The Church as a Major Resource in Helping People Recover from Addictions

by: Norman Wetterau, M.D. - FMHF President

The following are notes for a presentation by Dr. Norman Wetterau to be given at a breakout session at General Conference 2019.

Addiction, binge drinking, and use of harmful illegal drugs are major causes of medical, emotional, social and spiritual morbidity. The life expectancy in the United States has been decreasing, mainly due to drug related problems. Over 60,000 die each year from drug overdose, but even more people die each year from alcohol. In spite of this, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and now marijuana are widely advertised and promoted. As people suffer from addictions, our society celebrates what is addicting them. The Church can provide an alternative to this narrative.

 This workshop will briefly show how addiction is a brain disease and that those addicted will continue to use even though the use is causing their life to fall apart. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has defined addiction as a physical, mental, social, and spiritual disease and recommends that treatment address all four aspects. This workshop will briefly address how medical personnel might address the physical and mental, including the use of medications to treat opioid addition.

 Most of the session will address how the church can help people socially and spiritually in recovery. Many treatment facilities actually encourage people to go to church for those reasons. Part of recovery is finding an alcohol and drug free support system.  The church can be part of that. Apart from the worship serves, most churches have alcohol and drug free socials and events.

If the social recovery only meant hanging out with people who do not drink or smoke pot, that would be positive, but the church community is more than that. It is a community of caring people, and those with addictions are invited to be cared for and then to help love and care for others. AA is like this and many churches have AA meeting in their building, but the church as a healing community can be even more than this. Through the speaker, but even more thought group discussion, we will unpack the idea of a church as an alcohol and drug free caring, sober support system.

 ASAM says that spiritual healing should also be part of addiction treatment. The Church defines becoming a Christian as accepting Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. The speaker works in a secular setting but has never had a complaint when he defined it as such: Christianity teaches that God loves people, God forgives people and that God can help people change. Once they accept this they can begin to understand how God’s grace works. Many people with no church background can accept God’s love, grace and forgiveness before they have any theological understanding, They learn more as they see people treat them in the light of God’s grace. I was a stranger and you visited me. Stigma is piling guilt up on someone. The church needs to be an alternative to stigma.

 In addition to discussing how the church can promote social and spiritual healing, there will be a brief discussion of our church’s position on members use of alcohol and drugs. Rather than seeing our position as something legalistic, one will be able to see that it is part of our answer to the millions that suffer from addiction. We are a community that does not use alcohol or drugs when we come together socially.  We do not condemn but invite people to join us in recovery. We are all recovering from something, if not an addiction, then life trauma or our own stubbornness and mistakes. God stands with his arms wide open to love, forgive and help us change. The church is God’s healing community.

 We will also look briefly at ways the church can reach out to those in legal trouble due to addiction.  We can support those on probation or in drug court. In some cases, we can allow people to do community services in our buildings and speak up for justice with a goal of recovery for all, including those with addictions.