Carl Jung (1865 – 1961) worked with a gentleman by the name of Rowland H. This gentleman was a gifted affluent young businessman. He suffered from Alcoholism and sought out any possible cure for his problem. Rowland’s attempt to address his drinking problem failed. Traveling to Switzerland, Rowland sought out Carl Jung. In their conversations, Rowland wanted insights and help. Jung, blunt, informed his patient there was no further point in seeking medical advice. Upon asking for any other course of action, Jung provided one single hope: That his patient experience a genuine spiritual awakening and a true transformation.
Brief Introduction of Substance use and Diagnosis
Today, it is estimated that there are about 21.5 million people within the United States ages 12 years and older that suffer some form of substance use disorder. Based on the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Health a substance use disorder is classified as either:
There are eleven criteria a licensed counselor utilizes to determine whether or not a person exhibits presenting symptoms of substance use disorder:
- Taking larger amounts and for longer than intended
- Having a desire to cut down and quit, yet unable to
- Spending time seeking, obtaining, using, and recovering from the substance
- Strong desire, or craving, to use the substance
- Repeatedly unable to carry out major obligations at work, school, or home due to substance use
- Stopping or reducing important social, occupational, and/or recreational activities due to substance use
- Continued use despite persistent or recurring social or interpersonal problems caused or made worse by substance use
- Recurrent use of substances in physically hazardous situations
- Consistent use of opioids despite acknowledgment of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological difficulties from using opioids
- *Tolerance as defined by either a need for markedly increased amounts to achieve intoxication or desired effect or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.
- *Withdrawal manifesting as either characteristic syndrome or the substance is used to avoid withdrawal.
(Does not apply when used appropriately under medical supervision when utilizing an opiate substitution treatment approach).
A mild substance use disorder is established when 2-3 of these criteria are met within a 12-month period. Moderate substance use is when 4-5 criteria are met. And, a severe substance use disorder is determined when 6 or more of these criteria are met.
Does this place significant barriers to assist patients in coming to Christ and embracing a Christian worldview and belief system as part of their recovery? The answer is no. The only barriers that may exist are the ones an individual places on their own recovery process and journey.
There are two important factors we may want to consider:
First: Not everyone we encounter may be amenable to hear the gospel message.
Second: We meet people where they are, not where we want them to be; or, where we presume they need to be.
Encountering people with a substance use history, and issue, we also do well to understand that their drinking or using – are indicative of underlying issues. One’s substance use is merely a symptom of a greater problem. One of the main contributors to substance use disorder are underlying mental health and emotional issues that may exacerbates one’s problematic use. In fact, in 2014, 1 in 5 adults, age 18 and older, had mental health issues. This amounts to approximately 18.1 percent, or 43.6 million adults had any mental illness (AMI) in the past year, and 4.1 percent (9.8 million adults) had serious mental illness (SMI).
From the Behavioral Health Trends in the United States survey, those who suffer from mental health and substance use disorder are:
About 3.3 percent of all adults in 2014 had both AMI and an SUD in the past year, and 1.0 percent had both SMI and an SUD. An estimated 340,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2014 (1.4 percent of adolescents) had an SUD and an MDE in the past year. The estimate in 2014 for the co-occurrence of an MDE and an SUD in the past year among adolescents was similar to those in most years between 2006 and 2013.
The importance is that many times, a person is either:
- A person may be suffering from a mental health or emotional issue that is exacerbating their substance use;
- A person has a substance use problem that is exacerbating underlying mental health and/or emotional issues.
These individuals may also have poly substance use disorders. They typically have three substances they are dependent upon. Another factor is many people have what is referred to as cross addiction and maladaptive behaviors. These people may engage in abstinence from one specific substance, only to develop and engage in the active use of other substances or maladaptive behaviors.
While it is admirable and courageous to reach people suffering from substance use disorder: We, as Christians, want to keep in mind that what people are suffering from is a medically diagnosed condition and disease of brain reward. Where it is chronic, progressive, and fatal if not arrested with appropriate intervention.
Addressing Substance use Disorder from a Christian and Biblical Perspective
As Christians, we do want to influence and bring people to the saving message of Jesus Christ. Where we fail is our lack of understanding the nature of substance use disorder, the recent advancements in neurobiology and brain chemistry of the medical field, and how a person suffering from addiction is not merely suffering from a moral, criminal, or social problem. An individual is suffering from all of these.
One of the concepts I bring into group therapy, and individual counseling, sessions is this:
- There are five major domains of an individual that is negatively impacted by substance use
- Of these domains, the most significant one to anchor recovery on is the steps toward physical and nutritional well-being
- Of these, the one that keeps us stable and functioning is our spiritual well being
- The five major domains are:
- Emotional and Mental Well-being
- Relational Well-being
- Physical and Nutritional Well-being
- Financial Well-being
- Spiritual Well-being
These five domains are well substantiated within scripture and the Biblical texts. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were cautioned and forbidden to eat certain foods. Most religions (from ancient and primitive times to our postmodern world) have certain dietary restrictions. Almost all religions have a practice of fasting as part of spiritual worship and piety.
We also become aware of the nature of how our present thoughts evoke engagement in certain behaviors.
In the early text of Genesis, we read of the conversation that ensues between God and Cain. The context is regarding the rejection of Cain’s sacrifice and the acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice. Most of us (Christian or not) are familiar with the story of Cain and Abel. What we may have missed is this specific conversation:
But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
The murdering of Abel, was the product of Cain’s decision. His decision (or choice) was tied into the emotional and mental distress of his sacrifice being rejected. What is interesting to note here is that God was not actually upset with Cain. What we read here is some wise counsel. Validation of the power of our own emotional and mental state of mind. In this story, we see the process of Cain’s thoughts unfold.
First, the external factor: Abel’s sacrifice is approved. Cain’s is rejection. Second, the rejection from God seemed to further elicit resentment and bitterness toward Abel, his brother. Third, the emotional and mental distress Cain experienced had a physiological manifestation: Countenance fallen because he appeared wroth, or kindled with anger. The kindling of his anger become a powerful motivator for Cain as he rose up against is brother and killed him. Fourth, we find the interesting part of the conversation – God’s message to Cain.
God provided an observational question to Cain. If you do well, you will be accepted. It was not Cain, that God had rejected, it was the sacrifice Cain had brought that was unacceptable. However, Cain personalized this (a form of irrational and false belief). Anger is a secondary emotion. Kept unchecked, it leads to hostility and aggression. God’s admonishment was for Cain to understand the power of either learning to manage and regulate his emotions; or, his emotions were going to become his master and he may fall into sin. Meaning, to go wrong, to miss the mark.
We also note that God never condemned Cain for feeling angry, or even how it appeared to manifest. His own emotions were not called sin. How Cain may choose will either lift him from being so angry or his anger will consume him and he will be a slave to the emotions. Tragically, we see that Cain’s decision was passionately driven from his intense emotions.
Working with people, many of them are at the mercy of their own emotional distress. Substance use tends to allow the person to feel numb from their own emotions. They are also experiencing some physical distress as well – typically during acute withdrawal from the substances.
What does this have to do with the Christian and Biblical view on substance use? It has everything to do with it:
Proverbs 31 is most notable for the poetic and literary style of the virtuous woman. However, prior to this, we read the first view verses and find something interesting:
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of the afflicted. Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress. Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. (Proverbs 31: 4-7, ESV).
Lemuel’s mother is instructing her son to give wine and strong drink to those who are suffering, broken, lost, and distress in order for them to no longer remember their own misery.
No, this writer does not support this passage to substantiate the reason we want to give to those who are perishing. It is to help us understand the complex depth and pervasiveness substance use disorder has on an individual’s life. For many of them, the only thing that appears to be working in their lives to alleviate their present suffering is alcohol and or drugs.
We address substance use, and all other behaviors, the same way: Address the underlying and core issues that motivate people to engage in such behaviors. Christ, himself, even knew this very concept.
The first idea we see is Christ’s teaching about coming to the altar:
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be and be reconciled to them. (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).
Prior to this, we also read the previous verses:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-23, NIV).
And, we see Christ reiterate this when it came to adultery:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5: 27-30).
These refer to the very thoughts that motivate our own feelings and emotions. Our emotions provide the motivation for how our body responds, and promotes our ability to make the choices we make. We learn to capture our own emotions, by not denying their existence and reality; we embrace our emotions as a natural part of who we are as individuals.
It is not the actual behavior that is sinful, it is merely the actions we have decided to take as it relates to how we are presently feeling inside. Where our thoughts and emotions reside.
We do not have the power to change someone’s behavior by merely asking them to stop doing something. Regardless of the reward.
Here is an example, one which I recently did in a group therapy session. Picture a pink flamingo. Now, for the next minute, do everything you are able to do to not think about a pink flamingo.
How did you do? Where you able to not think of a pink flamingo? Probably not. The reason for this is because the moment we attempt to resist our thoughts, they persist and intensify.
The same thing occurs when we inadvertently tell someone with a problem with Alcohol and Drugs to stop thinking about drinking or using. They can’t go 30 seconds without thinking of it. These persist because of the intense cravings. Eventually, they cave into those intense emotions and thoughts and satisfy the craving by drinking and using. This does not make them sinful, criminal, or bad individuals who are morally weak. It means, they are suffering and seeking immediate relief from that suffering.
This is where we, as Christians, truly miss the mark and cause more harm than good. We by into the false ideology of the following:
- People who are suffering from substance use disorder, need to be saved and come to accept Christ as the only remedy for their suffering
- AA and modern recovery industry keeps people into believing the lie that they are sick and unable to claim victory over their addictions
- Recovery industry does not bring the salvation message of Jesus Christ and therefore lead many people to idol worship and false teachings
- People who are addicted are morally flawed and weak and need to stop their behavior
These half-truth’s, and myth’s, subvert the reality of hope people have toward a healthy and vibrant recovery program. Claiming victory over substance use is not just about getting saved and being born again. It is not about false teachings or ideologies. It is about meeting people where they presently are and being present with them while they are coping with the issues that plague them. Recovery is not about the cessation of alcohol, drugs, or other maladaptive behaviors. Recovery is a literal transformation of a person from an active addictive lifestyle to an active sober lifestyle where there is change in who they are, what they believe and value as individuals, and how they are to be of service toward others.
As Christians, we may want to take a different approach in working with people who are struggling with substance use (and underlying mental health issues) within their own lives. We do this by:
- Meeting them where they presently are with empathy and compassion
- Providing necessary support and referrals to seek professional help and assistance
- Remember that recovery is a personal journey and not up to our discretion in directing how a person may approach their own journey through recovery
- Understanding and meeting their present needs
- Allowing community recovery support meetings to occur within the Church
- Have individuals within the profession to speak with your congregation about substance use disorder and, mental health issues
- Help influence community support for additional treatment facilities to come in and work with specific marginalized and vulnerable population of people suffering chronic addiction
- Develop awareness of the needs of those around your community and be proactive instead of judgmental and turned away from their suffering
And most importantly, It is God’s sovereign will and desire to prick their hearts to awareness and spiritual awakening of their own situation and drawing them to him. We merely provide the necessary means and service needed when a person is ready to explore a relationship with Jesus Christ.
This article is for Educational purposes and does not substitute a diagnosis of substance use disorder or mental health related issues. If you are struggling with substance use issues, or, mental health related issues, please seek out professional help and intervention. The thoughts and opinions are of the writer and do not reflect any specific religious faith or denomination.
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