How Do I Help Someone With a Drinking Problem
by Juliana Mecera and Art Mellor
We’d be surprised if you, a typical United Methodist reading this magazine, told us that you do not know anyone who has a drinking or drug problem. More than a third of all United Methodists have struggled with their own or a loved one’s substance abuse. We often have a wide range of feelings about this person—the ways he may have disappointed us or the concern we have for her. If you’re anything like most of us, you want to help—but you’re uncertain how to go about it. Others in your church probably feel the same way.
Making Matters Worse
It is difficult to know what to do. Usually, a person suffering from an addiction can’t be convinced that help is needed. Most alcoholics aren’t willing to get help unless they realize—usually from devastating personal experience—that there is absolutely no other option. Only when life just doesn’t work anymore might you hear an alcoholic say, “I need help.” By this time, a series of crises will have erupted, options will have become fewer and fewer, and daily life will have become unmanageable.
Often, however, an alcoholic fails to experience the full force or consequences of an addiction. Well-meaning friends and family members tend to “fix” the crises caused by another’s drinking or other kinds of drug abuse. In effect, they help their alcoholic loved one cover up. As long as this life of heavy drinking continues to be manageable, without devastating disruptions, the addict can believe that factors other than abuse of alcohol are causing the crises. The fact that life is somehow still manageable keeps the addict from seeking help.
It is natural for friends or family members to support one another. It is difficult to stop doing so in the case of someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. It is easy for others to be unhelpful.
How to Intervene
1. If someone comes to me asking for help…
A person who comes to you for help with a drinking problem has reached a turning point. In the midst of a crisis, while experiencing life as unmanageable, the person is ready to consider a different path. It’s helpful to respond quickly, making the most of this willingness to change.
Since an addict may need detoxification to safely come off alcohol and whatever other drugs she or he may be on, it’s good to know in advance where the nearest detox center is located and how to get someone admitted there. But it’s best to find someone who is familiar with addiction—a trained counselor or a friend who is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous (AA or NA).
2. If I don’t know anyone in AA or NA…
Find an “Speakers” AA meeting that you could attend. If you need help locating one, phone or email us. (See page 19 for our contact information.) Anyone may attend an “Open” meeting, but only alcoholics or addicts can attend a “Closed” one. At a “Speakers” meeting, AA members share their personal stories. You will hear about the chaos caused by addiction, the losses sustained, and the fullness and joy of life in recovery. Those who testify are usually full of gratitude for finding sobriety and living sober or drug-free. You may find AA or NA meetings uplifting and inspiring.
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS AND NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS
These fellowships are vitally important for people who are trying to stay sober and clean (drug-free). Addicts and alcoholics are more likely to listen to someone who is recovering from addiction, has “been there,” and can listen without being judgmental. New AA or NA members learn from recovering alcoholics or addicts that willpower alone won’t solve the problem. They learn from others’ experiences that it’s best to rely on God and on the understanding of those in recovery themselves. As they listen to other stories of struggle and recovery, they’ll begin to feel hopeful that they too can stay sober or drug-free.
When we listen to individuals tell their stories, we are actually witnessing how God has intervened in human lives. It is incredible to realize that—through friends, family, pastors, treatment, AA, and fellow congregation members—God’s love has been made known and is actively working in the recovery process. It’s even more incredible to realize that we can be part of other people’s stories. Each of us can help make love real in others’ lives. When we care for one another we participate in God’s renewal of the world. We can work for justice together and participate in practices that help to bring healing and wholeness for all.
It is marvelous to hear someone’s recovery story because it demonstrates God’s power made strong in our human weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10) Going about our daily lives, we do not always perceive God’s power. It is easy to forget that God is in control—except when attending an AA meeting. Attend as many meetings as you can. There, we feel encouraged to cooperate with God, remembering that the power is God’s and the response is ours.
Before or after a meeting, you can ask the group leader: “If someone comes to me with a drinking problem, may I provide your contact information?” After obtaining permission, you’ll be able to provide a substance abuser with a referral.
3. If my loved one is suffering from addiction but not asking for help…
Most alcoholics are not willing to receive help until they realize they have absolutely no other option. Your loved one’s addiction will cause crises. If you fix these crises, you may keep your loved one from reaching a readiness to seek help.
Perhaps you’ve heard addiction called a “family disease.” This is true because everyone in an addict’s family is harmed. Children of substance abusers are more likely to develop an addiction. Living with an addicted person is usually very painful. The entire family needs and deserves support.
For this support, family members can turn to programs such as Alanon (for family and friends of alcoholics), Naranon (for those affected by drug addiction), or Alateen (for youth affected by alcoholic loved ones). Alanon, Naranon, and Alateen meetings offer support and understanding from others struggling with a loved one’s addiction to alcohol or drugs. When others tell about how they stopped smoothing over problems caused by their loved one, you can think about what new limits or rules would help make your life more manageable—despite a loved one’s self-destructive behavior.
Beginning to think about managing your life differently is no small feat. Considering how to care for yourself may be a completely new idea and often takes a great deal of strength and courage to consider seriously. Implementing new ways of responding appropriately to your loved one’s suffering from addiction also takes energy. For these reasons, support is necessary for anyone who wants to help. The right kind of support can help impact your loved one’s life, possibly encouraging that person to seek help.
Key Ideas to Keep in Mind
• I didn’t cause the addiction.
• I can’t cure it, and I can’t control it. I am not responsible for forcing my loved one to seek help.
• I can communicate my feelings to those around me, including the loved one with the alcohol or drug problem.
• I can take care of myself and make my own healthy choices, which will impact my loved one.
• I can find supportive people and places where I can celebrate myself.
Most importantly, remember you are not alone. You can seek counsel from trusted people in your life. Or, call us.
4. If I am a person in recovery…
Congratulations on your recovery! Your experience will be invaluable to your church as your congregation learns about addiction, recovery, and the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Consider partnering with the pastoral care staff to provide mentorship to others seeking recovery.
There are many United Methodists in recovery. We believe that they provide unique leadership for responding to alcohol or drug addiction within our congregations. Your ideas and advice are very important not only to your local church but also to us. We would especially love to hear from you. Contact us.
5. If I am a concerned congregation member and want to do more…
You can work with your pastor and lay leaders in implementing the ideas below. Attend AA “Open Speakers” meetings for a deeper understanding of addiction and recovery. You could also meet with others in your congregation who have a similar concern and think about what impact your group might have.
You can raise others’ awareness that substance abuse affects most of us, in one way or another. By your willingness to speak out, you can help break down the stigma of addiction and encourage a healthy environment at church, making it safe to be open about the hardest situations in life. Call us for resources.
6. If I’m a member of the clergy or a lay leader…
If you are a concerned clergy member or lay leader, most of the suggestions and information above will be relevant for your ministry. The following ideas can further bolster your readiness to respond pastorally to those affected by an alcohol or drug problem.
Go to “Open Speakers” meetings and learn about AA.
Call us for help locating a meeting. If you have the opportunity, welcome 12-Step groups to meet at your church and to build relationships with church members. As you become acquainted with AA members at their open meetings, you may be able to put someone seeking help for a drinking problem in touch with an AA member who can provide support and advice.
Educate yourself about the disease of addiction.
Art Mellor can direct you to training and other educational opportunities online and on-site. Juliana Mecera can mail you the Addiction and Recovery: Resource Manual for Clergy and Other Congregational Leaders and can advise you where and how to begin.
Be aware of any history of addiction in your own family or with close friends.
There may be such a history in your own family or with close friends. Ask yourself: How do I feel about these people and situations? How have I dealt with them? Know and challenge your own personal assumptions about addiction.
Develop listening skills.
Try to imagine what you would feel if you were going through a similar situation. Read The Message version of 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10.
Create a referral list.
Include local programs and counselors that specialize in treating substance abuse. Call Art or Juliana for assistance.
Learn about the spiritual strength of 12-Step programs.
Call us for a free AA Big Book, or find one online through AA World Service. Also check out Walking in the Spirit: Step by Step by the Rev. Jamey Lee, a free resource on our site at www.umspsarv.org.
Seek guidance and support from others.
You are not alone, so talk to trusted people—including us—about what might be most helpful. Recognize your limits and care for yourself so that you can be pastorally present for the long term. Call us.
Juliana Mecera, STM, is an executive secretary working for the United Methodist Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV). Art Mellor, MSW, is SPSARV’s executive director. SPSARV is a program of the General Board of Global Ministries. This article first appeared in the January-February 2014 edition of New World Outlook.
|Please contact us. We will walk with you.
If you found this article helpful, you may also profit from the blogs “Should My Church Welcome Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings?” and “Starting a Recovery Ministry: Simple Steps for Local Congregations” on SPSARV’s website at www.umspsarv.org
A Serenity Service led by the Rev. Yngvar Ruud in Olso, Norway. Rund is a former member of the United Methodist European Board for Drug and Alcohol Concerns. Photo: Courtesy SPSARV
Jewell Meringer is a lay leader who began a Support and Addiction Family Education ministry at her church. Photo: Courtesy SPSARV
One of the mottos of Alcoholics Anonymous. Photo: Juliana Mecera
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