Addictions are one of the primary challenges faced by many YSAs. Gambling, eating, shopping, sex, pornography, the internet, work, codependency, drugs (both prescription and illegal), coffee, tea, alcohol, nicotine and video games can all be destructive — crushing self-confidence, interfering with worthy goals, destroying virtue and breaking covenants.
A YSA bishop who works with addicted members of his ward represents the Savior as a true shepherd. He needs to use all of the resources of the Church to assist members who have addiction, and one of the best resources at his disposal is the Addiction Recovery Program (ARP). Participants have often referred to the ARP as a “workshop on the atonement,” where members find a confidential setting to discuss their problems, learn to apply the atonement and hear heartfelt testimony of how it has helped others with similar problems.
Many bishops underestimate the scope of addiction and how many members of their ward are struggling under its weight. One bishop reported hearing another proclaim that “members of my ward don’t have problems with pornography.” His experience was very different:
“When I began attending ARP meetings with members of my ward, there were 3-4 people gathered in the meeting (including the part-time church service missionaries leading the effort). When I was released, the group size had grown to over 40 people, 95% which were comprised of members of my ward. Statistically, nearly half of my ward attended ARP with me over the years (even accounting for the unusually high turnover rate in singles wards). In addition to those with direct challenges, I would invite those who had a family member, roommate, or even someone they home/visit teach with addictions.”
Experience shows that faithful and committed members are just as likely as any other member to be struggling under the oppressive weight of a hidden addiction. Additionally, women are just as prone to addiction as men. One bishop reports that:
“I found that 90% of addiction was sexually based, and that just as many women struggled with sexually based addictions as men (especially pornography). As a bishop, I cringe every time I hear pornography associated only with men. In my ward, just as many women had struggles with pornography, perhaps taking the form of movies, literature, fashion magazines, or chat rooms. My concern for the sisters was often greater because they often became victims of predators in chat rooms that would lured them for in-person visits (which in some cases led to transgression; in the most serious cases it lead to assault, battery or rape).”
The Bishop should be alert to signals from all members indicating that they may be in need of help from the ARP.
For a bishop to truly be effective, he needs to gain a personal testimony of the program. Experience indicates that leaders who accompany members to meetings regularly are seeing the best results. By attending weekly meetings, studying the Guidepersonally, and appling the steps directly to themselves, they gain a personal testimony. Once members have gotten a foothold in the program, bishops following this pattern have found that attending meetings themselves actually saves them hours of individual counseling that would otherwise be required. One bishop, when asked “Where do you find the time to attend these meetings?” responded simply: “I can’t afford not to go.”
The most effective bishops are those who lead by the Savior’s example. The Lord did not say, “Go and do,” but rather, “Come, follow me” (2 Ne. 31: 10, 12-13, 16; Matt. 4: 19-20, 22, 25). The bishop is most effective when he gives the same invitation to the member who struggles with addiction. When that member sits next to and is cared for in the company of his bishop, he can see the Savior’s love emanate to them personally. The bishop can then see up close the effects of the group meeting and the manual, and follow up on assignments he gives the member.
Even after persuading an addicted brother or sister to attend ARP meetings with their bishop, a bishop’s work continues. Some principles for helping members repent and endure to the end include:
There is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.Boyd K. PackerThe Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness, Ensign, Nov 1995, 18
The program is one of the most important tools that local leaders can use to guide members of their ward suffering from addictions into the path of recovery, but it still requires the personal ministry of a loving priesthood holder.
The changes resulting from applying the ARP in wards can be quantifiable, and impact more than just personal worthiness. One bishop reported on the many remarkable results of applying the ARP in his ward:
“The ARP was a life saver for me. Here are a few things that have happened in my ward:
- At least 27 couples were sealed because of ARP. I made attending the ARP mandatory for couples who had pushed the boundaries of the law of chastity. When a couple cannot receive a living ordinance recommend until they repented and attended ARP, they took the group meetings and individual meetings with me very serviously.
- The ARP was a huge boost for those with clinical depression. The “group therapy” was restorative to their minds and spirits (a complement to professional counseling and sometimes medication).
- More than 150 members of my ward qualified for receive a temple recommend – many of whom hadn’t had one in a very long time.
- Those who attended ARP were more apt to attend the temple (if worthy) on a more regular basis than those who would not.
- Those who attended ARP were more apt to share the gospel. There was an intense feeling for these members to share “the fruit of the tree” with co-workers, neighbors, and friends who struggled with addiction. Although ARP is not (the Church states) a primary source of missionary work (they don’t want a bait-and-switch mentality to occur), their associates felt an outpouring of the gospel they could not explain.
- Those who attended ARP were more apt to home/visit teach 100% than those who would not attend.
In my observation and opinion, this is the most underutilized resource in our stake and in the Church.”
This program is the foundation upon which other assistive strategies become more effective. Many professional counselors recognize that their efforts become more productive once the patient begins participation in 12 step recovery. Even medical issues are frequently ameliorated with 12 step participation. The Church’s program is the essential core of any coordinated treatment strategy for addiction.
There are many ARP resources available to a bishop:
In the Church’s addiction recovery program, those who suffer from addiction learn through the Atonement of Jesus Christ how to experience the miracle of living in recovery.Lia McClanahan“Addiction Recovery: Healing One Step at a Time,” Ensign, Jun 2009, 60–65
Many of our brothers and sisters with addictions have found hope, peace, and healing through the Church’s ARP focused on the atonement of Jesus Christ. Please see a member of your stake presidency if there is no ARP nearby. Through the local office of LDS Family Services, one can be established in your area.