With an estimated 19.7 million Americans having a substance use disorder (SUD), it is very likely that your church needs to minister to someone affected by an SUD this Sunday. Are you ready?
Being ready means having the facts. Here are five myths every church needs to be aware of when preparing to minister to those with SUDs.
MYTH: Addiction is a problem outside the church.
Wild and profligate living is not the only path to an SUD. The statistics suggest that SUDs can affect anyone from any background or walk of life. Ministering to those with SUDs may mean ministering to our closest friends, relatives, and even our pastors.
MYTH: If I am not a recovering alcoholic or addict, I cannot help.
Those of us in the recovery community are partially to blame for the popularity of this myth. We like to repeat the maxim that only an alcoholic can help an alcoholic. But empathy and a willingness to help are more important than shared experience. That is why doctors, teachers, employers, parents, friends, and the church can help.
MYTH: Addicts are in denial.
Another myth is that people with SUDs need to be confronted to break through their denial. In truth, many individuals want help. Even those who are not immediately ready to accept treatment often have both reasons to quit and reasons to continue to use. Be ready to listen without judgment to both sets of reasons. Judgment-free listening actually helps people accept the need for help more quickly than confrontation.
MYTH: Abstinence is the only goal.
Even if a person is not ready to give up substances entirely, they may be ready to cut back. Studies suggest that many of those who are willing to reduce their use now will eventually choose total abstinence. We shouldn’t dismiss small steps in the right direction. So do not assume that the next step for someone with an SUD must be complete abstinence. Instead, encourage any behavior that reduces the harm created by SUDs.
MYTH: Assume you don’t have a problem.
Drinking runs along a continuum from “low risk” to “high risk.” Many individuals drink far beyond what is considered healthy by the medical community and may be at risk for various health and wellness issues. To learn more about what the medical profession considers safe drinking and for tips on how to cut back or quit, see this publication: niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Rethinking_Drinking.pdf
Your church can help those with SUDs. All they need to do is have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8). This means having the humility to admit that anyone in your congregation could have an SUD. It means being empathetic and willing to help. It means listening and avoiding confrontation. It means encouraging even small steps toward sobriety. Finally, it means being willing to consider if one’s own use has become a problem.
Jason Jonker is the founder of Lutheran Recovery Ministries’ Recovery Retreat. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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