How to Respond When Addiction Comes to Church

Church should be a place of healing for those struggling with addiction.  

Posted in , Jun 5, 2019

Addiction and church

No one is immune to addiction, not even church-going people. Recently, I attended a meeting where a well-known religious leader shared his story of becoming addicted to cocaine while serving his congregation. 

He described his addiction as a compulsive behavior that took over his body and mind. There were times he thought of ending his life, but God’s mercy kept him alive. For a long time he hid his addiction from his congregation, but ultimately it was his faith that led him to get help and become drug free. 

Just like this religious leader, there are many people who sit silently in church each week hoping that no one will learn of their addiction. These individuals could be church attendees, pastors, deacons, trustees, Sunday school teachers or youth leaders. They feel guilty and ashamed of their actions and struggles so they hide their addiction from others, fearing that they will be judged, condemned and excluded. Yet they hold onto their hope and their faith in God.   

There are many reasons why people become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Some begin taking prescription opioids after undergoing surgery or suffering from a sports injury or other medical reasons. Sometimes addiction is linked to genetics. While the reasons vary, what these individuals have in common is that addiction controls their lives, and they are all in need of God’s love. 

I will never forget a story I heard years ago about a young woman who battled addiction most of her life. She had finally become drug free and began attending church again with her mother. When others in the congregation learned of her past and that she was an HIV patient, they didn’t want her near their children. She was crushed by their actions and words. As a result, she stopped going to church. A few years later, the woman died at home close to her family, but distant from her church.

A pastor once told me “church is a hospital” where sick people come for healing. Everyone comes to the church with their own unique struggle. And as Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We must remember to lift up in prayer those who battle addiction and open our hearts to them as God does. These are people who fight a constant battle within and need the Lord’s help. God hasn’t given up on them. Neither should we.

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