Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com
I do not often write a column after I have just written a funeral message. But I am today. In just a little while, I will go and preach the funeral of a man who was far too young to die, a man that had an infectious smile, a sweet personality, and a lot to live for.
I hate funerals, but I especially hate funerals like that.
I will call him Pete. I had not seen him in a few years, but for a short while, he attended my church. He started missing, and I started calling to find out why. So he came to see me, and we had a conversation. Pete informed me that he had a substance addiction and was going to get a week of treatment for it.
I have been doing this long enough to know that a week or two is usually not very effective in overcoming an addiction. So I told Pete that I could recommend a very good Christian treatment home, one that he could stay at for at least three months, possibly even six. Mind you, I am aware that many secular treatment centers do excellent work as well, but I, as a Christian and a believer in the power of God, am obviously going to recommend a Christian-based help source.
For all of the obvious reasons that would trouble you or me (job, family, pets), he declined to go that route. And just a few days ago, the addiction won the battle.
I am not able to relate to Pete or anyone else who has ever had a struggle with substance abuse; I have never drunk a single beer, never touched drugs, I have never even smoked a cigarette. But having dealt with addicts of all kinds for twenty-five years in the ministry, I know that addiction is a monster of the strongest order. It is even something that truly born-again Christians often struggle with.
Naturally, salvation is the best and first step toward victory. With the Holy Ghost living inside a person, anything is possible. But sometimes, the hold of the substance is so strong that it takes salvation plus lengthy assistance to break free and stay free. And that is where people who are currently struggling are going to have to make a choice, often a fairly drastic choice.
I am hoping that this paper and this column land in the hands of some people just like that. If it has, please let me talk to you personally right here in this column and say a few things that may help you.
First of all, your life is more important than a job. Any job. If you died tomorrow, your job would likely be filled by the end of the week. Why in the world, then, would you risk your life to keep a job? There have always been jobs; there will always be jobs. Prioritize your life over a job, and go get as much help as you need for as long as you need.
Secondly, your family, even your children, will benefit a lot more by you taking your broken self somewhere to get put back together than they will by you continuing on in your brokenness until it kills you. There is a great young gentleman in my church right now who faced that same choice, gave those same reasons why he could not go away, and then finally went away and got the help he needed. The six months of absence were a Godsend; he is a totally different man now, and his wife and children are enjoying the benefits of it every single day.
And please do not even say “pets” to me or to yourself. You are more important than any animal, period. Leave them with sitters, and go get help.
Thirdly, an addiction that you have spent years feeding is not easily beaten in a week or two. This is not a willpower game; it is a matter of giving your mind and body the chance to adjust to being free of the stimulant it has come to depend on for so long.
You may not fully understand this, but the devil hates you and wants to destroy you. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” John 10:10 says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” And because he hates you so badly, he lends his expertise to those who create dangerous and addictive substances. If we could create a microscope that could see into the spiritual world, the devil’s clawed print marks would be all over these evil substances.
In other words, this is really serious, really difficult, and it may, therefore, take some distance from your crowd, some lengthy time away, and some twenty-four hour a day help to gain the victory over, whether you choose a Christian treatment center or a secular one.
But you need to do it. You can do it. You should do it. There is a lot of life left to live; there is hope; there is help. Things will be fine while you are gone. And stuff can be replaced, even stuff like cars or house. But you? You cannot be replaced.
If you do choose to go get help and would like me to pray for you and yours while you are away, just email me. You do not even have to give me your full name, obviously, but I would be honored to pray for you and with you as you fight this battle.
“By Request, A Follow-up Column On Addiction”
Very rarely does a week go by that I do not receive emails on my column. But what is rare is for a column to strike such a common cord that I get multiple requests for a follow-up column. Last week’s column on A Path To Victory Over Addiction resulted in me getting grateful emails from multiple states and also multiple suggestions and requests for a follow-up. Those requests generally landed in two categories. The first was from the medical community and the physiological perspective, the second was from hurting families and the support perspective.
On the medical side of things, a column from Harvard Health does an excellent job of simplifying a complex problem. “In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort. Addictive drugs and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught.
“Addictive drugs, for example, can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and more reliably. In a person who becomes addicted, brain receptors become overwhelmed. The brain responds by producing less dopamine or eliminating dopamine receptors—an adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when noise becomes too loud.
“As a result of these adaptations, dopamine has less impact on the brain’s reward center. People who develop an addiction typically find that, in time, the desired substance no longer gives them as much pleasure. They have to take more of it to obtain the same dopamine “high” because their brains have adapted—an effect known as tolerance.
“At this point, compulsion takes over. The pleasure associated with an addictive drug or behavior subsides—and yet the memory of the desired effect and the need to recreate it (the wanting) persists. It’s as though the normal machinery of motivation is no longer functioning.
“The learning process mentioned earlier also comes into play. The hippocampus and the amygdala store information about environmental cues associated with the desired substance, so that it can be located again. These memories help create a conditioned response—intense craving—whenever the person encounters those environmental cues.
“Cravings contribute not only to addiction but to relapse after a hard-won sobriety. A person addicted to heroin may be in danger of relapse when he sees a hypodermic needle, for example, while another person might start to drink again after seeing a bottle of whiskey. Conditioned learning helps explain why people who develop an addiction risk relapse even after years of abstinence.” (https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm#:~:text=In%20a%20person%20who%20becomes,when%20noise%20becomes%20too%20loud.)
In layman’s terms, as one of my medical personnel at church put it, drug addiction “rewires the brain.” Once addiction has been set in, simply telling someone not to do drugs is a losing battle. And that is why, though a daily walk with the Lord plus long-term treatment/counseling plus regular accountability is not foolproof, it is also the very best option for any addict. “Just say no” is a great plan before one ever takes drugs, but it is woefully inadequate once they have because their brain has been radically altered.
And now, let’s deal with the support perspective. One of the letters I received was from a dear mother who lost an adult child to an overdose. Mind you, both the mother and father are born-again Christians, and they raised their son both in a Christian home and in a Christian school. And yet, as she put it, “Fentanyl is a game changer, as one pill can kill.” Adding to the heartbreak, though, was, “Many of these victims are Christians, yet the stigma for families is still very strong. Please write an article to help these families as many are still grieving without the church’s support.”
I am floored to think that any church anywhere would stigmatize and/or not support the family of one who lost a battle to addiction. For starters, this is not some normal issue of morality. Again, when a child chooses to sass or lie or begins stealing, the rod of correction can normally fix that. But when a child becomes an addict, there are no “Christian parenting skills” to fix that. But beyond that, Christians are called to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Nothing breaks the heart of a parent more than a child that cannot seem to be rescued, and therefore nothing should cause the church to rally around a family any more than that, especially when that family is shattered by a drug-induced death.
An interesting exchange takes place at the end of the account of the Prodigal Son. In Luke 15:29, the older brother expresses his anger over the fact that the family is making merry with friends over the return of his wayward brother. In other words, there were people who had been pulling for the boy, pulling for the family; they had been there during the dark days and were, therefore, part of the celebration when he returned.
That is what the church should be, at all times, to the family of an addict.
The family of an addict already feels plenty of guilt; they already second guess every decision they ever made; they really do not need any more of that heaped onto them, any more than you or I would if it was us in their situation. They need people to truly pray for them every single day. They need texts at random times letting them know they are loved. They need to be invited out for dinner just to get them out of their seclusion.
And when a child dies, they need a church packed full of people “weeping as they weep” and totally devoid of people so proud as to imagine that it could never happen to them.
Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his books and other resources are available by clicking the “Store” link above.
Feature photo by Pastor Bo Wagner