Just say no. Sounds easy, doesn't it? A simple solution to a complex problem. Just say no and it all goes away. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse can't be sloganed away. It continues to wreck marriages and families, steal efficiency from our labor force, and endanger private and public transportation. Chemical abuse destroys healthy bodies, ravages young minds. Drugs and alcohol relax inhibitions and numb consciences to the depravity of sexual sins. Impatient and impoverished dopers resort to dirty needles carrying the AIDS virus. The need to support a habit often drives dependents to crime and prostitution. Addicts pay their daily dues to an underground of pushers, drug lords, and organized crime.
No wonder society has rolled out all its big guns for the war against drug abuse. Prevention efforts such as "Just Say No," toughened legislation, police and military sorties against suppliers, intensified education, and rehabilitation programs are positioned on the parapets against the onslaught of chemical abuse.
But these well-meaning efforts will not solve the problem. We tried Prohibition, but alcoholism remains. Public sex education has not kept teen pregnancy rates from soaring. The homosexual movement grew in spite of opposing laws in every state. Endless efforts at education and public awareness have not ameliorated our problems of poverty, bigotry, unemployment, or homelessness. Humanists insist that our evolving race has the will and wisdom to solve is own problems. There's a little good in all of us, the argument goes. But their claim lacks the credibility a single convincing success might offer. When the reality of human sinfulness and the necessity of divine help are not factored in, even the most well-intentioned plans for solving social problems are only pipe dreams.
The heart of the problem
If drug addiction afflicted only the poor, we could solve the problem with money. If chemical abuse afflicted only the uninformed, education and creating awareness would be the answer. If the threat of punishment could deter illicit drug users, half our prisons would stand empty. But the fact that substance abuse afflicts all categories of people demonstrates that it is more than a social problem. It is also a spiritual problem.
Drug and alcohol abuse is like every other human malady. It is just one more symptom of an inner disturbance of our relationship with God. Sin is involved. We have no natural ability to say no to sin. If we did, we wouldn't get hooked on drugs in the first place.
The fact that we call it a dependency tips us off to the real problem. Drug abuse is really a thinly veiled form of idolatry. Users and abusers abandon their trust in God's promise of eternal happiness for the allure of short-term pleasure. They prefer a quick high to God's guidance through the valleys of life.
An introspective approach
Just telling users to say no is not a very credible approach in a society that says yes to so many substitute gods. Often the same people who tell our youth to say no to drugs are saying yes to some other not-so-subtle form of idolatry in their own lives. Maybe it is money, success, self-indulgence. Frequently it is sexual impurity. Sometimes it is workaholism and neglect of family. The irony of this hypocrisy is not lost on those we try to counsel.
Frankly, we all have our sinful dependencies. Christians who daily admit this about themselves gain an insight into an effective approach for helping the chemically dependent. Through daily repentance we confess that we cannot by our own reason or strength say no to sin or yes to Jesus Christ. Only the power of God working in our lives through his word gives us victory in our daily battles.
Permanent help for idolatrous dependencies is effected only by divine intervention. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:11,12).
Divine grace alone accomplishes what legislation, law enforcement, money, and education cannot. Drugs are false gods who do not deliver what they promise. They will not be displaced unless replaced by a different God, the one who sent Jesus.
Surround them with love
Those who work with chemical dependency know that it is not cured with the application of a few words about religion. Drug use, as is every idolatrous abuse, is a persistent, addictive sin. If the abuser is in your home, you must personally commit yourself to surrounding the victim with love.
Most often, this is a lifetime commitment. This should not deter the resolve of those who know that nurturing Christian faith is always a lifetime work.
Helping the addict begins with a practical, mechanical step. The victim must be removed from the chemical influence which is dominating him. No one under the influence can respond to Jesus talk. This first step usually involves medical, professional, and even institutional help.
The next step is to provide a lifetime of surrounding, Christian love. Sometimes this requires round-the-clock attention. There are many small but important ways for us to communicate God's forgiving and empowering love. Our own example of avoiding idolatrous dependencies is one. Our attitude, our patience, our tone of voice, our sacrificial commitment to helping the individual offers a context in which the weak will be willing to listen to specific instruction about their Savior. And when there is a relapse, we will do what God has repeatedly done for us: repeat steps one and two.
Fill the void
Chemical abuse is filling a huge void in the American psyche. The Savior God who fills our emptiness has been excluded from many homes. Churches have replaced Bible-based preaching of sin and grace with a shallow emphasis on social reform. False gods rush in where the true God is not occupying the heart.
This observation should prompt our agenda for the prevention as well as the cure of substance abuse. While the world chips around the edge of the problem with endless programs, Christ's church has the answer for this latest form of idolatry. Churches where Christ is preached and homes where he is present offer the best prevention of drug abuse.
No social program will replace the simple piety of a Christian home where father and mother show and tell how Jesus fills their lives. No amount of federal money can accomplish what a faithful pastor does when he urges his congregation to a life of repentance and faith. Our agenda for action against drugs starts with regular worship and Bible study, family devotions and prayer.
Society's drug education is mostly negative. Scare tactics which threaten the AIDS virus, fried brains, and economic loss are supposed to make us say no. But Christians have a message that idolaters can say yes to. The need is obvious and our Savior has already commissioned us. Let's share with others his forgiving love, his comfort for the disappointments of life, his answer to prayer, the guidance of his word, and his promise of physical resurrection and eternal life. Let's fill the void in their life with Jesus. And pray God that they will just say yes.
By Professor Wayne D. Mueller