Pastors, priests, and religious leaders provide such a key role in the lives of countless Americans. From marriage counseling to spiritual guidance to depression to family challenges, they are the first place so many of us turn.
There’s one other increasingly common challenge that shows up in religious leaders’ offices: addiction.
Whether it’s a spouse looking for the best route to help their partner, a mother desperate to alleviate their child’s cravings, or the individual ready for a new start, tough conversations about addiction are happening with faith-based leaders across the nation every day.
In truth, this venue is the perfect place for these conversations. Faith-based leaders have tremendous patience and grace when working one-on-one or facilitating small group discussions. We also admire their ability to be fully present in an engagement. Particularly with individuals fighting addiction, having someone to just be present and sit with them while they recount their story means the world.
To help leaders assist their congregations with the devastating challenges of addiction, we wanted to highlight five different things to know about addiction counseling.
1) Be Wary of Going Cold Turkey
When individuals struggling with addiction initially come into your office for help, there’s a high likelihood they are currently on their substance of choice. Old conventions occasionally slip into the “going cold turkey” approach.
The idea of “going cold turkey” isn’t just outdated; it could be lethal.
While we recognize that most faith-based leaders don’t fall into this pattern of thinking, we just want to stress the importance of a medically facilitated detox. Many times, public thinking recognizes the painful detox associated with heroin and cocaine. It’s true, those detoxes are rough, but it’s oftentimes the substances you write off that pose the highest risk during a detox.
Substances like Xanax, Valium, Zomas, and Benzodiazepine pose serious risks during a detox. Also, an alcohol detox can cause a heart seizure leading to death. It’s always better to play it safe and have patrons currently using to go to a detox center to have a facilitated and monitored experience. After all, sometimes individuals aren’t completely forthcoming or fully remember everything they’ve been on.
Regardless of the drug, the detox process could set the tone for the overall recovery process. The more traumatizing the detox, the more challenging recovery could be.
Having several local detox centers you trust on speed dial or even compiled on a list makes quick action easier.
2) Two Sides of the Recovery Coin
Spiritual guidance, prayer, self-reflection, and personal development can play a huge role in recovery. It’s only part of the full equation. Particularly for someone new to recovery, the cravings to return to old behaviors and use will be almost overwhelming.
Any time you’re working with someone struggling with addiction, it’s important to remember there are two aspects to this disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse highlights two elements. The first is a chronic relapsing challenge defined by compulsive drug-seeking behavior. The second is a brain disease due to the long-lasting chemical changes from substances.
Too often, approaches to treatment miss the brain disorder aspect, only working on the behavioral and environmental aspects.
3) Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is Leading the Way
Continuing the conversation about addressing the brain disorder caused by addiction, it’s important to know the role of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in recovery. This progressive new treatment combines medication, counseling, and behavioral therapies to address those chemical changes in the brain.
As if the recovery space didn’t have enough stigmas associated with it, MAT brings a whole new level of skepticism and discernment to the conversation. Unfortunately, that apprehensiveness doesn’t look at the facts. Rather, it plays off of stereotypes and assumptions that individuals are switching one drug out for another.
You can read more about the perceptions and myths here.
Cravings to return to substances have never been stronger. That means it’s harder for individuals to stop right off the bat. That doesn’t factor in the risks of going cold turkey. Different medications such as VIVITROL and Naltrexone ease cravings for a long period of time. This helps individuals get through the initial recovery phase and builds a stronger foundation for long-term recovery.
This isn’t to say that MAT is the best treatment for everyone. It’s merely to point out that oftentimes individuals need a better approach in those early recovery months.
4) Bring Loved Ones or Family Members Into the Conversation
It’s almost impossible to get the full story from one source. Regardless of if you’re recapping the events of a recent congregational picnic or remembering the meetings from last week, everyone struggles to recall all the details. Additionally, other individuals have different perspectives of the same event.
That process becomes increasingly harder when we’re working to address challenges we’ve had and mistakes we’ve made.
Bringing in a family member or a loved one to help encourage the individual, add in extra details, provide context, and give their own perspective helps you to get the full picture. This gives you the best information to see what’s really going on.
5) Watch for Safety Issues
When someone reaches that point, where they reach out to another with a desperate desire to change, they are at a jumping point. Either they want help and are ready to go into treatment or are willing to call it quits and end the pain.
You have to be mindful of suicidal red flags.
Once you identify if they’ve considered suicide, it’s important to walk with them to see how far they have thought it through. The further into the process they’ve thought out, the more quickly you need to act.
Risk isn’t always isolated to suicide. Self-harm behavior also regularly coincides with addiction. From cutting to burning to eating disorders to putting yourself in harmful relationships, there are many different ways self-harm can present itself.
It’s not just an individual’s personal safety that needs to be addressed. You also need to evaluate the safety of others. Questions like, “Are your kids at home when you drink?” or “Is anyone else at risk when you’re using?” can help identify other safety risks.
Know What Comes Next
What comes after that person asking for help leaves your office? Where do they go? How do they continue in their recovery and find the help they are so desperate for?
You never know when someone is going to walk into your office and ask for your guidance on how to treat addiction. When they leave your office, you want to have the confidence that they are taking the powerful “next step” in their recovery.
In the heat of the moment, you don’t want to be scouring the Internet trying to figure out where to send them.
We recommend having a list of trusted community resources handy in the event that someone walks in tomorrow desperate for help. This should include detox facilities, outpatient facilities, in-patient programs, residential programs and notes on who takes insurance and who doesn’t. In this article, we outline different characteristics to look for and a synopsis of the treatment journey.
In today’s dicey age, having a list of providers you trust is pivotal. Too many facilitates look professional but don’t prioritize the care of the patient. That’s not even factoring in the different scams permeating the news. You don’t want to risk the health of your congregation with a less than reputable provider.
At Confidential Recovery, we would like to invite you to come see the difference for yourself. Our holistic outpatient program integrates a personalized treatment plan with a strategic, long-term, cutting-edge approach to truly help individuals realize life after addiction. We’re always open to answering questions, helping families figure out where to go next, identifying when the problem has reached a breaking point, and more.
Read over what makes us different or give us a call today. We are also happy to recommend other Southern California providers to add to your trusted resource list.
Call (619) 452-1200 or text (619) 993-2738.