A Year of Studying Addictions: Concluding Thoughts

RecoveryChurchI’ve spent far more than just this year studying addictions and recovery ministry. As a counselor focusing specifically on providing Biblical counsel to those struggling with substance abuse, I’ve spent a lot of time with addicts and thinking strategically about how best to help them. This year’s study project was part of a larger goal to write my first counseling book. It was a great experience, but the benefits of the study went well beyond the book. In particular, here are just a few of the important things clarified and cemented from my studies this year:

  1. Addiction is a worship problem – I’ve believed this for many years, but it was certainly further confirmed this year. Both Biblical and non-religious sources stated this truth. Ed Welch, Kent Dunnignton, Mark Shaw, and Gerald May all made this case from a religious standpoint. Addiction is idolatry, it is an effort to find in substances what only God can provide. It is an effort to find purpose, peace, pleasure, comfort, and confidence in alcohol or drugs. Non-religious sources have seen this worship component too. So, AA for many years phrased Step 7 as “on our knees humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.” There was a component of bowing down to God and admitting our dependence upon Him. Other sources too speak of “worshiping the bottle” and of the value of spirituality for recovery (see┬áThe Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems”). Addiction is deeply related to worship and that was further confirmed for me this year.
  2. The Categories of Disease and Choice are too Simplistic – The popular research literature on addiction states that causation is either disease or choice. That is to say that either addiction is the result of your brain or a result of your moral deficiencies. You are either sick and can’t help your addiction, or you’re addicted because you choose to indulge in drugs again and again. The reality, however, is that these options don’t reflect the lived experience of the addict, nor do they coalesce with the Scriptural worldview. It’s better, I believe, to think of addiction in the language of “voluntary slavery” (via Ed Welch) or “habit” (via Kent Dunnington). These concepts blend the best of both categories without surrendering the Biblical worldview. They allow us to admit that there is both an element of voluntarism, and yet an aspect of slavery and bondage that make us incapable of just quitting.
  3. Addiction Counseling Should be a Team Effort – Working with addicts is too complex and complicated for just one person to handle. I cannot, on my own, see an addict through the whole process of recovery. Furthermore, because helping addicts requires 24 hour availability, if I am the sole counselor I will eventually burn out. I need help, support, and substitute counselors. Having a team means more people to help carry the load, and opportunity for each counselor to have a break, to take a day off, and for others to be “on call.” We have seen the benefit of this in our Cornerstone Counseling ministry as we utilize support groups, individual counseling, and even Small Group ministry to help guys and gals move forward.
  4. The Church as a Whole can Help – I have become further convinced that the church can become a Recovery Culture context for helping addicts find true and lasting transformation. The church is full of the resources, people, and power that are needed to achieve transformation. The keys ingredients of social support, worship, and purpose are common features of the church. We can and should help. My book argues this and provides an overall philosophy of ministry for such engagement.

It’s been an exciting year in research. I’ve read tons of works on a wide array of related topics. I learned a lot about practical exercises and helps to prevention of relapse. I think there are a number of new things I will be working to adapt for introduction into our recovery ministry.

This will hardly be the last time that I dig into the subject. I can foresee years worth of continued study and research, but this focused year of investigation was very helpful and insightful. I learned a lot and was able to refine some of my own thoughts more carefully, resulting in a more nuanced approach to counseling and care of addicts. I look forward to continuing this study in the future and benefiting from it for years to come.

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