After preaching at a church in North Carolina, an elderly couple came up to me crying their eyes out. The lady had the most genuine and hopeless look on her face as she described their precious grandson’s story. He was addicted to opioids and had robbed nearly everyone in his family multiple times. He was not interested in getting sober or coming to church. She gracefully shared that my story reminded her of their grandson and humbly asked me if I had any advice for them on how to help him.
This is definitely the question I get asked the most as I travel around the country. “How can I help my son?” “Can you help my brother?” “What should I do with my friend who is addicted?” The truth is, there is no pill we can give them that will heal their drug addiction, but there are principles that will help.
1- Keep the relationship intact, but don’t enable.
For some parents and friends, their natural bent is to completely cut ties with the person in addiction. They view addiction as a pure choice that the person is making and treat them with anger and contempt, rather than love. For others, their natural bent is to just “love” the addict. This type of person does everything they can to support their child or friend, not knowing that they are enabling them and doing more damage than they are helping them.
As we look at how Jesus dealt with alcoholics, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, and strippers in the Bible, we see that He modeled for us how to manage this delicate tension. Jesus spent time with people who were active in sin, so much so that the religious elite of his day condemned him guilty by association. We also see that Jesus’ definition of love was not to enable the person to do whatever they want. In John 8, after showing a woman caught in adultery incredible grace, Jesus tells the woman, “I don’t condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
My plea to you is to keep the relationship intact with the person struggling with addiction, but don’t enable them. Take them out to dinner for a meaningful conversation and some good laughs, but don’t give them money. Have them over for dinner, but don’t pay their bills. Love them, but don’t “love” them to death.
2- Pray for them and care for them spiritually.
I am sure that one of the main reason I’m alive today is due to the prayers of some close friends and family members who would not give up on me. While there are many contributing factors to addiction, in my experience, the epidemic of addiction is mainly spiritual in nature. That means the solution is also mainly spiritual. In Luke 18, Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow. The widow asks the judge so many times that he finally caves to the devoted lady’s request. Jesus’ point of the parable is that we should pray without giving up or losing heart. Your prayers have the potential to completely change things.
We also know that faith without works is dead. In Mark 2, four friends were willing to do whatever it took to get their paralytic friend to Jesus. They didn’t just pray for healing, but they also carried him many miles and then cut a hole in the roof of the place Jesus was preaching. The Bible says, “because of their faith” he was healed. This does not mean shoving condemning Scripture down the addict’s throat, but it does mean loving them well, letting your conversations be filled with grace and seasoned with salt, and bringing them to places to have an encounter with Jesus. What if God used you to play a part in Him saving your friend or family member?
3- Don’t make them the center of your universe.
One of the biggest issues I see and hear about among people close to drug addicts, especially parents, is that their life becomes centered around the addict. They put more focus on their child than their marriage or anything else that used to be important in their life. When parents do this, it is not helping the problem, but instead is making it worse.
Don’t put the addict above your own marriage, and definitely, don’t let them become the center of your life. The only way that you are going to be of any help to your hurting friend or family member is if Jesus is at the center of your universe where He belongs. When we center our lives around anything other than God, our lives begin to crumble. When your life is centered on Christ and you have a strong marriage, you will be much more helpful to your hurting loved one.
I want to plead with you not to try to become a practical savior to your loved one. Ultimately, you are not powerful enough to save them. What happens to them is not your fault either way. Your main role is to love them and pray for them, but don’t allow their addiction to become the focal point of your life.
Lastly, I want to encourage you that there is hope. I have seen hundreds of drug addicts meet Christ and learn to live in true freedom and real joy, including the grandson of the couple I mentioned at the beginning of this article. My family and friends had all but given up on me after many rehabs and broken promises, but God did a miracle. Love them like Jesus does, pray for them, and make Jesus the center of your universe!