Counseling Tools: Addiction

Addictions are typically associated with alcohol and drug abuse, but when we dig deep into the human heart, we find that a clear understanding of what is going on is really a picture of the battle going on in the heart of every sinner. Pastors will find that both believers and non-believers struggle with addictive tendencies, to a greater or lesser extent, with many different things in their lives.

Indeed, the grace and power of the gospel applied to the struggle of an addict is the same grace and power that every believer needs in the battle with sin.

The purpose of this article is to (1) offer a few foundational thoughts relative to understanding addictions biblically and (2) suggest some practical tips relative to ministering to addicts.


Addiction is primarily a worship issue

At the core, human beings are worshippers. The Bible describes those people or things (other than God) that control our desires and determine our behavior as “idols.” So, when someone is in bondage as an addict, the core of what is going on is misplaced worship.

Understand the dual nature of the addict

The Bible speaks of the sinner as both a rebel and a slave. The addict is a rebel in that he chose to befriend a substance, activity or state of mind wherein he found pleasure, comfort or perceived happiness. Along the way he begins to trust his newfound friend to deliver what only living for God’s glory can bring. This trust and friendship leads to infatuation that results in bondage. Once the addict sinks into lustful desires, he is no longer a voluntary participant but a defeated slave. Jesus states, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, ESV). As a rebel, God’s judgment is against him. As a slave, God offers hope and freedom!

The body of Christ is a vital part of overcoming an addiction

God intends for the addict’s struggle (and all struggles with sin) to be a community project. This means that life and relationships must be genuine, transparent and often messy.

However, it is only as the entire body of Christ is involved in the battle for holiness in the life of every believer that it can thrive as Christ intends.


Build genuine relationships as a fellow struggler

I find it helpful to greet counselees with the reminder that I am a fellow sinner and struggler. I too have addictive tendencies in my heart and am in need of grace to fight enslaving sins.

Lovingly confront

It is out of love that we do not overlook the addictive tendencies of addicts, but rather confront them and invite them to the hope of Christ. If need be, we must gather others and call the addict to confess and repent. This confrontation must be with loving words and acceptance of the person in the struggle as well as include a plan to overcome.

Offer hope, love, healing and forgiveness

This is what every addict desperately needs: Gospel hope! Resurrection power to overcome the enemy that has them in bondage and bring healing.

The addict often experiences devastating hopelessness that will crush their will to overcome addiction or even look for help. As we help, we must do so with compassion, gospel truth, and words spoken in love that assure of our commitment to the process.

Wisely assess

Some addicts will need the help that the normal discipleship processes of a church is already set up to provide. Some addictions will be so severe and established that intensive counseling or even a residential program will be required. The wise pastor will do what it takes to accurately assess the need and lead in the path to recovery.

Provide ongoing accountability

No matter how severe the addiction nor how miraculous the victory, we will struggle with sin until our salvation is fully realized at Jesus’ return. So, even when an addict graduates from counseling or a recovery program, he will need the ongoing love and discipleship of the local body. This discipleship in the local church should provide the network and support every believer needs to flourish as a follower of Christ.

Published August 19, 2015