Ministering to Addicts
by Burk Parsons
As a pastor, I often find myself counseling people with addictions. Having served in local church settings for more than twenty years, I find ministering to addicts and their families to be one of the more difficult, complicated, and sad things I do. Every week, I preach the Word of God to people who have never been addicts and may never become addicts, to former addicts, to addicts themselves, and to future addicts. There are some addicts who know they are addicts, some who are seeking help for their addiction, and some who either do not know they are addicts or do not want to admit it. Some people think they will never become addicts because they do not have an “addictive personality.” Others think they will never become addicts because their parents were not addicts. And some fear becoming addicts because they think they have an addictive personality or because so many in their family history were addicts. Whatever the case, all of us have been somehow affected by addicts and addictions.
Statistics reveal that the prevalence of addictions is growing rapidly around the world, even among children who are becoming unknowingly addicted to behavioral and psychotropic medications. We are most familiar with addictions to illegal substances, medicines, gambling, and pornography. Yet we are less familiar with addictions involving sex, screens (video games, TV, smartphones, and so on), and self-injury. In addition, there are numerous people who struggle with addictions that many of us mistakenly deem as “harmless,” such as overeating, shopping, exercise, work, social media, and Internet addictions. Whether public or private, big or little, outward or inward, addictions are real and are ultimately matters of the heart in the lives of image bearers of God.
All addictions have consequences and must be taken seriously. We should not underestimate the significance of addictions in our lives or in the lives of others. What’s more, we should not make addictions insignificant things and simply ridicule and threaten addicts, leaving them to themselves and abandoning them in their addictions. If we ignore an addiction, the consequences can be devastating. We must be compassionate and courageous as we come alongside one another. We must pray, confess, confront, admit, intervene, befriend, and love. As the family of God, we must not give up on those who struggle with addictions as we depend on the transforming and renewing work of the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ, who has overcome the world.