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The Do’s and Don’ts for Dealing with a Substance Abuser


A few weeks back I sat in a coffee shop with a bright young businessman, late 30’s, college educated and good looking. He had everything going for him, but two things; he was spiritually lost and an alcoholic, but he just wouldn’t admit either was true! And the reality is, if you don’t believe you have a problem, you’ll not look for a solution!

Sooner or later, your family will be impacted by drug or alcohol abuse. Either that, or one of the people you mentor will have this problem, like my guy. To simplify the conversation, I’ll concentrate on alcohol abuse, but many of the ways to address the issue applies to drug abuse as well.

The Boy Scouts have a motto, Be Prepared. So the purpose of this blog is to equip you to do emotional, spiritual and relational triage. These are the things you ought to do and should not do when you find out a person you care for has a problem.

I don’t have a problem!

The first challenge in dealing with a person who is abusing alcohol is convincing them they have a problem! It’s stunning how many people who drink regularly and heavily enough that everyone else knows that they have a problem – but they don’t! And they’ll drive you crazy trying to argue with them. So here are the official criteria from The American Psychiatric Association. It’s what they call DSM-IV Criteria for Evaluating Substance Abuse;

You have a substance abuse problem if;

Binge Drinking – You have 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days. Heavy Drinking – You binge drink on at least five days in the last 30 days. Drive under the Influence – You drive a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater (in Michigan) Functional Criteria – you fail to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home.

Literally, slide these criteria in front of your alcoholic friend and ask if any of these are true in their life.

What you should do.

  1. 1. Get professional help from a pastor or Christian counselor for yourself before you confront someone abusing alcohol. This problem isn’t for amateurs. A good counselor will know the resources and programs in your area that will prepare you to spiritually and thoughtfully deal with an alcoholic.

  2. 2. Encourage the person to get professional help and join a support group. Very few alcoholics will stop drinking on their own. They will very likely need to detox and then will need the support of men and women who’ve found victory over their addiction.  Celebrate Recovery has a great reputation for dealing with all kinds of addictions from a Christian perspective. Go to their website, to find a program near you. Also, many larger churches offer good Twelve Step Programs, led by mature Christians.

  3. 3. Confront them firmly, confidently and gently. This may be the hardest thing to do.  If a family member has a history of alcohol abuse, you’re probably fed up with it and angry.  However, before meeting with them, pray for wisdom and a spirit of love. If they don’t take positive action after meeting with you, ask another close family member or one of their best friends to meet with you.

If all that fails, you may need to do an Intervention. An intervention is when a group, usually 6-12 people surprise an alcoholic and ask the abuser to leave for treatment immediately (which has been prearranged). I’ve been involved in a half dozen interventions. It requires a few hours of training by a professional to avoid a blow up and to be effective. Please, do not try to do an intervention on your own!

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Gal.6:1

  1. 4. Love the abuser, but do not let them manipulate you. You may need counseling yourself and/or attend Al-Anon meetings in your area. If you’ve lived with an alcoholic for a long time, you’ve learned to enable them or make excuses for them. You’ve become co-dependent. You will need help to change your behavior.

What not to to do

  1. Don’t allow the abusers behaviors control your life.

  2. Don’t get defensive and angry when they reject your suggestions.

  3. Don’t put shame or guilt on the abuser.

  4. Don’t take responsibility for their recovery.

“Their recovery is their recovery.”  If they won’t take steps on their own for their recovery, you can’t badger them into it.  They have to believe they have a problem and take the steps needed for their recovery. If they won’t, you need to do whatever you need to do, to protect yourself and your family. Be prayerful and proactive!

Finally, the Bible does not say it’s a sin to have a drink.  However, being a drunk is.

1 Corinthians 6:9b-10 “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor the idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

If the alcoholic in your life claims to be a Christian, then you have an obligation to warn them with this and other verses of scripture.  However, if they are not a Christian or a very weak Christian, my advice is not to beat them over the head with it.  “Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

Following Jesus in Real Life

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