This is my column in this month’s Baptist Courier.  Loving the addicted.

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I had a wonderful talk with a young woman a few days ago. She came to the ER confused, hallucinating and suicidal. The mental health system being what it is in most states, she was still in the ER the next day. She was lucid, calm, pleasant and apologetic. ‘I think it was the LSD,’ she said. We had to laugh. She admitted it was also the case of beer, and the marijuana. She wasn’t suicidal. She was, and is, an alcoholic. If you spend any time with the addicted, you’ll find that they are not typically frothing at the mouth, screaming and angry. They are people who just want to be loved.

We talked for a while about her life-story and her family issues. She was the age of my oldest child. As such, I wanted to take her to lunch, encourage her and help her to move forward. Her own family interactions apparently were not very supportive. She had been drug and alcohol free for some time, but fell back into old patterns the day she came to the ER.

Like so many people with substance addictions, she was really, truly trying. And in fact, was probably addicted as a way to medicate the pain of her own story, her own troubles and losses. I saw, in her eyes, a future parent, a future church youth leader, a person sufficiently wounded that she could not avoid compassion for others walking the same path.

Addiction is a very complex science. It is a mixture of anatomy, neurochemistry and genetics. The science of it all would make for a much more space than I’m allowed, so I have some links below for the reader who wishes to delve deeper.

There’s good news and bad news on addiction. Other than marijuana use, which has been increasing, the use of other addicting drugs (including alcohol) is stable or declining. Deaths from prescription pain medications like Oxycontin, Lortab and others continue to be a problem, but states are focusing more attention on the issue than ever before.

The bad news is that the resources to treat addiction are very difficult to access. First because addictions therapy is expensive, and addicts tend to have no health insurance of financial resources unless they have Medicare or Medicaid. But second because many addicts ‘burn their bridges,’ and addicts have a strong tendency to go back to their drug or alcohol abuse after treatment.

We need very much, as the church, to recognize that addiction is a disease, not a sin. We may sin when we make bad choices and start down the wrong path, but addiction itself is no less a health issue than obesity. We need to love those who are addicted like we love, and pray for, those with other conditions. Mrs. Hopewell’s thyroid cancer and Mr. Atkinson’s alcoholism both deserve the same prayer and concern.

And we need to teach our children, and our friends and other family members that substance abuse is a powerful thing. That it is remarkably hard to overcome and that once begun it is a long, hard path to recovery. We can say this with love and concern, not judgment, because we want our kids, and everyone else’s, to live joyous, happy lives of service to God and man.

Every believer who cares about health must learn to understand addiction, and love the addicted. Jesus loves my alcoholic patient. So should we all.

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