I was sitting in the living room watching TV on a break from college when I received a phone call from an old friend in Marietta, Georgia. I welcomed the call because it had been ages since I last heard his voice. I expected a long conversation about how things were going and talks about college and all the fun we both were experiencing. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Ryan, what’s up man? Been a long time, huh?
Ryan: (quietly and somewhat hesitant) Hey Robbie. I don’t know if you heard yet but Johnny has died of an overdose.
Me: (sitting down…mouth open) What?
Johnny and I were best friends until I moved from Marietta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee and we grew apart after that. We went in different directions knowing that the path he was taking lead him to some pretty dark places in this world. Johnny was in to the drug scene and eventually died because of it.
We all have our “Johnny’s” we can share as the rate of alcohol and drug use among teenagers is consistently (and unacceptably) too high. A Tennessee High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (please click here for scary statistics) conducted in 2009 indicated that close to 70% of teens grades 9-12 have at least tried alcohol once. There’s more…
- 20% drank alcohol before the age of 13
- 19% Had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple of hours on at least 1 day. (during the 30 days before the survey)
- 37% had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
- 12% said they had sniffed glue, breathed the contents of aerosol spray cans, or inhaled any paints or sprays to get high one or more times
(during their life).
That’s only in Tennessee but you can check any state using this website (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/YouthOnline/App/Default.aspx). The sad part is that there is drug and alcohol use in the church. Some parents struggle with it…some students struggle with it and all they hear from the church is “don’t do it.” But they do! Why? Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock in their book Helping Teenagers in Crisis give eight reasons (pp. 200-03):
- Peer Pressure
- Declaration of Independence
- Disinhibition – “I drink because it helps me be myself.”
Youth ministers, parents and students we fight an upward battle where many people are against us. Teenagers just do not get the ramifications of alcohol and drugs. For example, did you know that there is a direct correlation between drug and alcohol use and sexual activity? If you find someone who is struggling with drugs and alcohol I can almost guarantee that on some level they are struggling sexually. They may not be having sexual relations but odds are they are looking at pornography or sexually pleasing themselves. There is also conflicting narratives teens hear from adults or college students. It is true that the bible does not condemn having a glass of wine here and there but my question is, “Why bother?” It’s expensive…in order to know your limit you have to push your limit which is a selfish motive in the first place.
So how do we help?
ENGAGE (Van Pelt and Hancock, 204-07)!
- Look for the signs of drug and alcohol abuse (withdrawal, mood swings, resistance to authority, behavior problems like stealing or vandalism, changes in eating habits, unexpected health issues). The signs are, “inexplicable, unprecedented and persistent.”
- As youth ministers we need to encourage parents to face reality. They may be in denial but we need to gently push them to face the facts.
- Affirm the parents desire to help their children work through this.
- Encourage professional help where needed.
Youth ministers we need to conitinually teach about drugs and alcohol and the dangers in them but we also need to help bear the burdens of those who are addicted. If you have a teen or a parent who is addicted DO NOT GIVE UP ON THEM!!! They will relapse, frustrate you and then come back again only to relapse again. Rome was not built in a day and addictions built over a period of time do not go away without time. It takes a while and it takes a village and it takes a God!!! Which leads me to the conclusion…if healing is going to happen it must be in the redemptive arms of God. I want to close in an odd way…will you pray for those who are struggling with alcohol and drugs? Will you mention them by name? Will you read Psalm 103 below and pray? Will you then contact a person who is struggling either by a letter, phone call or text telling them you are there to help?
1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, my soul.