July 19, 2019

People of Faith Are Not Immune to Addictions, Health Leader Says

Sandra Blackmer, Adventist Review 

Addiction in all forms is a global crisis, resulting in millions of deaths annually, Katia Reinert told the 800 health professionals and other attendees from 106 countries during her July 11 plenary presentation at the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle in Loma Linda, California.

“According to the World Health Organization [WHO], 3.3 million deaths annually — six deaths every minute — are from the harmful use of alcohol alone,” she said. “These statistics are staggering, and we need to do more to effect change.”

Sobering Statistics

Reinert, an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, shared sobering statistics of deaths by risk factor, measured across all age groups and both genders. These included smoking, 6.32 million; high blood sugar, 5.61 million; obesity, 4.53 million; high cholesterol, 4.39 million; alcohol use, 2.81 million; and high blood pressure, 10.46 million, according to OurWorldData.org.

The highest number of deaths for those in the 15-49 age group resulted from unsafe sex, alcohol use, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, and high total cholesterol, she said, again drawing from OurWorldData.org.

Quoting Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White, Reinert said that “grief, anxiety, discontent remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death.” [Photo: Adventist News Network]

The emotional toll of addiction is huge, Reinert noted, adding that “suicide is one of the top causes of premature death among adolescents and youth.”

Citing WHO statements on addiction, Reinert said that too many families and communities suffer the consequences of alcohol use, violence, injuries, mental health problems, and diseases such as cancer and stroke. “‘It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies,’” she said, quoting Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO.

Substance Addictions

Reinert explained that substance addictions include addiction to alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, illicit drugs, narcotics/opioids, and benzodiazepines, as well as heavy caffeine use.

Opioid-related drug overdoses have risen exponentially, Reinert noted. “In the United States alone in 2016, 116 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses, and 11.5 million people misused prescription drugs,” according to the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health for 2016.

“And more than 15,000 deaths were attributed to overdosing on heroin,” she added.

Behavior Addictions

“Addictions involve more than substance abuse,” Reinert said. “They can include unhealthy compulsive behaviors as well.”

She explained that behavior addictions include pathologic gambling, binge eating, pornography/sex addiction, shop-a-holism, skin picking/cutting, internet/social media, sports/exercise, work-a-holism, and gaming/technology.

“And don’t fool yourself that Adventists are immune to such addictions. Addictive behaviors can be found among people of faith and our own church members as well.”

“The pain is in people’s souls,” Reinert said, “and we turn to various forms of addiction to self-medicate that pain. Addiction is not the problem; it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. The emotional scars are the root of the problem.”

According to Reinert, many of these scars originate in childhood experiences, and negative childhood experiences can have a profound effect on later addiction, increased health risks, disease, and death.

“Adverse childhood experiences are the leading determinant of health and social well-being in the U.S. and the major factor in underlying addictions,” she explained.

Ellen White understood the relationship of the emotional and physical, Reinert explained. In White’s book The Ministry of Healing, “she wrote that ‘many of the diseases from which men and women suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death’” (p. 241).

Role of the Faith Community

Noting that faith community leaders and members are often the first responders when an individual or family faces a mental health challenge or a traumatic event, “knowing how to respond to these events can make a huge difference in how the individual and community cope and heal,” Reinert said. “So we must provide training and resources.”

A Twelve Steps initiative called Journey to Wholeness — adapted from the Twelve Steps program of Alcoholics Anonymous — has been developed by Adventist Recovery Ministries Global at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. It provides biblical, Christ-centered help for all addictions.

“I encourage you to check out and utilize this program,” she said.

A program centered on helping teens to combat at-risk behaviors called Youth Alive is also available. It is currently being used in such world regions as Africa, Asia, and Europe, and soon will be launched in the Inter-America Division, Reinert said.

“Youth Alive teaches about healthy behaviors and connects teens with adult mentors.”

“Many young people battle with low self-worth,” Reinert noted. “They have a need for belonging and acceptance among peers and often turn to their devices or social media seeking connection. However, that can turn into an addiction that results in fractured relationships. They may also engage in smoking marijuana and binge eating or drinking to feel good, but that can lead to other hard-core addictions.”

“But there is hope,” she added. Healthful eating, exercise, getting outside in fresh air, finding real connection and caring relationships with other young people or adult mentors, and learning about God’s purpose for their life—these behaviors can turn their lives around, she said.

“Youth Alive equips facilitators to help our young people make these lifestyle changes while finding emotional healing and meaningful relationships.”

General Conference Youth Ministries and Family Ministries, Adventist Mission, and numerous Adventist schools are partnering with this program.

Looking to God

“Most important,” Reinert emphasized, “we must look to God and His love, compassion, and promises. He promises healing and liberty from bondage, and we can safely put our trust in Him.”