A faith community by its nature is a perfect multi-generational setting to do prevention across the lifespan. There are transitional points in all our lives that we need knowledge, skills, and support to navigate them safely.
Prevention is often misunderstood – the confusion often lies in what we are trying to prevent. Are we trying to prevent addiction? Many chemically dependent people state that they were addicted before they took their first drink or drug. The only sure fire prevention in this situation is to never drink alcohol or use drugs. When chemical dependency is in the family there is a genetic vulnerability to the disease, much like any other disease. In this case abstinence is the safest option and needs to be supported.
But to stop there is to miss the boat for the majority of the population. Most individuals will not become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, but can still experience alcohol and other drug use problems like family tension, injury, job loss, and such. The two main goals of prevention are to delay the onset of use and reduce the risks associated with use. Research shows those under 15 years old experiencing regular use are four times more likely to experience alcohol and other drug abuse as an adult.
Karen Pittman, noted researcher from the Center for Youth Development states: “When we speak of “prevention” and “Youth Development” we must be articulate not just about what we are trying to prevent, but what we are trying to promote. Being problem-free is not the same as being fully prepared.” In the faith community the argument that health as well as healing ministry is rooted in the gospel is based on the understanding that salvation means wholeness and healing restoration to wholeness. Wholeness is what God intended from the beginning, and wholeness is what God intends to fully restore in the end. If this is so, then it follows that wholeness needs to be maintained as well as restored. An ongoing ministry of prevention or health promotion is necessary for the whole congregation as individuals and families navigate life’s trials and tribulations.
Prevention is for everybody! Everybody in their lifetime will be faced with the decision to use alcohol or other drugs. It is during these times that a person needs certain elements to guide them through safely. One element is information – for instance the knowledge of the interaction with us as a child of God, the influential world around us, and the addictive nature of alcohol and other drugs. But information alone is often not enough – a person needs the skills to walk through these times using decision-making, communication, assertiveness, and resistance skills. More importantly, a person needs guidelines from those they know and respect to make safe and responsible decisions and certainly the support from others to make these positive choices. Using the evidence-base strategies we work to address alcohol and other drug use prevention problems throughout the transitions in all of our lives.