Meeting the Needs of Those with a Drug Addiction
[ Guest Writer Alicia Seidler, PLPC Wellspring Christian Counseling]
Alicia Seidler is a Staff Counselor with Wellspring Christian Counseling. She earned her Master of Arts in Counseling and Family Therapy from St. Louis University. She is experienced in the areas of addiction, domestic violence, depression, anxiety, anger, intimacy and personality disorders.
As pastors walk up and down the aisles of our churches on Sunday mornings, shaking hands and asking about the day’s activities, it is unlikely that the term “drug addiction” or “substance abuse” crosses their minds. However, individuals with these problems may very well be found sitting in the pews of our local church. According to recent data, 20% of Missourians have an unmet need for drug and alcohol abuse treatment (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Is it possible they are in your church? Do you know what to look for and how to help?
Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction
- Cycles of increased energy, restlessness, being unusually talkative and inability to sleep (seen often with stimulants)
- Progressive severe dental problems (seen often with methamphetamine use)
- Abnormally slow movements, speech or reaction time, confusion and disorientation (seen often with opiates, benzodiazepines and barbiturates)
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Cycles of excessive sleep
- Unexpected changes in clothing, such as constantly wearing long sleeved shirts (to hide scarring at injection sites)
- Chronic trouble with sinusitis or nosebleeds (seen often with snorted drugs) Persistent cough or bronchitis, leading to coughing up excessive mucus or blood (seen often with smoked drugs)
- Increased irritability, agitation and anger
- Unexplained financial difficulties
- Unusual calmness or unresponsiveness
- Apathy and depression
- Temporary psychosis, hallucinations, paranoia, delusions Lowered threshold for violence
- Defensiveness and protection by family members
What you can do if you suspect someone has an Addiction Problem:
o Move past any shame or discomfort you may have with not having recognized it sooner. It is probable that they are devoting a lot of time and energy to make sure their problem stays hidden. Additionally, the use may have started slowly and you might have gotten so used to the drug abuser’s behaviors that they seem almost normal. Blaming yourself or even the drug abuser will only serve as a barrier to open communication.
o Apply God’s grace to the situation and realize you cannot force someone to end their addiction. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is to watch the effects of drug abuse, you cannot make them stop using. They have decided that the answer to their pain and discontent is the addiction and the final choice to replace the addiction with God’s love is up to them. Creating healthy boundaries while applying empathy is the best course of action. Empathy involves seeing the world through the drug abuser’s eyes, thinking about things as they think about them, feeling things as they feel them, and sharing in their experiences. When they feel understood, they are more likely to open up.
o Expect that support (professional and otherwise) will be needed to see any change. Drug abuse is not a matter of moral weakness or faulty willpower; it is a matter of brokenness. The type of support needed by a person with an addiction is one that will provide hope in Christ and a life rebuilt in Christ. Christian counseling that addresses the emotional and spiritual areas related to the addiction is particularly effective at uncovering the core issues perpetuating the addiction. Loved ones especially close to the drug abuser may also want to seek support.
There are many forms of support useful for those with a drug addiction. Check with your state and ask about inpatient treatment centers. These centers are available to help, in more severe cases, with the detoxification of the drugs out of their body. When a dependent user reduces or stops use of the drug abruptly, they may experience severe symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms, which can begin as early as a few hours after the last drug administration, include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, kicking movements, and other symptoms. In addition to these, they will most likely experience a severe craving for the drug.
Other forms of treatment include individual therapy, psychiatry, and/or group therapy. Christian counseling assists them in developing an accurate view of God, self and others, offers freedom from guilt through God’s grace, and calls them into a life filled with purpose and meaning in Christ. From there, other forms of help can be added as they are willing and at the appropriate stage of treatment.
Know that recovery will be an ongoing process. As with most brokenness in life, the recovery process is a journey of daily surrender to God and exploration of the pain causing the addiction. The addiction may have been masking painful feelings. The recovery journey is a process with specific stages of change along the way.
Stages of Addiction
In or out of treatment, people pass through stages as they work on making changes.
- The first stage of change is called the “Pre-contemplation Stage.” During this stage there is no thought of making a change. This may be because they have never thought much about their situation or they have already thought things through and decided not to change their behavior. Sometimes they may want to change, but do not feel as if they could successfully make the change they desire. People in this stage might find it useful to get more information about their situation (perhaps in an individual therapy session or through a loved one) but would not be readily open to attending a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous where it is assumed he/she has accepted the substance abuse as problematic. The goal at this stage is to develop a working alliance.
- When there is thought about the addiction, they begin the second stage called the “Contemplation Stage.” During this stage, they are unsure about what to do, but weigh both good and not-so-good things about the present situation. During this stage they often want change and yet want to stay the same at the same time. This can be a bit confusing as they feel torn between these options. During this time, empathy and understanding can be the best way of helping, as opposed to jumping into ways of fixing the problem. This is a necessary stage for lasting change. Someone that jumps right into the last stage may not spend enough time preparing for change and will not be able to sustain the change. The goal of this stage is to increase awareness that substance use is problematic and increase motivation to change.
- At some point, when they have been thinking through whether or not to change, there may come a point where the reasons for change outweigh the reasons not to change. As this weight increases on the side of change, the person becomes more determined to do something. This is the beginning of the next stage, called the “Preparation Stage.” During this stage, they begin thinking about how to go about making the desired change, making plans, and then taking some action toward stopping old behaviors and/or starting new, more productive behaviors. They will often become more and more “ready” and committed to making changes. It is in this stage that the suggestion of group or individual counseling might be most beneficial, if they are not already receiving counseling.
- During the next stage of change called the “Action Stage” they begin to implement their “change plans” and trying out new ways of being. Often, during this stage they will let others know what’s happening and look for support from them in making these changes.
- Once they have succeeded in making and keeping some changes over a period of time, they enter the “Maintenance Stage.” During this stage, they will try to sustain the changes that have been made and to prevent returning to their old ways. Many times they are able to keep up the changes made and then make a permanent exit from the stages of change. During this stage it is also common for people to have some “slips” or “relapses” where old habits return for a short time. When a person has a relapse for a longer period of time, he or she typically returns to the pre-contemplation or contemplation stages. The person’s task is to start the stages of change again rather than getting stuck. Keep in mind that relapses, slips, and lapses are normal as a person tries to change any long-standing habit.
Resources for Further Study
The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective, Mark E. Shaw. Focus Publishing, 2008.
Overcoming Addictive Behavior, Neil T. Anderson and Mike Quarles. Regal Books, 2003.
Stepping out of Denial into God’s Grace, Participant’s Guide #1, Celebrate Recovery Program, Rick Warren and John Baker. Zondervan, 1998.
Love is a Choice: The Definitive Book on Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships,
Dr. Robert Hemfelt, Dr. Frank Minirth, M.D., Dr. Paul Meier. (For loved ones
of those struggling with substance abuse.) Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change (2nd edition),
William R. Miller & Stephen Rollnick. (For those in a helping profession). The Guilford Press, 2002.