The Damage Caused by Drugs and Alcohol


Proverbs 20:1 declares, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise." Because God's Word is true, the truth in that one proverb is becoming increasingly more evident as we become more technologically advanced.

I have worked with alcoholics and drug addicts for over 14 years now in a Christian rehabilitation on campus ministry. The men come for eight weeks. Some transition to a halfway house for another six months to a year. Slowly, they move back into the mainstream of life.

Over the years, I am becoming more convinced that many alcoholics and drug addicts need more than a few counseling sessions or even an eight-week residential recovery program-they need a year or longer!

Dr. Todd Clements is a board certified psychiatrist who specializes in nuclear brain imaging. He writes, "Drugs and alcohol can damage brain functioning at almost every level. The prefrontal cortex (which handles cognitive processing) is especially susceptible to the effects of substance abuse. Ironically, this is the area of the brain that needs to function optimally in order for a person to have the best chance at a successful recovery."

It takes about 30 to 45 days to break a habit and create a new and better habit. If a person goes into a typical residential rehab program, it will last for about 56 days. Then, the person tries to resume life. The problem is that they almost always need more time to heal. It is not that they cannot work. They simply cannot do it as effectively as they can a year later. Dr. Clements writes, "Brain imaging studies have demonstrated it often takes a year of sobriety to see significant changes in proper brain functioning."

A major problem with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts is relapse. This experience often occurs because the prefrontal cortex functioning of the brain is not functioning at an optimal level. Sober living is the key. Sober living systems and communities offer a recovering alcoholic or drug addict the best option.

The idea of sober living communities is something God's church can support and even fund. As Dr. Clements notes, "The newly sober person is given the opportunity to re-engage the ‘real world,' but in a supportive community with clear oversight, accountability, boundaries and consequences."

If you work with alcoholics or drug addicts, please help the recovering person achieve at least a year of sobriety. The prefrontal cortex is damaged by alcohol and drugs. It takes time for that part of the brain to improve so the addict can be stronger in his or her fight to stay clean and sober.

Many rehab centers have halfway houses for their graduates. As you may have occasion to work with these people in need, check out the centers that offer this extended time to heal and recover. It can literally save a person's life.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the pastor of Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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