Prescription Drug Abuse Among Christians

Criminals…deadbeats…when we hear the term “drug addict,” those are a few of the derogatory words that often spring to mind. However, substance abuse can occur in anyone’s life, regardless of age, gender, economic status, or religious affiliation.

Some Christians regard themselves as immune, because they don’t “run in those circles.” And — granted — street drugs may not be as common among avid churchgoers. But medicines, like painkillers and certain anti-anxiety medications, can sneak in under the radar, leaving straight-fliers vulnerable to prescription drug abuse.

Prescription drug abuse

Overall, prescription drug abuse has become a serious problem. For example, emergency room visits involving the misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers nearly doubled between 2004 and 2009. Furthermore, an estimated 5,500 people use these medications for non-medical purposes every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that abuse of prescription painkillers in women, in particular, has skyrocketed, with a 400% increase in overdoses since 1999.

Painkillers aren’t the only type of prescription drug that can be abused. People might also become addicted to stimulants, like Ritalin or Adderall, used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Stimulants are popular drugs of abuse because they can increase energy levels and help with weight loss.  Medications for sleep and anxiety, such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), are another class of commonly abused prescription medication.

Complications for addicted Christians

Feelings of guilt and shame can trigger — or contribute to — a problem with drug abuse. Many Christians feel they fall short, often due to unrealistically high standards among some religious communities. Guilt can plague anyone who believes he or she has failed God. For example, a disintegrating marriage or lack of compassion towards a loved one can trouble an otherwise devout Christian deeply. Some self-medicate these negative emotions with drugs — prescription and otherwise.

In certain traditions, cycles of guilt and repentance can also delay treatment, as addicts bargain with God to absolve or heal them. As they struggle with their “sins,” Christians often fail to recognize they are suffering from a disease.

Consequences of prescription drug abuse

Prescription drug abuse can lead to serious consequences if ignored or left untreated.  Depending on the type of medication being abused, the effects can range from increased heart rate, seizures, memory problems, and dangerously high body temperatures. Overdoses might cause lasting health problems or death.

Judgment and decision making can become impaired with such abuse.  Driving under the influence can have tragic consequences, especially if children or other loved ones are in the car – or on the road as a pedestrian or passenger in another vehicle.

Income and careers can be lost due to prescription drug abuse, leaving one’s family in serious financial trouble. An addiction can also make it hard for someone to know when to stop drinking alcohol, leading to the risk of a dangerous interaction between alcohol and the prescription drug.

Addiction treatment — particularly Christian addiction treatment — can be a crucial and highly effective means to help break the pattern of abuse and recover from an addiction once it’s developed.

Signs of prescription drug abuse

While each individual is different, and different drugs produce different symptoms, there are almost always several signs that suggest a problem has developed.  These may include:

  • Excessive mood swings
  • Poor memory
  • Slurred speech
  • Getting prescriptions from multiple physicians, also called “doctor shopping”
  • Having a physician deny a refill
  • Taking pain medicine after an injury has healed
  • Feeling guilt about taking the drug
  • Keeping drug use secret
  • Taking larger or more frequent dosages than prescribed

It’s important to play close attention, as the signs can be easily missed or attributed to something else.  While friends and family often want to give the benefit of the doubt, ignoring the signs or turning a blind eye can lead to a disastrous outcome.

The importance of drug rehab treatment

Addiction is a serious mental health condition that affects the brain. Like other chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, it requires treatment by skilled professionals. An addiction can rarely be overcome by sheer willpower or prayer alone – no matter how strong someone’s faith.  While the power of prayer and personal strength should never be ignored, the first step is getting into drug rehab treatment.  If adhering to Biblical principles and being surrounded by Christian staff are important factors, then a Christian addiction treatment program will be the best fit.

Depending on the substance, the individuals may need to go through a medically-monitored withdrawal. This ensures a safe detox after the drug use is stopped. Medical staff will monitor withdrawal symptoms and, when needed, provide relief for really unpleasant or potentially dangerous symptoms. Some prescription drugs, like benzodiazepines, may require tapered doses over a period of days or weeks to allow for safe detox.

Christ-centered rehab programs

Once detox is completed, the real work begins.  In a Christ-centered rehab program, therapy will have several components. Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is often used to identify the negative thoughts and irrational beliefs that contribute to prescription drug abuse. Therapy sessions, which may be individual, in a group setting, or both, helps individuals pinpoint why they started abusing drugs. Once they’re aware of the triggers, they work with their therapist to find practical, drug-free ways to deal with them. They’ll also learn how to resist cravings so they can stay in recovery and avoid a relapse.

A physician may recommend medication to treat any underlying mental health conditions that contribute to the abuse or addiction. Medications are not a crutch or a cop-out. Rather, they are tools that address the biological issues that play into addiction. For example, an antidepressant medication may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of depression that often contribute to drug abuse. Taking medication under a physician’s care can help alleviate troubling symptoms that may otherwise interfere with patients’ ability to focus on their treatment.

In Christian addiction treatment, there are spiritual components that many believers (and even non-believers) find both comforting and beneficial.  For instance, patients typically have access to regular religious services as well as quiet time for prayer and meditation. Many Christian rehab programs also provide one-on-one spiritual counseling with a pastor or other clergy. Regular Bible study sessions are also often on the agenda.   Each of these components can help fill the void that drug abuse creates between Christian addicts and God.  As Jeremiah so beautifully wrote, Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise” (Jeremiah 17:14).

Christian 12 step programs

Christian recovery often includes a 12 step program. Based on the principles originally used in Alcoholics Anonymous, drug addiction-focused self-help groups provide support and encouragement during recovery. The 12 step method is founded on Biblical teachings, such as the acknowledgement of a higher power, the recognition of shortcomings, and the process and importance of asking for forgiveness.

Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem that has long-lasting effects on a person’s health, not to mention his or her relationship with God and others. If you’re abusing prescription drugs, you owe it to yourself to seriously consider Christian addiction treatment. Talk with an addiction specialist today so you can begin the process of healing and recovery.

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