What Do Addicts Need from You?

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Pastor, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania

If you have a family member or friend trapped in the throes of addiction, you know enduring pain. One of the most devastating realities of addiction is that it inflicts collateral damage on loved ones — the people trying to help the most end up being hurt the most.

“You can get sober without love, but sobriety isn’t freedom.”

Care for people struggling in addiction demands a resiliency of character and commitment that is extraordinarily difficult to sustain over time. Rescues fail, ultimatums are ignored, mercy is trampled, patience is exhausted, and trust is crushed. You are profoundly hurt, but you can’t simply turn away. You can’t write a loved one out of your life simply because addiction has overthrown theirs.

How do you stay in the fight? How do you keep your footing in the chaos?

Stabilizing Grace in a Chaotic Place

I believe there is a wonderful anchoring truth in the familiar but profound words of the apostle Paul:

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13) 

When we read the letters of Paul we see this “grace trilogy” embedded several times in his exhortations to people seeking to live as faithful disciples in a spirit-breaking world. Faith, hope, and love mark the lives of true believers (Colossians 1:3–5), compel sustained ministry effort during trial (1 Thessalonians 1:2–3), and provide stable constancy in times of darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:6–8).

If you are trying to help a loved one escape the clutches and cravings of addiction, remember faith, hope, and love.

Remember Faith

Faith keeps you focused on the right thing in the hard times.

You are tempted to trust one more promise, one more contrite confession, one more attempt at rehab or self-reform. Maybe tempted to take on the role of fixer and healer. Addicts want to make their helpers big, and put on them burdens of accountability and constancy that they can’t carry.

“If you have a family member or friend trapped in the throes of addiction, you know enduring pain.”

But God reaches farther, and speaks clearer, and acts stronger than you ever will. You tire; he never sleeps. Faith deflects those burdens onto the Savior, and extends instead humble, weak hands to help an addicted loved one embrace the real work of repentance and change over time. When you are tempted to trust your own efforts to keep an addict out of his addictive pattern, or your own words to argue her out of her foolish choices, remember to trust instead the God of intervening grace.

Remember Hope

To live in the environment of addiction is to embrace brokenness. It’s easy to see brokenness in addiction. What begins to creep in over time, though, is brokenness as a way of life.

A beloved child pours so much potential into wasted pursuits. A spouse or parent who’s out-of-control life slowly writes the family story as a tragedy. At some point this addiction problem becomes life itself. It is the family history; it seems like the family future.

Jesus has given a gift to the broken future that you face. It is the gift of hope. It is the promise that he will never forsake you, will never let you fall from his hand. He has prepared a place for you where brokenness is not allowed. You may not be there now, but you can already breathe that air and see the light of hope.

Jesus is the one who set glory at the end of your path, and he is the one who brings it close even now. He himself is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). If you have Christ, you have glory in your future. This is the hope that is your helmet of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8), the hope that can keep you whole in the brokenness without becoming broken yourself. And you need hope, because the addict you love may have none.

Remember Love

It is hard to love an addict. It’s hard to love someone who lives a code of rampant self-absorption and self-destruction. It’s hard to love when lies and deceit are a given. It’s hard to love an abuser of mercy and kindness.

“If you are trying to help a loved one escape the clutches of addiction, remember faith, hope and love.”

The Bible says love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). But it feels like love just as easily enables sin in an addict. To love an addict is to invite pain. Love gets trampled by sin; mocked by sin.

Yes, it does. But that’s the point of love. Love was crucified by sin. Love crucified is ultimately the antidote to sin. Love starts with the presumption that sin abounds. No addict will ever find true freedom without love. You can get sober without love, but sobriety isn’t freedom. The love of Christ offered in his atoning sacrifice for their sin, his redeeming grace for their bondage, his life for their death — that is what your addicted loved one needs most from you.

The best thing you can ever give an addict is your confidence in the love of Christ displayed in the cross. It is the need for this love that binds addict and helper together. The shared need for the love of Christ will be your bridge of ministry over the long haul.

Love will help you risk trust one more time, or stand on a boundary you’ve had to draw. Love sees the sickness in addiction with compassion, and the idolatry in it, as well. Love is the only power of liberation, the only agent for change, that will turn an addict into a true worshiper. You know that because that is what happened to you.

Remember faith, hope, and love. Your friend, your loved one, needs these three things more than anything else you can do for them.