What's the Real Answer? Overcomming Addiction

by Chuck Colson

When Maia Szalavitz was arrested for drug use, she was thrown in jail. The minute she was released, she hurried home and shot up again. As she told journalist Bill Moyers, "How irrational can you get?"

On a recent five-hour television series called "Close to Home," Moyers delved into the world of drug addiction. He tried to answer questions about why people become hooked on drugs and how they can overcome their addictions.

But Moyers never got around to telling viewers about the best substance-abuse programs around: faith-based ministries.

Moyers talked to recovering addicts and alcoholics. He took cameras into a research laboratory to show what happens to the brain when cocaine enters it. And he offered referrals to a national drug and alcohol treatment center.

The one thing he did not do is tell viewers how much more effective faith-based rehab programs are than secular ones when it comes to getting—and keeping—people off drugs. Oh, some of the programs he described have an element of faith—a tacit reference to God or a "higher power." But nothing explicit.

This is an astonishing omission. Just a few weeks ago, I stood beside an old Watergate adversary, Joseph Califano, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington. With us was the Clinton administration’s drug czar, Barry McCaffrey. We were there to talk about a new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse—one that found that the biggest single reason for America’s skyrocketing prison population is drugs.

What is significant is that both Califano and McCaffrey singled out faith-based ministries like Prison Fellowship as an important part of the solution to the drug problem. As Califano put it, "Religion and spirituality are very important components of recovery." And he recently told U.S. News & World Report that he was stunned to discover that nearly every ex-drug addict he meets cites religion as a key to rehabilitation.

Statistics bear this out. National recidivism rates of secular drug rehabilitation programs range from 60 to 75 percent. The Hazelden Foundation, which Moyers brought to the public’s attention, has a recidivism rate of 50 to 55 percent.

By contrast, San Antonio’s Victory Fellowship—a Christian program—has a recidivism rate of just 20 percent. Prison Fellowship’s Transition of Prisoners Program (TOP), which includes a focus on substance abuse, has a recidivism rate of just 9 percent.

Why does faith make such a difference? It’s because the church understands why people use drugs, and what—or rather, Who—can fill the void.

Augustine put it best when he wrote in his Confessions, "We are made for Thee and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." Lacking a relationship with God, people lack purpose and direction in their lives. They abuse drugs and alcohol to fill the spiritual void.

You have to wonder why Bill Moyers—an ordained minister—is so afraid to talk about God.

If we really want to break the cycle of substance abuse, we have to introduce drug addicts to the source of living water. Who can ensure that they will never thirst again.

When you hear discussions about what we should do about drug and alcohol problems, remind your friends that—PBS notwithstanding—the programs with the best track record are faith-based ministries. And that’s because it’s Jesus Who sets us free.