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Beyond addiction

Most church leaders are well aware of ministries sponsored across the country to the 22 million Americans who need help dealing with addiction. Congregations I have served over the years have provided free meeting space for Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Usually, concern in the Christian community extends beyond that offered to outsiders. Some members struggle with addiction themselves. Pastors and staff have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling and sexual abuse. Most of us know firsthand about the heartbreak and frustration experienced when we try to help loved ones and friends.

How can we help? Common sense frequently says that a person with an addictive personality cannot be healed until he or she wants help, that the bottom has to be reached before progress can be made, that only “tough love” will work. Often treatments using these principles are effective, but in many cases they are not. It is refreshing and encouraging for church members and caretakers to learn that there are alternative forms of treatment that offer hope when everyone is at wit’s end.

In a book just published, “Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change,” Jeffrey Foote, Carrie Wilkens, Nicole Kosanke and Stephanie Higgs offer meaningful assistance to those suffering from addiction and to family members and friends who are trying to help. Based on more than 40 years of research and clinical practice in the Center for Motivation and Change in New York City, the authors argue that one size of treatment does not fit all; they strongly encourage caregivers not to give up on the need to provide understanding, kindness and love during the long time that is usually required during the recovery period.

The study is broken down into chapters that speak to caretakers’ primary concerns: “Where to start,” “What to know,” “How to cope,” “How to help,” “Live your life” and a necessarily helpful appendix, “When is it an emergency?”

Based on their experience using cognitive-behavior therapy, the authors are aware of how difficult it is for caretakers who have tried multiple approaches to treatment without success. The agony they experience, the frustra

tions they must endure and the money and time that are expended are clearly acknowledged and they know why family and friends can be tempted to give up all attempts to help. Yet, they are convinced that people suffering from addiction need the continual support and love of those close to them; they need positive interaction with social, church and work communities.

In chapters that give solid practical advice, family members are enabled to see how they can help with kindness and respect rather than confrontation and shouting. Tools are given to deal with their own anger and frustration and with the ambiguity, lack of cooperation, isolation and even violence of a loved one. Sections that describe medications that may be prescribed (their benefits and contraindications), ways to find the right treatment and therapists and what to expect if a loved one is undergoing inpatient treatment provide valuable suggestions about new ways to think and act.

“Beyond Addiction” is a practical, honest and clinically sound book and is useful, not just to those dealing with addiction, but anyone that wants to change the way they help others with any chronic physical, emotional or spiritual problems. It is also valuable to Christians because it is congruent with Jesus’ teaching about loving our neighbor and loving ourselves. The authors warn caregivers not to blame themselves when things go wrong. But they also insist that genuine compassion cannot be abandoned no matter how hard it gets. As they put it, “our loved ones’ problems become our problems—that’s the price we pay for love.”


earl-johnson-jrEARL S. JOHNSON JR. is a retired pastor living in Johnstown, N.Y., and adjunct professor of religious studies at Siena College.