel good hormone”) activity in the reward circuits of the brain.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.”
Addiction is not a disease like diabetes or cancer but it is a disease nonetheless. And it is a disease which can kill. We have lost some beloved family members to the disease of addiction. In fact, I know very few families who have not been touched by the effects of addiction in some form: drugs, alcohol, nicotine, pornography, gambling, shopping, eating and sex to name a few.
So what can WE do to help (besides giving up our M&M’s)?
There are highly trained and skilled professionals who know a lot about how to help someone who is an addict. My husband, the psychiatrist, and his staff of therapists would be among that group.
I, on the other hand, am just a regular lay person like many of you with limited knowledge or understanding of this terrible disease. So what can WE do to help (besides giving up our M&M’s)?
There are three things I believe we can give to addicts and their families:
- GIVE LESS JUDGEMENT. Matthew 7: 1-5 is a familiar passage to most of us. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We usually have a very limited awareness of what goes on in the heart and mind of another person. Their pain. Their history. Their hurts. And until we can know all (which of course we can’t) I believe we would be better advised to tend to our own shortcomings rather than highlighting the faults of another.
- GIVE HOPE. Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’.”
My husband’s father had been an alcoholic his entire adult life. Estranged from the family since David was two, his dad’s minimal contact with him had usually ended in disappointment and heartbreak. Shortly after David and I married, we invited his father to visit us. During that visit he attended church with us and at the close of the service David asked his dad if he would like him to pray with him. His dad’s response was “Yes, Son, I’d like to pray and give my heart to God, but you and I both know I’ll never be able to do anything about the alcohol.”
With David’s encouragement, the two of them walked the isle of the church together. The pastor of the church met them at the altar and there the three of them prayed and sincerely asked God to help his dad with his addiction. The next three years before his sudden death, David’s dad lived absolutely sober. It was a miracle.
While every addict’s story doesn’t have as good of an ending, there is HOPE for everyone. With therapeutic counseling, support groups, behavior modification, prayer and sometimes medication, an addict’s story can change. I’ve seen it happen multiple times.
- GIVE SUPPORT. Galations 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
This scripture speaks more to me of the addict’s family rather than the addict himself. Often an addict is so confused and his thinking so distorted that he is completely out of touch with the amount of pain and suffering his behavior is causing those he loves.
Giving support to a family member who is hurting or who feels stigmatized by the actions of the addict may be the support they need to get through an especially difficult time.
Sometimes parents or spouses of addicts have to use tough love either to protect themselves and other family members or to cause the addict to face the consequences of his own behavior. It seems highly unfair to criticize those choices if we have never had to make them ourselves.
I wish this were a topic I did not feel the need to write about but with the influence of modern media, the stress of our fast paced culture and the easy availability of something which provides a temporary escape, I do not see the problem of addiction subsiding anytime soon.
My prayer is that we who are believers will remain humble, helpful and hesitant to point a finger at the one who is struggling with an addiction. And to the addict who may be reading these words, I leave you with a passage from I Samuel 12:23:
“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”