The Prodigal

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:24

One of the most familiar stories in the Bible is that of the Prodigal son.  The son demands his inheritance from his father up front so he can go “find” himself in the world.

While gone, the son blows his inheritance and finally hits bottom.  It doesn’t end well, unless you think living in a pig pen is good. The son comes to his senses in his brokenness and returns to his family. His father runs to greet him, which is frowned upon by the culture of his day.  Instead of getting an “I told you so” from his father,  the son is welcomed with a celebration. 

There are a lot of prodigals out there today, but with a twist. Today’s prodigal is part of the next generation and likely to be on drugs, alcohol or other substances.

Over the holidays, we learned that the 36-year-old son of a friend had died of an overdose. We had no idea. What we learned was devastating. The son had been an addict for 20 years, and had managed to turn his family against him, not because they didn’t love him, but because they were protecting themselves from more emotional trauma.

We learned this from through the eyes of a mutual friend whose son has been an addict for many years. She knew our friends’ family and their 20-year journey of dealing with an addicted child. 

She told us that the story of every addicted child is the same. Their families experience dishonesty, theft, car wrecks, lying, imprisonment, rehab and back out again. Rinse and repeat.  Only the name of the child is different.

Siblings of an addict become protective of the parents, often trying to insulate them from further emotional hurt. Parents have distant hopes that their child will be like the prodigal son in the bible, but after years of failure and disappointment, they realize that they cannot trust their child. My friend said that a counselor told her that “if their lips are moving, they are lying.”

She knows the prodigal story well but is steeling herself from getting the call that her child is dead or in prison. She fears that he will hurt other people in an accident.  She is trying to numb her emotions because, unless nothing else changes, she knows she will eventually get a call.

She is not alone. Addiction and substance abuse increasingly affects the next generation – mostly millennials. What is sad is that this is too commonplace but it is not being discussed.  I recently asked a group of 23 people on Zoom if they knew of someone dealing with addiction (either the person or their family). Almost all raised their hands. It is the elephant in the room.

Families that have an addict don’t talk about it preferring to keep it to themselves, whether from embarrassment, hurt or other reasons.  Statistics reveal how widespread the problem has become.  One commentator said the numbers were “astounding”.

COVID-19 has obscured and worsened the addiction problem.  Because of social distancing, isolation has increased addiction and relapses.  For context, San Francisco reported 621 people deaths from overdoses but only 173 died from COVID.  The lenient drug policies in cities like San Francisco have only made things worse.

What was a problem before is now even greater because access to recovery treatment has been limited to virtual meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymousand other in-person rehabs.

Statistics are impersonal to families dealing with an addicted child. Their story is personal and up close, and often heartbreaking. I mentored a young man who narrowly escaped from becoming an addict. He started with friends on marijuana and then graduated to other drugs.

My mentee interrupted his life to get straightened out under court supervision. He is a lucky one. Most are not lucky – either the addict or their families. One thing he told me was that, contrary to popular belief, marijuana is a gateway to other drugs. Yet we have state after state legalizing marijuana.

Recently, huge amounts of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, Molly and other drugs were sold on nearby college campuses by dealers connected to the Mexican drug cartels on the west coast. The drugs were distributed through college fraternities. Eleven of those arrested were current or former students.  Access to drugs is not hard, even on prestigious college campuses.

This has been a hard post to write. This is not an uplifting topic. While my family has been spared this problem, many families have not.  My friend whose son is an addict estimated that 25% of the people in our own church have experienced or know of those who are dealing with addiction.  

There are good resources for addiction, including rehabs, but all too often relapse is commonplace.  As friends and Christians, we can do little else other than provide support and prayer for families dealing with an addicted child, and to oppose the legalization of marijuana from making addiction even worse. We must pray for the prodigals to return permanently.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be vigilant with your mentee who might be experimenting with drugs. It is hard to detect as I learned from my own experience. 


The Pandemic has Hit Addiction Recovery Hard – NY Times

Opioid Crisis Compounded by the Coronavirus Pandemic – Archer

Addiction is a Disease of Isolation – KHN

Drug and Alcohol Abuse During a Pandemic Detox/South Florida

Drug Dealers Sold Mass Amounts of Cocaine and Other Drugs through Fraternities – WaPost

San Francisco’s “Progressive” Drug Policies are Killing Hundreds Annually – Hoover

Best Practices in Dealing with Substance Abuse – US Dept. of HHS

WORSHIP:  Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone– Tomlin

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