Features, Highlights

‘A Christian’s Response to Addiction’ conference

EVERYONE is a potential addict, even a Christian. When a person focuses obsessively on an object or compulsively searches for something and is exhibiting a strong attachment beyond the point of enthusiasm, chances are he is an addict.

Many people struggle with drugs like caffeine in coffee or soft drinks or nicotine in cigarettes. Some people are dependent on alcohol and hard core substances like heroine, cocaine, ice, ecstasy and other designer drugs. Still others are hooked on life-controlling behaviours such as Internet gaming, gambling, sex and pornography. There are some who are addicted to helping others, to affirmation, to retail therapy (shopping), to work and to emailing. Within all these categories are Christians.

Addiction enslaves a person because it starts out as a pleasurable experience and provides an escape from pain. However, addiction’s effects go far beyond the addict’s health and well-being, causing family and other relationship problems, job loss and poor work performance.

Addiction also increases one’s risk of infectious diseases and involvement in crimes as a victim or perpetrator.

These are some of the facts presented by the keynote and workshop speakers at the conference on “A Christian’s Response to Addiction” held at Sophia Blackmore Hall, Methodist Centre, on June 23 and 24. Some 100 participants comprising school teachers, social workers, counsellors, ministry leaders and parents turned up for the conference.

In his keynote address, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon said what the Church needs to produce are people who are free from any form of addiction, people who will be models for the world.

The conference was organised partly in response to the Government’s plan to build Integrated Resorts.

“My instant concern was that in time to come we will find ourselves in the papers – more Christians involved in gambling,” the Bishop said, noting that a significant number of people who have been involved in gambling are Christians.

This concern led the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) and the General Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service to jointly organise the conference. The main objective was to educate fellow Christians on the risks of gambling and other addictions, said Ms Christine Wong, Executive Director of the MWS.

In his address, Dr Munidasa Winslow, the other keynote speaker, highlighted that an annual figure of 600 cases of family violence are related to alcohol use. Of the 3,000 Police Protection Orders issued to women victims of violence, 30 per cent are caused by people under the influence of alcohol, added the Chief and Consultant Psychiatrist at the Department of Addiction Medicine, Institute of Mental Health.

The Rev Sam Kuna shocked his audience when he said that most young people who ended up as hard core addicts started out as cigarette smokers. “The number one doorway drug is cigarettes. A drug addict’s first puff is a cigarette and the last thing he gives up is cigarettes.”

One of the reasons for the success of the Christian-based recovery programme, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is that the addict publicly admits that he alone cannot handle his problem, said Dr Winslow and Mr Tony Ting, a Master Addiction Counsellor with more than 20 years of counselling experience.

The “12 Steps” programme of AA recognises that only “a Power greater than the addict can restore him to wholeness”. In his workshop on “The Church, The Gambler and His Family”, the Rev Dr Edward Job noted that some of those who suffer from addiction or compulsive behaviour “find that within their church, self-defeating behaviour is denied, ignored or minimised by those who use religion to shield themselves from life’s realities”.

As pastors and other church leaders become aware of hurting and fragmented Christian families in their midst, they are realising the importance of reaching out to these people, added the pastor, who is President of Christian Care Services (Singapore) and a board member of the National Council of Problem Gamblers.

Another workshop speaker, Mr Joachim Lee, said that one needs to have a strong spirituality in order to effectively journey with an addicted individual. The certified Gambling Addictions Counsellor recommended a helping model based on three Cs – Connection, Compassion and Contribution.

One participant, Mr James Pang, who came with his wife, Rebecca, said: “We are both caregivers in the lay counselling ministry, and I felt that the conference has helped us to prepare for the onslaught of gambling-related problems.

“We would like to further equip ourselves. It would be good if every year MWS would have this type of conference.” Ms Patricia Wong, a counsellor at Fairfield Methodist School, said: “It was very encouraging to hear the latest kinds

of strategies being used in helping addicted people. It is good to have a better understanding of the areas of addiction, what the Church needs to do and how we can help the youth to say ‘No’ to smoking as a start.”

Miss Sherlene Wan, a social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre, attended the workshop of Mr Benny Bong on helping families caught in the web of addiction.

“The workshop touched on very real issues, especially the influence parents have on their children. If you understand the family situation you are able to see and understand the impact of addiction on your client. It was enlightening.

“Dr Winslow’s talk was very informative but it would have been more helpful if he elaborated on other recovery programmes, not just the Christian-based AA. It would have helped us point the way to non-Christian clients.”

Ms Lanny Santoso, a volunteer for various youth programmes, found the conference very helpful and informative. “It was the first time that I had attended a conference on the issue of addiction. It gave me very good ideas on how to help people with addictions.”

A participant who identified himself only as Mr Lim attended the workshop on “Good Parenting Practices”, and said: “It was good, there were a lot of practical tips.”

The father of two young children added that lessons from the Rev Dr Job’s workshop would help him in the church ministry he would be starting next year. “The challenge is, how to make the Church receptive to the people who are recovering.”

Mel Lee is the Senior Executive, Communications & Fund-Raising, of the Methodist Welfare Services.


Good parenting counters addiction

RESEARCH shows that parenting practices can influence young people’s behaviour towards addictive substances and behaviour.

Two workshop speakers, Ms Jade Teo and Ms Quek Li Koon, noted that teenagers are more likely to use illicit drugs if they are not monitored by adults after school.

In a US study, two-thirds of young people aged 13 to 17 said their parents’ respect for them is one of the main reasons they stay away from drugs.

Teens are also less likely to get involved with drugs if their parents influence their choice of friends, Ms Teo said.

However, parents who had a history of substance addiction find that their children also have a tendency to become dependent on drugs or alcohol. Parents must be able to establish good, honest and open relationships with their teenaged children. They need to set clear boundaries and expectations, and be affirming to their children. Those who are overly permissive, inconsistent, unrealistically demanding or excessively harsh when instilling discipline often realise that their children have started to seek solace from drugs.

It is vital that family life becomes a safe and secure refuge for children. The family is often cited as a reason for an addict to want to change, said Mr Benny Bong, a family and marital therapist. The support of family is important to sustain the addict’s recovery.