Search Words

On Participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in Rehabilitation of Drug-Addicts

On Participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in Rehabilitation of Drug-Addicts

This document was approved at the session of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on December 2012 (journal #128)

[special thanks to Natalya Work and Dr. William Work for their assistance in translating this from the original Russian]

In her pastoral compassion for the victims of alcoholism and drug-addiction, the Church offers them spiritual support in overcoming the vice. Without denying the need of medical aid to be given at the critical stages of drug-addiction, the Church pays special attention to the prevention and rehabilitation, which are the most effective when those suffering participate consciously in the eucharistic and communal life (Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church. XI.b)

I. Drug Addiction: Sin and Sickness
Drug addiction is a chronic, progressing, and hard to cure disease that shows itself on the biological, psychological, sociological, and spiritual levels. To put a drug-addict to the state of a stable remission, first, his own will and effort are required as well as competent help of the following specialists: physicians, psychologists, social workers and the clergy.
The Church says that abusing drugs is a sin, which aims at the destruction of our own God-given human nature (Gen. 1:27). The person starting using drugs realizes to some extent that the abuse of the psychoactive substances may have tragic consequences for his or her life. The main one is the distorting of the normal functioning of the bodily organism, developing the dreadful state of addiction and the destruction of the social links.
Also sinful is the desire to reach with the help of psychoactive substances the state of “altered consciousness”: escaping from reality to get pleasure, “enlightenment” or “solving” spiritual and moral problems.
The forming addiction often leads a person to committing other sinful deeds: spreading of drugs, fraud, stealing, robbery, prostitution, hurting others and even to the point of murdering. Often a drug addict commits the grave sin of suicide. Being under the influence of drugs a person is able to commit crimes that he or she would have never thought of doing at his or her normal state. The person who gets drugs for abusing makes connections with the criminal world and becomes a link at the chain of the criminal business.
With God’s help, a person can stop abusing drugs at any stage of his or her addiction. The unwillingness or the lack of courage to stay away from what is ruining a person’s life and the lives of his or her family and friends is also a sin.
Drug addiction is a problem not only of an addict himself but also of his family and friends. Very often addiction is a consequence of estrangement in the family, distortion of emotional connection, neglecting of the most important bases of family life such as mutual respect, care, love, and faithfulness. At the same time, the members of a drug addict’s family become, as a rule, codependent[1], adjusting to the pathological deformation in interpersonal relationships and themselves are in need of specialists’ help.
The fact that drug addiction is so widespread nowadays points to the spiritual sickness of the whole society: the growing of egotism and estrangement among people, the loss of fundamental spiritual values and moral guidelines.
II. The Church’s attitude to drug-addicts
Drug addiction is a sin, but at the same time a drug addict is a sick person who is in a great trouble. He can hope for God’s mercy “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) no less than others.  “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-17). Any person is able to change his or her sinful way of life and start the path of salvation. The free will of an addict to stop using drugs and start treatment is a necessary condition for the successful rehabilitation. God can heal one who is suffering from drug addiction, no matter how grave the state of an addict is, if a person is truly willing to be healed. An addict should be an active and responsible partaker of the rehabilitation process, one  who is  ready to make efforts to overcome addiction. The clergy can and must help one who has made a decision to stop taking drugs, by doing this they are participating in his or her healing as coworkers with God.
Keeping in mind St Paul’s warning “Do not be deceived: ... drunkards will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) the same is true about drug addicts, the Church does not approve of the use of substitute therapy (methadone and other substances of the same kind). The mentioned therapy is one of the methods to lessen social harm caused by drug addiction, but it does not solve the problem which the Church regards as the main one in this context, that is healing and changing an addict’s soul for the eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church also strongly opposes legalization of any kind of non-medicinal use of any narcotic substances, including the so-called “recreational” drugs.
The clergy and laymen of the Russian Orthodox Church, starting from the mid 90’s of the 20th century, participate in helping drug addicts and their families. Many dioceses developed various forms of rehabilitation for these people. Apart from her own unique methods of rehabilitation, the Russian Orthodox Church allows using methods of both Russian addiction medicine and methods and forms developed abroad, unless they contradict the moral principles protecting the wellness and dignity of a human personality.
The Church prioritizes the development of her own system of rehabilitation which includes, among other things, special programs for prevention of addiction in society. All new methods of rehabilitation appearing in the Church must be in agreement with the Orthodox anthropology and be based on the ascetic tradition of the Orthodox Church.
III. The basic principles of the participation of the Church in rehabilitation of the drug addicts
In addiction medicine, the rehabilitation or therapeutic-rehabilitation process is a medical and social system which aim is the recovery of physical, psychological and spiritual health of a drug addict and the restoration of his or her personal and social status. To reach this goal the whole complex of medical, psychological, psychotherapeutics, disciplinarian, laboring and social means and technologies are used.
Without denying the professional medical methods of rehabilitation of the addicts, the Church in her activity in this field emphasizes the spiritual side of the process. The Church does not regard the state of stable remission and restoring of a social status by a drug addict as the sole purpose of rehabilitation. The ultimate purpose according to the Church is preparing a person for eternal life to which we all are called by God. For an addict, who responded to the call of the Lord, overcoming addiction becomes a necessary step on the path of salvation.
In this context, rehabilitation, as the Church sees it, is returning to the path of salvation of those who became addicted to psychoactive substances. The process of rehabilitation starts with overcoming of addiction and restoring of social skills; at the same time rehabilitation should be an organic part of the life of a church community.
The members of the community responsible for rehabilitation are called to be coworkers with God, helping drug addicts to overcome addiction and to enter the life of the Church.
The Church considers rehabilitation successful when, along with a stable remission, a drug addict develops motivation based on the Christian moral values which guides him or her in everyday life.
There are three basic principles of the Church’s understanding of the rehabilitation of an addict:
Principle 1. Rehabilitation in the Church is, above all, the result of the acting of God’s grace, shown in the fullness of the Church’s life.
The Lord, the Physician of our souls and bodies, heals a drug addict in response to his or her efforts and willingness, as well as in response of His servants co-working with Him to help an addict with love and mercy.
The Church entrusts an Orthodox priest with a special mission as the servant of the Mysteries, a shepherd, spiritual father and a man of prayer.
At the main stage of rehabilitation, a priest’s activity plays a very important role. If a parish community is involved in the rehabilitation, a priest, being responsible for parish life, makes the final decision regarding the group of specialists who are going to help. Those undergoing rehabilitation should also acknowledge the priest’s leading role in rehabilitation.
Principle 2. Integrating the rehabilitation process into parish life. 
The main stage of rehabilitation takes place in parish and monastic communities, as well as in the institutions established and patronized by the Church. In the latter case, the communions are formed from those who are undergoing rehabilitation and churched co-workers. The community life in this case is also guided by a priest, but independently from the parish which only provides the community with the possibility to participate in its liturgical life. In rehabilitation in the Church, the life of addicts among the members of the community  is very important moment, especially among those who have overcome drug addiction and became members of the community.
The Lord said to His followers, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”( John 10:10) The significant and evident sign of a new, grace-filled life is the love Christ’s followers have for one another: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) An addict who is undergoing rehabilitation and becomes a member of a church community where people try to live according to God’s law, finds himself or herself in an environment that is especially favorable for healing his or her soul.
Rehabilitation in the Church does not mean a mechanistic participation in the Church’s life but rather gradual learning of the basics of the spiritual life and conscientious participation in the Mysteries of the Church. The advancement and time frame of an addict’s churching is individual in each case.
Principle 3. Competency (professionalism) of a church’s community members participating in rehabilitation.
Competency means understanding the spiritual and physical nature of addiction, necessary knowledge and skills, and possessing information about methods which are used in secular rehabilitation institutions.
Those who help in rehabilitation have to equip rehabilitants with all the necessary knowledge about addiction and existing ways of overcoming it.
It is necessary to involve specialists to participate in rehabilitation of drug addicts in the Church: addictionologists, physicians, psychologists, and social workers. Rehabilitation, organized in an Orthodox community, is possible on the condition that all the members of this process are churched people, or, at least, accept Christian values. The unity of values of those who are involved in rehabilitation provides the inner consistency of the rehabilitation process and organic combining of rehabilitation with the life of a church’s community. 
IV. Organization of the rehabilitation process
The rehabilitation process includes:
            initial consultation which is conducted in special offices or by phone;
            detoxification performed in medical institutions;
            motivation period in motivation centers;
            the main period of rehabilitation in the Church which involves the participation of a rehabilitant in the church’s life and is spent in parochial and monastic communities. The best for such communities is to be situated far from large cities;
            resocialization which takes place in a center located in a large city and includes providing a rehabilitant with lodging, helping him or her to find a job, access to consulting with specialists and to pastoral care of an Orthodox priest;
            post-rehabilitation monitoring, providing there is an agreement by the person who has undergone rehabilitation. This includes maintaining connections with a church community which conducted the rehabilitation;
            the work with the relatives of addicts: helping the family of an addict to overcome the state of co-dependency or in solving problems which cause addiction to a family member; in some cases, an addict can be recommended to live separately from his or her family, sometimes at a considerable distance; the work with family members should be started simultaneously at the stage of the initial consultation of the addict.
Starting from the motivation period, the Church’s rehabilitation includes active repentance, participation of rehabilitants in the Mysteries, church prayer and the home rule of prayers, carrying out obediences, and individual spiritual guidance. The rehabilitation process should involve cultural development of drug addicts, teaching them different skills and developing their creative abilities. While working with families of drug addicts, individual consultations, group work and communication with priests are the means that help to achieve good results.
 V. The goals of organizing the Church’s participation in rehabilitation of drug addicts
1.      General ecclesiastical level
The Synodal Department of Charity and Social Work of the Russian Orthodox Church is called directly or through its special structure:
         to perform constant monitoring of activity on the prevention of drug addiction in dioceses;
         to perform qualified assessment of the efficiency of rehabilitation activity;
         to interact with diocesan centers that fight drug addiction, along with non-commercial organizations and coordinate interaction among the dioceses;
         to provide training of specialists and volunteers for working with drug addicts in church communities;
         to help create resource centers on the basis of church communities which have successfully performed rehabilitation of drug addicts, where training seminars could be held, and the clergy and laymen could be trained.
         to provide interaction with state institutions dealing with drug addiction prevention; 
         to keep in contact with established representatives of  the scientific society regarding drug addiction prevention;
         to inform the society through mass media (internet and television) about the Russian Orthodox Church’s activities on rehabilitating drug addicts;
It seems necessary to include in the syllabus of the theological schools courses on the problems of psychoactive substances addiction and on the rehabilitation of addicts.
2.     Diocesan level 
In the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church the diocesan structures on counteraction to drug addiction may be created, working in the following directions:
         coordination of preventing, rehabilitating and post rehabilitating activity of the church institutions;
         organizing and conducting seminars for the clergy and church and ecclesiastical social workers to increase their competence on the subject of addiction;
         keeping in contact in regions with social organizations and state institutions in counteracting  drug addiction;
         keeping in contact with the similar organizations existing in other dioceses.
In cases when dioceses do not have special structures, the above mentioned activities are the responsibility of the diocesan departments of social orientation.
The following measures may be taken at the diocesan level as well:
         opening in the big cities offices for initial visits and phone helplines;
         opening motivation centers near large cities[2];
         supporting parishes and monasteries which start programs for rehabilitation of drug addicts;
         establishing centers of resocialization (social hotels, “half-way homes,” or adaptation lodgings) where people that have undergone rehabilitation could live for some time under the care of specialists and having spiritual guidance of a priest;
         keeping in contact and interaction with state institutions such as addiction hospitals, AIDS centers, and other medical institutions whose help may be necessary while working on addiction cases;
         providing timely breaks and vacations for those who work in rehabilitating centers.
VI. Interaction of the Church with the state structures and society regarding rehabilitation
Regarding church-state cooperation on prevention of drug addiction and helping addicts, the Russian Orthodox Church acknowledges the priority of cooperating with the state ministries and departments and their structural institutions. Developing social service in this area, the Russian Orthodox Church considers it a necessity to participate in the interdepartmental commissions and other organizations on the formulating and carrying out the state policy of counteraction of drug addiction, as well as cooperating with correspondent social organizations.
In cooperation with the state structures and social organizations, the Russian Orthodox Church can, for example, deal with the following tasks:
         development of the network of organizations, created by the Russian Orthodox Church and her canonical representatives or with their help, involved in the rehabilitation of drug addicts;
         development of the state support system for church rehabilitation institutions;
         supporting of the Church-social projects in regions on establishing consulting services and hotlines;
         professional training and advanced training for employees of the rehabilitation centers, physicians, psychologists, teachers and social workers for working with drug addicts, developing and carrying out educational programs and programs for training specialists in this domain;
         working out and publishing materials on drug addiction and the methods of helping its victims, as well as posting this information on the web sites of  the executive authorities, institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church and social organizations;
         cooperating in the organization of information campaigns among teenagers and young people, aiming at moral and spiritual development of a person and prevention of deviant behavior;
         working with drug prisoners in penitentiary institutions;
         starting charity funds for financial support for the Church’s activity on prevention of drug addiction and rehabilitation of addicts;
         carrying out nationwide charity campaigns  of antidrug addiction character, involving different institutions and organizations to participate, including commercial organizations;
         carrying out the actions, devoted to the International Day Against Drug Abuse;
         establishing coordinating and advisory bodies (unions, commissions, groups, and boards), which should work on a constant or temporary basis, for participating in the existing organizations of this kind for realization of the agreements between the Russian Orthodox Church, state institutions and NGOs;
         establishing work groups for working out bills and other legal regulatory acts dealing with the problem of counteracting the threat of drug addiction.
VII. Interactions of the church with mass media in rehabilitation of drug addicts
The mass media, especially the Internet, may play an important role in the counteracting of the drug addiction threat. They can serve to give hope to drug addicts and their relatives, to inform about methods of rehabilitation, including those practiced in the Church, taking as examples the real stories of people who succeeded in overcoming addiction, and to encourage drug addicts to make a change for a healthier life style.
To be effective, information campaigns on prevention of drug addiction and helping addicts should be based on strong ethics and promote both a spiritually and physically healthy life style.

[1] Codependence is inadequate pathological involvement of the family or friends into solving problems of a person’s addiction. This type of involvement may lead to destructive outcome for the health and life of these people. Codependent person is deeply involved into guiding the behavior of the addict to the point of stopping the care of his or her own essential needs.
[2] In some regions, there can be one motivation center for a few dioceses.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this article. The compatibility of Alcoholics Anonymous participation with its biblically based origins is well established in the widely read title The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.'s Roots in the Bible.