by: Brenda Payne

“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69*).

Epidemic! Crisis! Emergency! Dilemma! Plight! These words describe the current state of drug use, abuse, and addiction in America. No one understands the enormity of the problem and the toll substance abuse takes more than the parents of addicts. Hearing about drug addiction is one thing, but watching it lived out in the life of one’s own child can be devastating. It is estimated that more than 21 million people over the age of 12 battle drug and/or alcohol abuse.⁠1 The staggering number of those struggling with addiction translates into 42 million parents! To offer a scale, that’s more people than live in the state of California⁠2. The emotional, relational, financial, and even physical toll on parents is incalculable.  

For many parents, the substance abuse began under their roof and worsened once their child exited the family home. But, the legal age of adulthood and ensuing independence does not sever the parental ties of love. It simply means parents have the incredible burden of watching their child self-destruct with no authority to do anything about it.  

Left feeling hopeless and helpless, Christian parents of adult addicts are desperate for guidance. The most important matter parents must address is “Who will they trust for wisdom?” The implications are enormous because trust and truth determine belief and practice. The Bible teaches there are two paths for wisdom: worldly wisdom and godly wisdom. James says there is a wisdom that is “earthly, spiritual and demonic” and a wisdom that is “from above”.  The Proverbs warn against false systems of wisdom, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”(Proverbs 14:12).

For the past 2000 years, the church has been God’s prescribed means for the wisdom of soul care. Historically, when people were in trouble they went to their clergy for help.⁠3 The church was the hub of ministry advocating for both sinners and sufferers. Issues like substance abuse were viewed moral in nature, and the church clearly owned the rights to moral issues. But over the past 200 years, there has been a seismic shift in how the world views addiction that affects both the care of addicts and their families. The church and Christian parents have been greatly impacted by the changes.

Researcher William White has written a series of papers chronicling the historical evolution of beliefs, attitudes, and treatments for addicts and their family members.⁠4  Even when motivated out of care and concern, attempts to “cure” the addict have often been cruel and contradictory.

In his paper, First Do No Harm: Iatrogenic Effects of Early Addiction Treatment, White explores the many unintentional but harmful consequences to addicts through well-meaning treatments.  These treatments have ranged from drinking disgusting concoctions, strict dietary regimes, consuming natural substances like gold or bark, blistering, bleeding, unwittingly administering poisonous substances, administering other (and sometimes more addictive) drugs, shock therapies, experimental lobotomies, and classifying addicts with the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.⁠5 White concludes his paper saying, “Harm done in the name of good is an enduring theme in the history of addiction treatment.”

If watching a loved one endure such treatment is not bad enough, family members of addicts have their own sad history.⁠6 White reports attitudes toward families have swung between ambivalence to hostility, from blaming to victimizing. Theories of bad genetics and parenting have burdened moms and dads with undue shame. Wives and mothers, in particular, have been targeted as producing or enabling the addict. Family members have often been neglected receiving little to no support or care. Their normal actions and reactions to life with an addict have been treated as mental and behavioral disorders. Con artists have exploited the hope and finances of family members with promises of miracle cures. As a result of so much mistreatment and misunderstanding, it is no wonder family members have sought solace from one another and banded together for support and advocacy.⁠7

The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by the influence of psychology and psychiatry which continues to define the attitudes and treatments for addicts and their families today. The widely accepted view and vocabulary of the word “disease” to describe the condition of the addict, as well as their family members, has led to the medicalization and professionalization of treatment methods. In addition, addicts and their families are increasingly labeled with mental health “disorders.”  Even the church has succumbed to these humanistic viewpoints and parted from traditional Christian beliefs. Ed Bulkley writes, “Generally speaking, Christians have great confidence in psychology.” Christians, who once believed drunkenness stemmed from a heart issue and the “cure” was found in the grace of Jesus Christ at the soul level, increasingly accept and trust the world’s view which does not acknowledge sin nor the need for a Savior.

What you believe about God, addiction, your adult child, and your own parental goals and responsibilities matters! History shows us that man’s wisdom is constantly changing. We need to be like the wise man who built his house on the rock, not like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. When the storm came, the house on the rock stood while the other house collapsed (Matt. 7:24-27). Are you wisely discerning the counsel you are receiving from Google, support groups, books, blogs, counselors, and even friends? Are you measuring all counsel, even “Christian” counsel, against the truth of God’s Word?

May I challenge you to commit to grow in God’s wisdom through knowledge of the Word, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and support and advocacy through the body of Christ (the local church).

God does have much to say to parents of addicts. His ways promote comfort and change. And, He alone supplies the power and provision necessary to turn misery into opportunities for grace and growth in Him!

*All scriptures are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



3 Biblical Counseling and The Church

4 For a history of addiction treatment and historical views on family members, I recommend searching

5 White, W. L. (1999). First do no harm: Iatrogenic effects of early addiction treatment..

6 White, W. L. All in the Family

7  Ibid.

Coming Next Week: Desperate Parents Need Real Help (Part 2)

Brenda Payne

Brenda was the first woman to be certified in the state of Alabama with the Association of Biblical Counselors where she counseled and taught women for twenty years. She is currently a “volunteer” for Jesus counseling and training in her new hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Brenda is completing her thesis project for her MABC at Faith Seminary on “A Manual for Christian Parents of Adult Addicts from a Distinctively Biblical Worldview”. Her interest in helping parents of adult addicts is the result of her own personal journey.

Brenda and her husband Paul have three grown children. She is passionate about speaking, writing, counseling and mentoring to encourage women to seek biblical counseling and discipleship training. She also enjoys hospitality and managing her “Scenic City” Airbnb, enjoying a good cup of coffee over meaningful conversation, and engaging in culture and outdoor activities.

She co-authored the Teach Them Diligently study guide and wrote Motherhood: Hope for Discouraged Moms.  She is the co-founder of Known Ministries ( a non-profit committed to inspiring, equipping and training women in the personal ministry of the Word and problem-solving discipleship. She is the founder of the Chattanooga Biblical Counseling Coalition and the Chattanooga Biblical Counseling Women’s Network.

[email protected]