Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. —Luke 6:37
Watching a loved one struggle with addiction is difficult enough, but it’s even harder when it impacts relationships that share the Christian faith. Christians who develop substance abuse disorders are statistically less likely to seek help for a variety of reasons, and much of it has to do with how their friends and loved ones react to their situation. The way in which we respond to the news of a loved one’s addiction can do as much harm as it can good. With this in mind, there are certain things you should never say to a Christian loved one who is struggling with addiction— and things you should say instead.
What Not to Say to Christians Struggling with Addiction
“You can’t be an addict— addiction is a sin!”
This loaded statement has existed for as long as addiction has been an issue at the forefront of American culture. Not everyone views addiction as a sin, but even if you do, you shouldn’t belittle your loved one for struggling with it. Instead of condemning your loved one for having fallen, you should focus on how to help them get back up.
“I can’t believe you let the Devil tempt you!”
Meeting your loved one’s admission with denial and conviction will do nothing to help either of you. Most addicts are fully aware of the risks that come with substance abuse. In fact, your loved one may have even been aware of those risks before the addiction even started. With this in mind, you should acknowledge that whatever caused the onset of your loved one’s substance abuse most likely stemmed from a place of pain— whether physical, psychological or emotional.
“You could quit if your faith in God was strong enough.”
When Christians fall into patterns of substance abuse and addictive behaviors, it has very little to do with their faith. The vast majority of people who struggle with substance abuse disorders turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with other difficult goings-on in their lives. So, calling your loved one’s devotion to God into question when (s)he confides in you about struggling with addiction is going to do more harm than good.
“Why don’t you just get help?”
This question may seem honest and straightforward, but the underlying tone of accusation is almost never well-received. Many people with substance abuse disorders don’t seek professional help right away for a variety of reasons— some of which are out of their control. For example, your loved one may not have gotten help yet because of work, financial difficulties, insurance coverage complications, or a lack of access to preferred treatment options. It’s also possible that your loved one is just too embarrassed to ask for help. In any case, you should be making an effort to understand the situation as a whole instead of reprimanding your loved one for a perceived failure to act.
“Once you’ve become an addict, you’ll always be an addict. You’ll never change.”
This statement is not only untrue, but it’s also unfair. Anyone can change— it’s a significant part of the human experience. It is possible for people struggling with substance abuse disorders to get past addiction and move forward in life. Telling your addicted loved one anything different is thoughtless, unkind, unhelpful, and insulting.
“Even if you try to quit now, it’s only a matter of time before you relapse.”
Pessimism is never welcome in addiction recovery. By telling your loved one that (s)he is bound to relapse at some point, you’re being unsupportive and discouraging. If anything, saying this to a loved one trying to get sober is more likely to hinder the addiction recovery process than anything else.
“You failed your friends, your family, and God. I am so ashamed of you.”
This statement is perhaps the worst thing you can say to someone who is struggling with addiction. Chances are, your loved one is already fighting feelings of low self-worth. Telling your loved one that (s)he has failed others, especially God, will only strengthen the addiction because you’ve given your loved one a new thing to cope with— shame.
What You Should Say Instead
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
Handling the news of a loved one’s addiction isn’t easy, but it’s important to keep your composure and, above all else, show support. The best way you can do this is to communicate with your loved one. Remind your loved one (and yourself) what addiction is, what it means, how it affects faith, and what can be done about it. The following are some examples of things you can say instead of the ones listed above.
“Addiction is a disease, and disease is not a sin.”
Addiction has been medically recognized as a disease because, like many other diseases, it triggers changes in brain chemistry and bodily function. So, since addiction is a disease— one that can affect anyone, regardless of race, wealth, intelligence, social standing, or faith— calling it a sin is unrealistic. After all, being sick is not a sin.
“Addiction can happen to anyone.”
The stereotypes that surround addiction often paint addicts as morally-unhinged. However, most people who struggle with substance abuse disorders are honest, functioning adults who just made poor decisions to cope with other issues. Anyone can be an addict— the only thing that all addicts really have in common is addiction itself.
“God will support you, and so will I.”
The most important thing to remember about addiction is that it is a disease of the mind and body. By developing a substance abuse disorder, your loved one has become sick. God does not punish the sick; He heals them. And if God can forgive, so can you.
“Professional treatments can help you. We can look together.”
The decision to get professional help may be your loved one’s decision to make, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help. One of the best ways to show support during addiction recovery is to research and discuss treatment options with your loved one. By taking the time to talk about it, you can help your loved one get prepared— financially, emotionally, or otherwise.
“Getting sober will be hard, but you can do it. I’m here for you.”
Having support is a must for anyone in addiction recovery. With a stable support system of friends and family, people are significantly more likely to get sober successfully. If you’re serious about wanting your loved one to get sober, make it clear that you are here to help in any way you can. This encouragement means more to your loved one than you might think.
“We’ll get to the root of your addiction together.”
There are driving forces behind your loved one’s addiction that you aren’t aware of. It’s also entirely possible that your loved one might not even know what they are. In any case, a significant part of addiction treatment is to determine what feeds the addiction. Once your loved one discovers the root of the addiction, (s)he’ll be better equipped to cope with it in healthier, substance-free ways. Make it clear that you want to help your loved one not only uncover the root of the addiction, but also enforce the new coping methods introduced through treatment.
“You won’t be addicted forever.”
This may be a simple notion, but it’s one that you need to remind your loved one of. Addiction is complicated and filled with torment, but it is also temporary if you and your loved one allow it to be. Remember, this too shall pass.
“Even if you do relapse, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed.”
Relapse is a common part of addiction recovery. Between 40% and 60% of people in recovery experience relapse at least once. If your loved one never relapses during treatment, continue to offer support and encouragement. If your loved one does relapse during treatment, remind him/her that this isn’t a failure, but rather an experience to learn from. Many people who relapse during addiction recovery go on to live long, sober lives.
“I love you and support you, and so does God.”
This is the best thing you can say to a Christian struggling to get sober. By reminding your loved one that (s)he hasn’t fallen out of anyone’s good graces, you’re helping rebuild your loved one’s sense of self-worth and motivation to get well.
Road to Freedom Can Help Christians with Substance Abuse Disorders
If your loved one is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, Road to Freedom is here to help. Our treatment plans are unique to all our patients, giving them access to the treatments and support they need for the best possible chance at recovery. For more information about our faith-based programs and medically-supervised services, please call us at 844-402-3605. All calls are confidential.