Dear Aunt Sevvy:
I just learned that a prominent woman in our church is a drug addict. It apparently started with prescription opioids for pain, and eventually she obtained them illegally. I have mentioned to our pastor that if anyone should be expelled from church membership it should be her, if for no other reason than to set an example to younger people of how God regards those who have fallen into bad habits.
The pastor thinks addiction is an illness, not a sin, and refuses to bring it up to the board. At this point, I’m thinking that we’ll go elsewhere.
Signed, Angry about a Bad Example
This seems like an excellent time for some education about addiction. Addiction is not a bad “habit,” nor is it a sin.
Not all chemical dependency is addiction. There are more people than you realize whose body is dependent on the substance, but the substance is not destructive in their lives the way an addiction is. If the story you have heard about her is accurate, then it may be that this woman has a genuine addiction, and I’m sure no one is more unhappy about it than she is.
Yet this isn’t an uncommon situation for people with chronic pain to be in. Particularly with some of the new painkillers, whose marketing was intentionally manipulated to create addiction, it is surprisingly easy to gradually develop an addiction to pain meds. Let’s say you get in a car accident and have chronic back pain. You get some painkillers from your doctor and take them. They provide relief from your pain. After a few weeks, they stop providing the relief you want. You are still in pain after taking your prescribed dose. So you take just a little more. Now you finally have the relief you wanted. This pattern repeats: you begin taking higher and higher doses because your body has adjusted to the effects of the smaller doses.
Without even realizing it, and only because you wanted relief from pain, your body now has a destructive chemical dependency. You can’t stop taking the drug without the effects of chemical withdrawal. Now you’re addicted.
Eventually your doctor stops prescribing the drug. Now how are you going to get it? You begin finding black market suppliers.
You might be surprised to know that a large number of people addicted to painkillers are middle and upper class professionals.
All this to say that the woman in your church needs compassion and professional help, not judgment. If you are not a professional who helps people overcome addiction—and from your attitude I can safely assume you are not—then leave her personal problems alone. Show her love and inclusion at church. That is what Jesus would do.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without real names. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’seditors.