By On October 15th, 2013

One Christian Strategy For Handling Addiction Within a Family

Addiction, like all mental health issues, affects more than just the victim. While mental health problems way on families and friends through the various ways support can drain a person, addiction causes many other problems for parents and those who care for the addict. There can be legal repercussions for housing a drug addict, but the bigger issues stem from the emotional strain addiction creates.

As Christians, often our first action when facing addiction within one we love is to judge or confront that person for their actions. This decision comes from a place of caring, but can often have the wrong effect. Judgement or direct confrontation can trigger the exact mental conditions which led the addict to substance abuse and possibly worsen the other mental issues being hidden by addiction.

But, this leaves families with few options. How are you to help your child when the only way you know could very possibly make things worse? There are many schools of thought about how to deal with addiction within the family, all fit for specific situations, and unhelpful in others. The fact is, addiction may seem like a simple problem, but it is often the result of several other issues which create a variety of unique characteristics in individual addicts.

Dave Stoop, Ph.D., offers a unique way of dealing with addiction in a family which many might find helpful for their circumstances, and his strategy is inspired directly from the story of the Prodigal Son. The strategy is not easy, and at times may seem counterproductive, but the end result of this style management of addiction could be very positive. It all comes down to creating an environment which allows the addict to reach a point where they begin to honestly seek redemption.

This can be tricky as addicts often feign a desire for change in an attempt to continue their self-destructive actions, but if you go about it properly, you can manage to not support addiction, while allowing your child to come back to the loving support of the family when they are ready to change.

The strategy is built on seven principles, which are best explained in Stoop’s own words:

  1. The father didn’t go looking for his son, even though the son was most likely in a dangerous place. He didn’t try to protect his son from the situation the son had chosen. This is so hard for the parent to do, but it is a sound principle. The world was no less dangerous when Jesus told this parable than it is today. A parent can’t do this on their own—they need to have a support system of other parents who understand this principle.
  2. Eventually, the son ran out of co-dependents—no one gave the Prodigal anything. He was allowed to exhaust all his resources. He ran out of friends, and certainly couldn’t call home for some more money. He was a Jew and he was envying the food he was giving to the pigs. He was at a dead-end in his life with only one choice left—repent and return home and begin his recovery.
  3. The result was what every parent in that situation prays for and wants—the son came to his senses! But he could only come to his senses when he was out of options. And he was only out of options because his family didn’t come looking for him and rescuing him from the circumstances he had created. If his father had rescued him, it would have only prolonged the period of time before his “coming to his senses.”
  4. Once the son had repented, turned his life around, and started a recovery process, only then was there a great celebration. I’m sure the family had other celebrations, but there would have been a sense of sadness that was under the celebration.
  5. The father’s actions were based on love and compassion. A parent in similar circumstances might look at the prodigal’s father and think he was being harsh, or cruel. But the father showed tough love with both of his sons.
  6. Part of the Prodigal’s recovery was learning to live with the consequences of the choices he had made. One massive choice he had to live with was the reality that now everything the father owned would eventually belong to the older son.
  7. The sins of the Prodigal were against both God and against his family. He clearly articulates this reality when he confessed to his father, “I have sinned against both heaven and you.” There was certainly a human side to his recovery, but equally important, there was a spiritual side to his healing and recovery.

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