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A Brother/Sister confided in me that they are addicted to… What should I do?

I find the admission of an addiction to another is a monumental moment for them.  They have probably thought about it a long time and maybe just got up enough courage to come to you.  So they are super sensitive and more vulnerable than maybe ever in their life.

So the first advice is to be calm and unruffled about it.  If you go ballistic with them you will most likely lose them.  They probably picked you because they figured you would handle it with care.  So this is your moment.

I find it helps people to feel they are not alone in this moment so as they are unfolding their struggle to you I am letting them know as they go that they are not alone in their struggle.  Addictions are not rare in the brotherhood!

Also they are filled with shame usually because they have been keeping this to themselves and haven’t had any help.  Avoid any shaming comments.  They don’t need your help to feel more shame.  This encounter is a cry for help.

So with all these “don’ts” the do is to listen and care.  Pray with them if they can handle it right there.  It will be an amazing prayer because they are so receptive.  I would usually do the speaking of the prayer with them; they likely won’t want to say the prayer.  But if they can,  that would be an even more amazing prayer.

Although you may have an agenda for such people I would rather ask them if they have any ideas of what they wish to do.  They may.  But they probably are clueless and full of hopelessness so I then have my little program that I will offer them as a first step.

Confidentiality is more important than ever.  I don’t tell my wife.  Any phone calls are not from home where she could hear.
The person immediately is on my prayer list and I will pray as hard for them as possible.

What do you tell a Bro/Sis who stays away from the meeting because they are unworthy?

Within my experience with addictions I can truthfully tell them that if the brethren who have similar struggles were to stay away there would be a very sparse group showing up at meeting.  This is what religion is all about,  the re-binding together failed lives to the saving Name of Jesus.  So whatever you can do to connect them to the grand Healer of all that ails our human race, the better!

Note:  there could be awkward circumstances where in their addiction others have been hurt that go to the same meeting.  So factor that in if that is the real reason they are staying away.  But being “unworthy” is why we all go to meeting.

What is an “accountability partner”?

Men particularly in the addictions I deal with are going it alone and very secret.  But now it is no longer a secret because they have shared it with you.  This is their cry for help.  So they may not know it but they are craving to have someone in their life who will sponsor them through and encourage them.  You are the accountability partner they chose.

So what does an accountability partner do?  The first I do is insist on honesty, both ways.  I lay it out before I will do any accountability partnering with them.  They have to promise to answer my questions about their successes and failures fully and truthfully.  I promise the same back, it’s only fair.  Most times I have them think for a day about if they can and want to fulfill that promise.  If they wish to then they call me back or visit again ready for that commitment.  I don’t think it’s worth even beginning without this basis.  For many addictions there has been a boatload of lies and cover-ups already that this is going to be hard for them.  I think by the time they come to you they pretty much are ready to tell the truth.  But in each conversation with them I will ask them to disclose what happened since the last conversation with their struggles.  They are to expect that.  This also gives them the knowledge that someone will ask them about the things as they are experiencing them.  They will know that someone cares as they are failing and they will know that it will be discussed.

There are programs for accountability partners and probably they all will work fine.  It’s the relationship and the honesty and the regularity of it that makes it work.  Whatever system you choose, the accountability will be that there is someone out there who wants to listen and share back.

Isn’t drinking (etc.) just a weakness in Character? Why can’t they just say ‘No’?

Most people understand alcoholism as a disease characterized by craving which sooner or later must be satisfied, in spite of the most dire consequences in the past. (see article for complete medical definition)  Spontaneous recovery is almost unknown. The most effective recovery is found in alcoholics anonymous.

Is there somewhere I can’t point this Bro/Sis to receive counseling etc.?

The ideal is within the brotherhood for counseling, of course.  Sometimes it’s a little too close in family ties and ecclesial history to want to share their addiction struggle.  And Christadelphians have few “experts” in addictions. Some may have concerns over sending someone to a group or person “expert” in the field of their addiction we do not know much about. But an analogy could be that if you see a house burning down and an apparent fire truck driving by that you might flag them down.  But I’d stay close to them.  In one case I went to the support group with the person just to be there to see how it went.  They appreciated it.

What role should our Ecclesia have in ‘sobering’ up someone? We don’t seem equipped for it.

Our most important role is to understand the disease concept of alcoholism and to be aware, by educating ourselves, of the recovery available so that we can direct the suffering individual to that recovery. We should also be aware of the tendency towards secrecy the presence of alcoholism breeds not only in the alcoholic individual but also in that person’s family. We can be good listeners, able to keep confidences, but also armed with a positive answer regarding a way to recovery for the alcoholic (AA), and a way for the family to learn to deal with this dangerous and heartbreaking illness (AlAnon). This will allow us to speak not only helpfully, but also honestly (absolutely essential), without fear and with hope. Counseling the alcoholic, laying down ‘the law’, is a necessary first approach for those concerned (family, the elders); but this alone rarely works. We must be able to direct them to recovery. Some have found a process called an intervention to be helpful. The most effective model for this is called the Johnson Model of intervention. Briefly, this is where the family, close friends including some from the ecclesia, perhaps some from the workplace gather together using the experience and direction of a professional interventionist. They plan and rehearse a meeting with the alcoholic concerned where specific instances of alcoholic behavior are presented to the alcoholic by each of them under the direction and leadership of the facilitator/interventionist. A bed will have been reserved in a treatment facility. The alcoholic is presented with the choice of going into treatment or suffering the consequences that each of the individuals present will have presented to him/her. In over 90% of the cases, the individual will end up entering treatment. While this in itself does not guarantee recovery, it does provide the individual with the most likely, safe environment for effective exposure to the recovery experience.

Is it really such a bad thing if someone gives up a serious addiction for one that is not as bad? (i.e. exchange a serious drug addiction for alcohol, cigarettes, etc.)

Smoking and alcoholism both have illness and death as known outcomes. Not to mention the destruction of relationships with those about them, directly or indirectly. While drunkenness is specifically mentioned in our Bibles, other forms of addiction which may lead us away from the most positive and intimate relationship with our God, must be honestly evaluated and considered in regards to the concept of idolatry.

As Brothers and Sisters,  how do we keep from building barriers between us and the person trying to recover?

You start out with a barrier because they will feel very flawed and of course think everyone is so much better than them.  So definitely you don’t want to add to this already existing barrier.  If everyone believes God is ready and willing to forgive and does,  things go better.  But usually people with addictions think God is fed up with them and because they are always repeating in this, that there is no forgiveness.  And sometimes this is preached among us as well that how can you pray for forgiveness when you likely are going to fail again?  So prayer is really really important.  To realize between you and the recovering one that God loves them and has not given up on them is the way to take out such barriers.  If there is no barrier to God’s forgiveness then how can we create barriers between us?

The fact is we are all addicted to sin.  It is a more level playing field than sometimes we think.  Their failures are just like our failures.  The day you lose your addiction to sin will be the day you stop living.  When we see ourselves in the same plight but just with different circumstances,  then the people we are working with will see that and not feel the barrier.  I am candid about my own failures with those recovering.  Taking down your own barriers that are deeply layered and protected will be a great blessing to yourself and the people who are similarly barricaded.

“This person has been through detox 3 times. It seems like they’re not trying hard enough. Why should we pay for them to go again”?

If one has an ecclesia or family that is willing and able to sponsor them to rehabilitation treatment, they are fortunate and blessed. However, it is not necessary to go through a formal treatment program to get sober. Most people in AA, it is felt, did not get there through a treatment program. They are sober just the same. The decision to sponsor another or more trips through rehab must be based on a current assessment of the individual’s situation. Has he/she seemed and acted as one really desiring recovery, attending meetings frequently and demonstrating a change in behavior/attitude reflecting a deeper spiritual way of being?  If so, and if there is a strong desire to regain permanent sobriety, and if resources are available, then a repeat treatment program might help. We must however avoid enabling alcoholic behavior. At some point, the alcoholic must become willing to accept full responsibility for his/her alcoholism and recovery from it. He/she must be willing to go to any lengths to recover; job or no job, relationship or no relationship, family or no family. His/her recovery must become the first priority in his/her life. Nothing else is possible without it.

Should I loan them any money?

A small amount of money to provide for bare living essentials for a short time is all that is recommended for the recovering individual. The truly recovering person will certainly want to pay his/her own way as soon as possible. Any access to large amounts of monetary gifts should be avoided.

Suggested Readings
"I can’t let Sister J. drive my kids to ecclesial functions anymore. We never know when she’s going to be under the influence.” “Brother and Sister X are getting divorced. She can’t deal any longer with his behavior while drinking. He continues to drink and becomes abusive to her and the kids when he does.”
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