Our family has experienced the agony of a prodigal son. In early 2000s we hit a season of great despair when our son, Evan—who was in his late teens—was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Each year, it is estimated that 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. (Source: NIAAA, 2020)
This month, as we celebrate National Alcohol Awareness Month, I want others to know that they are not alone. I hope this encourages others, who are struggling with addiction themselves or have a family member who is suffering, by sharing some of the lessons we have learned.
It’s Not Your Fault
During this unimaginable season of our son’s addiction, my wife, Kelly, and I didn’t know if we should fall on our face before God for help or shake an angry fist at him. Both of which we did. And we often wondered, “What did we do wrong? How could we have been better parents? Did we not spend enough time with him?”
But ultimately sin and the seduction of the world is very cunning. And our son’s addiction—while we felt like it reflected on us—was not about us. It was about his belief in the lie that life is about our own pleasure. During this time, we found our way through with prayer and also learned many of our own lessons about who God is and how to deal with addiction. It’s okay to be vulnerable and ask a trusted friend, mentor or counselor to pray for you and your family. And ask the Lord for wisdom, guidance and direction.
We also learned that alcoholism is a disease of the brain. While there is sin involved in any addiction, over consumption literally changes brain chemistry, and as tolerance to alcohol increases, those addicted must use more and more to feel the same effects. (Source: Recovery Centers of America)
Don’t Lose Hope
It’s a family crisis when someone is suffering from addiction. And ultimately, there came a moment when we as parents had to let go … of the shame, the control and the anxiety we were experiencing from our child’s addiction. Letting go and asking God into the situation helped with our healing as well as our son’s recovery. Ultimately, we learned that his addiction was something he had to work out with God. And God loves our children even more than we ever could.
“Looking over that season in our family, I often forgot or doubted the faithfulness and goodness of God,” my wife said. “I regret that for even one moment I felt that God wasn’t faithful. God is faithful. He is with you; he hasn’t abandoned you.” The Bible says, “He [the Lord] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (NIV Psalm 147:3) And we can trust him to do just that.
Seek Help Today
If you or someone you know needs freedom from addiction, seek help today. There are many great resources and organizations that can help such as Teen Challenge—a ministry started by my late father—and Celebrate Recovery. Especially during this time of a pandemic and isolation, sin and addiction can feed off loneliness and stress. Currently two-thirds of Americans have said their consuming of alcohol has increased during COVID-19.
As parents with children struggling from addiction, we learned about codependency and behaviors that fed addictions. Additionally, we had to set firm boundaries, which was often hard. However, the Holy Spirit helped us in our weakness as we relied on God. And finally, while true change often takes prayer and heart transformation, we also believe in the power of detox, rehab and counseling. These tools help support those working towards recovery.
Evan, our prodigal son, now works for World Challenge’s Faith Answers, an apologetics ministry offering answers to tough questions and objections to faith in Jesus. “I don’t recognize the person I was before,” he says. “Despite my actions and my running away from God, he kept putting things in place to turn me back to him. God absolutely lavished me with grace despite my behavior. Slowly, one step after another, he miraculously led me out of my addiction.”
We hope Evan’s story will be your story one day too. And we pray for God’s redemption in your life this month as we celebrate all those who have been released from addiction.
If you or anyone you know needs help dealing with addiction, please reach out to the incredible ministry of Teen Challenge.
Gary Wilkerson is the president of World Challenge, a global ministry that aims to transform lives through the message and mission of Jesus Christ. Wilkerson is also the founding pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009. He has traveled nationally and internationally to speak at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics and feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth.