The church and addictions

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | March 24, 2011

Fr. Paul Demuth, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Green Bay, set the tone for the discussion by highlighting the prevalence of alcohol addiction in Brown County. Wisconsin leads the nation with more taverns per resident (372) than the national average of 1,400. Fr. Demuth serves on the Bay Area Community Council, which released a study last December that concluded Brown County has a drinking problem.

The study noted that alcohol was a factor in 52 of the 93 traffic related deaths in Brown County from January 2006 to June 5, 2010, and that alcohol-related accidents and health conditions statewide totaled $935 million in 2007. The drinking culture in Wisconsin creates a challenge for parish ministers because it is ingrained in our social life and affects so many families. But for the church to not address alcohol addiction is to abandon those who hurt, especially children.

Sis Wenger spoke about the impact of alcohol addiction on children. Wenger is president of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. One in four children in the United States lives in a family with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, according to Wenger, and she said these children feel responsible for a parent’s addictive behavior and often lack self-esteem.

How can parishes begin to address addictions?

• First, make people aware that resources are available to them and that the church wants to help.

• Providing posters, pamphlets and brochures from Al-Anon, Alateen, Alcoholics Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics at church entrances is a start.

• Address the topic at appropriate times, such as during the homily, prayer of the faithful and announcements at Mass.

• Have parish staff members attend an open meeting for Alcoholics Anonymous or invite AA representatives to speak to parish leaders.

• Integrate the topic in outreach programs such as marriage preparation and religious education.

Once parishioners, both adults and children, see that the parish is serious about helping, Wenger said people touched by addictions will be willing to come forward.

Speakers reiterated one point: Children and spouses hurt by a loved one’s addiction must get help. Don’t blame yourself and know you’re not alone. Speak to your pastor, deacon or parish director and ask for help. If they are not prepared to assist you, contact one of the agencies listed above.

Addictions are all around us and stifle our relationship with God. This makes the church’s involvement in recovery an obligation. May we all be up to the task.

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