Follow Us

How to rescue an addict

Life as an addict is terrible – you’re estranged from family and friends, and worst of all, you’re estranged from yourself. You’re in a prison of hopelessness and you need rescuing. The ministry of rescuing an addict is a very relationship-intensive one; it requires you walk a d…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Life as an addict is terrible – you’re estranged from family and friends, and worst of all, you’re estranged from yourself. You’re in a prison of hopelessness and you need rescuing. The ministry of rescuing an addict is a very relationship-intensive one; it requires you walk a demanding tightrope, placing yourself at risk in order to build the trust necessary to help those who are typically paranoid, who struggle to trust. The odds are you will fail. And while I present a set of ten steps below, it is anything but a linear process.

Dave Hain was the best I’ve ever seen at it. He pulled a couple of hundred addicts off the streets of Philadelphia during his time there. The addicts looked at him as their pastor. Walking with him through the crack houses was always interesting. These are some of his secrets.

1.     Relationship
Establish a one-on-one relationships by sharing God’s love (rather than the
judgment that those on the streets are accustomed to feeling). 

2.     Relationship
Develop these relationships through individual and group counseling,
conversation, prayer, sharing a cup of coffee or a meal, Bible study, and contacting relatives with
information.  During this phase of
the process, try to earn trust by performing small favors – buying  food or conveying messages to and from
probation officers, police officers, lawyers, and estranged relatives and

3.     Trust Deepening: One
day at a time over the course of months and sometimes years of these meetings,
trust, hope and a sincere desire to change their own lives begin to form.  Until this process has progressed to
the point where a critical mass of trust exists, it is very difficult to take
an addict any further in the process.

4.     Hope-based
this point the counseling begins to focus on opportunities for detox,
short-term rehab and then long-term Christian rehab.  Many addicts have heard, “once an addict, always an addict.” They need hope. Typically addicts will make a commitment to getting off the
street well in advance of the day when they finally do take action.

5.     Intermediation: When
someone is ready to take action, you can serve as his or her advocate and place the
necessary telephone calls to obtain a detox bed.  This often requires assisting the addict to regain some
identification papers to replace those lost on the streets.  Frequently he or she will need to be
placed in interim housing over a weekend while these arrangements are
finalized.  Maintain relationships
with top detox and rehab centers and take time to earn their trust. Work with a number of detox centers. It will take time and communication. Always do what you promise you’ll do. There may be only a few who will work closely with you to allow visits and
have more relaxed entry requirements.   Key in our working with anyone to get them a detox bed
is that  “the doctors and
nurses can begin to treat the patient.”

6.     Detox &
in detox we speak to the caseworker to advocate a short-term resident

7.     Short-Term Rehab: During
the time in rehab, place the phone calls to obtain a phone interview for
admission into a four- to twelve-month Christian program.

8.     Transition:  When
the individuals you are assisting are ready to make the jump to a long-term
rehabilitation center,  help them with the logistical details and costs.  Maintain strong relationships with multiple rehabs.

9.     Long-Term Care: Our
primary behavioral goal during the rehab center stay is that each person face
the truth of the bad decisions they made which contributed to his or her
addiction.  He or she need to begin
making godly decisions to avoid relapse. 
The success rates of Christian rehabs as published by Teen Challenge and
others are over 70%.  With this in
mind, some men and women in secular rehabs where we teach Bible studies seek a
Christian rehab after their secular program is finished.

10.  After Care:  After
completion of a Christian rehab, we work with the men and women who enter an
after care phase, which requires months of one-on-one counseling with a pastor
followed by efforts to repair broken relationships and reintegration into
For more information, contact Dave Hain or read about his ministry here.

Comments (14)

  • Wonderful post. I recognized my husband in Dave’s guidelines… unspoken and unwritten, he does just those things as he reaches out to addicts… it’s about relationship, not fixing, and he really cares. He’s been sober and clean for 25 years now, is the Godly leader of our home and lives, and strives always to love God first, me second and others after. God saved him when he was homeless on a beach in Miami, and then used AA and the 12 steps to get him clean and keep him clean… and filled him up with enough love for others that he’s able to share both his faith in God and what AA has to offer. I’m a better person for his being the other half of my whole. He’s always bringing somebody home, for a meal, a bath, a place to sleep… and you know, it’s an interesting thing to me that, in my observation over the past few years, most who go into AA find God there… He likes to hang out where the hurting and lost souls are so He can scoop them up and love them tightly…

  • Seth….Thanks for these insightful comments from David Hain. I did call him some months ago per your request and believe I sent an email. We never connected. I would hope we can soon.

    There are a few points based on some personal experiences where I would supplement what is offered here.

    In no particular order here you go:

    1. “Addictions” take on many forms.

    2. The root causes are always spiritual.

    3. Environments can exacerbate the struggle of a person.

    4. The Teen Challenge “success rates” are very inflated.

    5. “Success” needs to have a definition.

    6. Christian society creates an “addiction hierarchy”.

    7. Prescription drugs are rampant in the religious world.

    There is no formula for the work of grace in the life of a person. Period. We all seem driven by microwave solutions and the miraculous.

    The pastor playing with pornography every day (a huge issue according to several denominational studies), the homemaker having regular hook ups for casual sex as an addict for love, the man gambling every paycheck on lottery tickets, the girl addicted to pot because a family has fallen apart and pain is too great, the gossip who daily creates wedges in the Kingdon Jesus died for, the power broker addict who cultivates the spirits of Ahab and Jezabel,the closet two pack a day smoker who knows cigarettes kill more than any substance in America, the “social drinker” who is a society maven hence party after party and their little flask allow for a hidden addiction, the serial marriage addict looking for love and fulfillment in all the wrong places……These are all addicts. We just make some “addictions” worse than others.

    And in the doing that makes us feel better about ourselves.

    The list is endless.

    So are the living and active words of God……

    God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourself before the Lord and in due season you will be exalted. Except wheat falls into the ground and dies there is no life. They will know we are Christians by our love.

    Crack. Pills. Alcohol. Power. Sex. Pornography. Gossip. Self promotion. Shopping.

    All these can be “addictions”.

    Having volunteered at the Bethel Colony of Mercy over six intensive months I saw just about everything come through the drawers.

    Pastors, lawyers, convicted felons, vets taking shots meant for animals, herioin addicts, meth addicts, cocaine users, child molesters and increasingly people abusing highly addicting mood managers like those used by many Christian leaders with whom I have worked. Xanax is wreaking damaage everywhere as fake smiles from dulled bodies make the world think all is ok. It is far from that.

    It is a complicted phenomenon with a foundational principle.

    When we find our fulfillment in Jesus we could care less about the approval of people, the management of pain and the need to hide.

    Addicts in recovery are fundamentally honest with each other in my experience. They cultivate a “church of the broken” where sharing only happens when everyone drops their metaphotical trousers–not just one person trying to “fix” someone. The noted rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke made the axiomatic statement “You can persuade a person only to the degree you can identify with them”.

    The outside of the circle pundits with little love and and big stick are clanging noise to the suffering.

    And without a cynical gene in my body right now I will tell you my experience is that the “fake church” are the worst offenders and often strike up the band so the melody of their own madness is forgotten.

    People often deflect from their substantial issues by having a spiritual laser pointer on another.

    Jesus had some sharp words about that. Very sharp.

    Thanks for posting this.

    I don’t imagine you’ll have a great number of responses on this topic compared to photo captions for pictures or a puppy. 🙂

    And you already know– but I’ll say again as your long term friend– you and Karen model what struggling addicts need– whatever their vice.

    There are just far too few who do insightfully care which is why I am always looking in the shadows for those locked in their personal prison.

  • Thanks for this post Seth. As with most ministries where you are reaching out to broken people who are still struggling, trust is the most important factor. I also believe always doing what you say you are going to do – when you say you will do it – is very important as well.

  • Loved this and Butch’s response!!! Will be reading it again. Actually trying to grow on the positive side of the fence. Any and all advice, info, counsel, and wisdom are welcomed! Wanta be a giant for Jesus!

    One side note, people always respond to me with the “once an addict always an addict” cliche. It is so planted in society through 99% of rehabilitation groups, Christian or not, to which I respond NOT TRUE! the Bible says that my past is over, that I am a new creation, I’m an overcomer, I am a child of God, I am delivered by the Blood of Jesus, all my sins are forgiven and He remembers them NO MORE (so how can I always be an addict), He does a new thing in ne…. and the list goes on and on!!!

    It is amazingly linked with who I am in Christ! As a man thinketh in his heart so is he. It’s why our society can’t seem to shake the lies… they still believe the lies. Sorry. But I am NOT an addict anymore! This does not mean I ignorant or denial of past either. It means I believe what the Bible says about me and not a 12 step program!

  • Seth, this is AWESOME! I know you’ll post a new blog tomorrow or even before the end of the day… but I wish you’d give us time to soak this in… repost it tomorrow…

    Thanx Butch, you and Seth make a great team!

  • Great post. As an addict/alcoholic I will say that as a church the best way to the love/help is not to take on an addict as a project. We can see right through that. We are not a project that you can fix, but a person that you can love. So build relationships. Remember that addictions do not develop overnight. Everyone wants the drugs to Jesus success story. But recovery takes time.

    I’ve been struggling with addiction since I was 14. I am 24 now and have been trying to get sober for 3 and half years. I have 10 months, praise God. I have had many people come and go. A lot of people “try” to fix me, but didn’t stay for the long haul. A lot of people in the church were ready to throw out quick fixes, but not ready to just love me where I am. Thankful God works despite jacked up people and I did have many people who loved me. They loved me whether or not I came to church, or bible study drunk. They prayed with me even in those drunken moments. I encourage those wanting to help addicts to not be afraid to pray for a person even when they are on drugs or drunk. God worked so powerfully during those moments when my mind was completely gone. Nights I don’t remember at all I can still remember the prayers people prayed over me.

    Also, This is #1 for me as far as helping addicts goes. I’m sorry to disagree with you Jen, but God works very powerfully in 12 steps programs. Please never insult the programs that save people’s lives. Not only has AA given me a safe place to go, but it has been an amazing place for me to minister to others in recovery. AA needs more Christians. Honestly the 12 steps are good for anyone not just us addicts like butch said “ they cultivate a “church of the broken” where sharing only happens when everyone drops their metaphorical trousers- not just one person trying to “fix” someone”. So before anyone insults 12 step programs think about all the lives that have been saved. I’ve known many who have come to Christ through 12 step programs. Unfortunately many of my addict friends were turned away from churches, but not AA.

    One more thing as far as “once an addict always an addict goes”. Be careful disagreeing with this. I firmly believe that God can and does heal us. While I believe this I also believe that the main problem is not the drug you put up your nose or the bottle of vodka you drink. The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind. I have noticed in my own recovery that I can be addicted to anything. Seriously I went through a cute sock phase. So whether or not I will always be that’s for God to say, but I’m not going to go out drink to figure it out.

    Sorry for the long response. Obviously this issue hits home for me.

  • Great post … and comments. As someone who got to see this up close and personal – with several people in various addictions – it all rings true. Wish I’d known then in each of those situations all that I know now … wish the church taught more realistically and practically on it.

    That’s not to say I wouldn’t have made the same mistakes – I had my own addiction issues to deal with – they just weren’t so plain to see. In fact, it took the accumulation of 44 years worth of junk – abortions, numerous sexual encounters – and even after my Christ encounter – a failed marriage and a couple terribly broken relationships to make me see the depth of my own need. Sex/love/relationship addictions that stemmed from a child sex abuse trauma. I couldn’t even fully remember the trauma – but when i got honest and humble, the mountain of evidence could not be denied.

    But God is faithful. To the one who says, “yes Lord I really want to be healed. I can’t do it on my own and I’ll take every bit of help you send my way and keep on pressing forward even when I stumble” – I, at least, have found God loves to answer that. It’s been less than a year but I have pursued help in every quarter I could find it – much has come from here but much elsewhere too. I’ve given myself 100% to healing and for the most part not really cared who knew. God is already repairing the emotional breaches with my kids. He’s sent along tons of encouragement from His word and His people – and even a place to minister from. SLAA, Celebrate Recovery, EMDR, (i passed on hypnosis), Christian therapists, loads of books, Freedom from Addiction, deliverance, theophostic prayer, Restoring The Foundations issue-focused ministry – it’s all been helpful and added something good to the mix. The last one – RTF, I consider the most comprehensively helpful at uncovering and healing root issues. And I’m delighted this will be part of our ministry at Beauty4Ashes going forward.

    God is in the business of redemption, healing and restoration … in all ways. Blessing and peace … and grace for your journey.

  • As a person with addicts in my life, I’ve discovered how talk of “unconditional love” is cheap. The reality is harder than I ever thought, yet has been the only way for me to truly understand what grace really is. The need to fix people, and solve their problems begins to weaken when I begin to accept the flaws in all of us.

    So many of us have been sold a lie of living our “best life now” and being the shiny happy people we think we must be. Yet we’re all flawed in a broken world, and the sooner we cultivate an environment of love and acceptance, the more freedom there is for people to begin a slow journey into wholeness.

  • Thanks for posting these words of wisdom. We are presently establishing relationships on the streets – not just with the homeless, the addicts, the prostitutes, but also with the body of Christ who is already out there doing their thing.

    This post gives me a nudge to research and make contacts with directors of rehabs etc. What I have seen, however, is that these “programs”, especially those with beds, are usually full. But, I have also seen heroin addicts get clean and prostitutes come to Christ. The only program they had was years and years and years of unconditional love. We serve an amazing God!

  • The reality is that if we all take an honest look in the mirror, we all have addictions in one form or many. When are we as a Church going to commit to seeing eachother’s hearts instead of eachother’s flesh?

    We are each so much more than the product of our particular sin and the iniquities that lead up to it. Along with each weakness and failure we each posess the potential for greatness.

    I know that for me, when somebody recognizes and acknowledges to me a potential within me, it inspires me and gives me courage to reach for something that seemed otherwise impossible. I have been very fortunate to have several such people in my life over the last few years, Seth being one of them, and I hope to be one of those people for whomever God brings across my path.

    We all have “stuff” that disqualifies us on the surface, but God’s grace makes that stuff the building blocks of His glory. And praise God for that.

  • Thanks Seth for this posting. And Butch, I appreciate your thoughtful response. Even within the Christian community, addiction is looked on as weakness and one of the worst of sins. Fortunately, I am involved in my Christian community because I AM broken. I am the failed sinner that needs forgiveness and grace. If I waited until I was “good enough” to participate, I doubt I would ever show up but hide in guilt and shame. But God loves me in spite of me.

    Recently, I shared my life story with an old friend and his wife. It is a painful one….chemical imbalances, addiction, and divorce. Looking forward to a lovely evening with them this evening, I was just informed that his wife was not comfortable with my presence because of my past brokenness.

    Is not the church for those who are broken, seek forgiveness and acceptance? Intolerance sends me back into shame, guilt and protective isolation. All emotions from Satan.

  • *WOW* to both the original post and double-wow on Butch’s comment. That is sobering food for thought. Thank you for this wake-up. In my naiveté I tend to think everyone’s life is as boring as is mine. People hurt, we look for something to dull the pain. I do not bemoan anyone for their chosen “solution” but God has the only effective one.

    I will be thinking on this a long time. Thanks again.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Radical Living:

Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

© Adventures In Missions. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | RSS Feed | Sitemap