Three BJU faculty and staff members with direct experience ministering to individuals suffering from addiction spoke at a leadership seminar titled “Helping Others in a Broken and Addicted World” on Tuesday, April 13.
Dr. Jim Berg, BJU Seminary faculty member and Level-3 certified biblical counselor, Dr. Marc Chetta, Division of Health Sciences faculty member, and Captain John Gardner, adjunct criminal justice faculty and retired Travelers Rest police captain, shared their experience and counsel to students to explain the universality of temptation, the deceptive nature of addiction and its only legitimate solution.
“Everybody knows somebody who’s touched by addiction, and the world has so many different ways of approaching it,” Berg said. Berg said addictions can be formed by the desire to fix hatred, anger, anxiety, worry or other struggles. “You can’t solve soul problems by doing something with your body,” Berg said. Evasive behaviors like self-harm, drinking alcohol, taking drugs or even obsessively driving for long hours increase, not treat, the soul problem, Berg said. “The only one who can deal with a soul problem is Jesus Christ.”
Berg’s doctoral research for biblical counseling was in the field of addictions, in which he refuted the idea that addiction was a medical “disease,” or a physical tendency that a person had no control over. Despite mainstream belief that addiction is medical, Berg said 85% of recovery programs in America are 12-step recovery programs, which are principle-based and not medical solutions. Berg said those programs have evidence-based success rates of 5-10%, but secular professionals don’t have better options. “All you do is switch your crutches from the drug to the group,” Berg said. “The Scriptures have the only answer to life-dominating sins.”
Ten years ago, Berg began an addiction counseling program in his church called Freedom That Lasts (freedomthatlasts.com) because a construction worker in his home pleaded with him for help. “I’ve been in and out of facilities and AA and I’ve been begging God to send me somebody to help me,” the man had said. Berg said a difference from secular to Christ-focused treatment is a matter of genuine hope. Speaking of a recent counseling session, Berg described the moment the light came into an addict’s eyes once he realized there was hope for breaking a lifetime cycle of addiction when other attempts fell short.
Another distinction between a faith-based recovery program and a secular program is the emphasis on sobriety. “We rejoice in [sobriety milestones], but our goal isn’t sobriety because you can be sober and be miserable,” Berg said. “You can be sober and be a thief. You can be sober and be an adulterer, you can be sober and and be a swindler. But you can’t be like Jesus and be any of those things. So our goal isn’t sobriety, it is to become the person God created us to be: intensely dependent upon God, His Church and His Word.”
Chetta worked during his career as an ER doctor and later a physician in a correctional environment. “I had sort of like the bookends of addiction,” Chetta said. “I saw . . . the consequences of addiction, the loss of jobs, the pain to families, the overdoses—the ugly side of drug addiction. I also saw the end game, incarceration, armed robbery, trafficking.”
“One in 11 people that ever drinks that first drink of alcohol is going to become an alcoholic,, statistically.” —Dr. Chetta
While addictions can grow from a simple curiosity, the development of a life-controlling behavior is unsuspected and unwanted. “I don’t think anybody in jail would say ‘The first time I vaped on a cigarette, it was my intent to become addicted to drugs and end up in jail,’” Chetta said, “[or] ‘Yeah, that’s what I started out to do. I wanted to become addicted to drugs.’”
Chetta said many young people who are at the front end of experimenting don’t expect to become addicted. “My question to them as a Christian would be ‘why?’ Christianity is not a license to do what I want; it’s a responsibility or duty to do what I ought to do.” Chetta said Ephesians 5:8 is an admonition to question choices that carry the potential of causing addiction. “One in 11 people that ever drinks that first drink of alcohol is going to become an alcoholic, statistically,” Chetta said. “That’d be like me taking a revolver with 11 slots, putting one bullet in there and taking that risk. I just don’t understand why.”
Although the physical aspect of drug addictions can be overcome within a matter of six weeks, the psychological addiction is much more powerful. Without a shift in mindset and belief, the likelihood of returning to the physical addiction is extremely high.
“Our goal isn’t sobriety, because you can be sober and miserable.” —Dr. Berg
Gardner was a police officer for 30 years, including undercover work involving narcotics and trafficking. “There are no boundaries for [addiction.] It crosses every level of families, culture and status,” Gardner said. College students can be tempted by peer pressure to join in for fun, in some cases by other students they respect, but an effective method to prevent addiction is understanding the potential consequences. “Knowledge and experience will help you make the right decision: ‘I don’t want to go down this road because I know where it leads,’” Gardner said.
Gardner said a sign of addiction in others and yourself is a withdrawal to secrecy or depression. If someone is facing the temptation or has given in to experimenting with addictive substances, Gardner said the first step should be to ask for help. “There should be no shame in approaching someone,” Gardner said. For those who want to be a help to those who struggle with temptation, Gardner recommends taking counseling classes or being involved in a ministry like Berg’s Freedom That Lasts.
The event, required for all student leaders and open to anyone who wanted to attend, consisted of a round of information from each speaker before a joint Q&A session. A recording is available here.