Discovering that your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol can be devastating for many of us. After all, we raised our children to do the right thing, make the right choices, and to say no to drugs and alcohol. Right? Losing your child, and an addiction is losing the person you knew and loved before, is a painful thing for any parent. It can be easy to blame yourself, to react with anger, or to practice tough love and simply cast your child out of your home and your life. As a Christian, there are many better ways to handle your addicted child. Whether they’re still very young or already an adult, you are in a unique position to guide your child back to health and to God’s light.
While your path and your approach to your child should heavily depend on what they want and are willing to do, it’s important to work to guide your loved one. At the same time, you have to navigate the emotional manipulation, feelings of guilt, and stigma that frequently come hand in hand with being a parent to an addict. Understanding how addiction works, getting support from your community, and trusting in God will help you on your path.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8
You cannot do anything alone. God has given you the resources you need including the spiritual and emotional support of your congregation and your pastor to lean on. You can seek out Christian-based support from your peers in groups like Al-Anon. And, you can ask your pastor for help, advice, and to pray for you in this difficult time. It’s understandable that you might want to hide your child’s illness away to avoid potential social stigma and shame, but addiction is an illness. You wouldn’t hide your child’s cancer or depression, you would bring it to the congregation and ask for help, for support, and for uplifting advice. It’s important to do so when you are faced with your child’s addiction, because the setting is ultimately the same. You and yours are battling against the weakness of the flesh and only together can we come together and prevail.
It may be a good idea to discuss your needs and your problems with your pastor in private. He or she may offer advice, direct you to organizations set up to help, and may help you decide when and how to break the news to the congregation to ask for help.
“A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:” – Provers 1:5
Addiction is a complex mental disorder, affecting over 18.5 million people in the United States. Yet, most of us know shockingly little about it. 1 in 5 of us knows someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, but we don’t know what causes addiction, how to treat it, or how it works. Taking time to learn about addiction and its causes will help you to better understand your child and their choices. It may also help you to adopt the attitude and take the course of action that will eventually lead to their recovery. Their addiction is not their choice. It is not a mental weakness. It’s also not your fault. Addiction is a complex mental health disorder stemming from numerous factors, and it is one you can treat.
Groups like Al-Anon, Alateen, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can provide wonderful resources for learning. You might also want to check books like Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, and It’s Not Okay to Be a Cannibal: How to Keep Addiction from Eating Your Family Alive. Most congregations can offer considerable advice and aid on this subject as well.
“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” _ Romans 7:19-20
It’s important to recognize that your child is not themselves. Drugs and alcohol change the brain, change how people act, and change their motivations. A person who is addicted only cares about drugs and alcohol. The reward circuit in their brain, designed to motivate them to engage with friends and family, to participate in their community, and to feed their mind and body, has been warped away from health and God and towards a substance. This means that this person will work to get more of that substance by lying, stealing, and giving you partial truths.
It’s easy to get caught up in a relationship of enabling or codependency. Both can feel like you are helping your loved one but eventually result in you giving your child money, substances, or opportunities to continue using. Enabling relationships are complex and you might feel guilty for not helping your child out, not driving them to a party, not paying their rent, not lying to school for them, but ultimately these behaviors harm rather than help your child. Avoiding temptation, refusing to lie for your child, and refusing to support their substance abuse is important if you are to get them help.
At the same time, it’s important to continue to show love and affection. Your child is still your child and you are the person most likely to be able to reach them and get them into help.
“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4:10-11
It is crucial to make use of the many resources God has made available to us. That means seeking out medical help and professional treatment. In some cases, you may have to rely on an intervention to motivate your child into therapy. In others, you are responsible for their mental and physical health and will be able to deliver your (minor) child into care.
Addiction treatment involves using therapy to help people overcome addiction by recognizing the root causes and overcoming them. Treatment involves understanding the self, surrendering to God, and turning towards life choices that add value and meaning.
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” – 1 John 5:14-15
God has a plan for all of us. Losing your child to addiction can be the worst thing that ever happened to you. It can be traumatic. It can feel as though you are alone. But God is here and He will help. He has given you all of the resources you need to seek help, to move on, and to bring your child back to HIs light. When you need help, talk to Him, either directly or through His congregations. You are not alone.