Do we need to change how we talk about addiction?

October 2023

“If we change the culture on how people perceive addiction, we can change the whole dynamic of the church.”

We caught up with Emma Heath, founder of STAR Steps To Active Recovery, who is on a mission to upskill the wider church to confidently deliver life-giving recovery support.

What do you wish people knew about addiction? 

Did you know that in one survey, over 80% of people indicated they had at least one compulsive behaviour, habit or addiction they’d feel their lives would be freer without? Addiction is whatever action that is destructive in your life. 

I want people to be able to talk about it, to lessen the fear and stigma  and recognise that it doesn’t discriminate on age, sex, race, education, but can affect anyone.

Why do you think the Church needs to step into this space and offer recovery courses? 

Right now, our world is a breeding ground for addiction. Addiction is a disease of isolation, and we live in a fractured world. Rates of relapse shot through the roof during Covid and again through our current financial crisis, as people’s anxiety and fears about life have increased. 

The key factor is that people do a lot better when they have support. 1 in 3 tend to make it through traditional recovery programs, but it’s said, with every 1 person walking with you, your chances of recovery double. That’s how important community is.  

How about we make the Church the best community?

Why STAR? 

STAR was born out of a healthy frustration in seeing how the wider church could do more to support people in recovery. It’s not that I’ve ever met one church that doesn’t want to help people with addiction, but they often didn’t know how to, and I’d see frequent patterns of volunteer burnout, over-commitment, and even damaging results.  

We journey with a church to a place where they feel equipped through providing training, regular support, and a helpline if volunteers encounter challenges.

What are the gaps in current recovery programs that STAR is bridging? 

It’s not that what’s already out there isn’t good or excellent, but what we are seeing is a lack of resource in training people to step into that space. I dream of seeing churches where anyone, with experience of addiction or not, are empowered to welcome people into God’s freedom.  

What does a STAR recovery course look like? 

One of the key foundations of our courses is how we look at language. We call our recovery courses ‘Life Courses’ because we believe these are about skills for life. We want people to see themselves as God sees them. 

After many years sober, I began to be challenged about calling myself an alcoholic, but though I still need to be vigilant, I know I have been set free. I want others to be able to experience that freedom and feel safe to grow in their recovery and not to feel labelled by the past. 

STAR runs 6 or 12 week Life Courses, and what is truly exciting is that 51% of guests stayed addiction free for 3 months or more from starting, which is kind of unheard of in the realms of addiction work!  

And I loved how 100% said their spiritual connection grew through the program. This is all about showing the love of Christ through what we do! 

How can I support someone struggling with addiction?

In January we are launching the STAR online learning hub for individuals, which is free to join and learn more about addiction, so please sign up to that! Also, we are keen to work with more churches so if you are from a church, please do get in touch.  

But here are a few suggestions: 

  • Firstly, don’t be afraid to talk to people who’ve felt broken and openly ask them about their experiences. People who’ve been in addiction and recovery for a while are often very open to talking about their stories. 
  • Have a look and see what’s happening in your area. Most services will allow people to come and see and volunteer. 
  • Maintain healthy boundaries. People struggling with addiction can have dependency issues, so don’t over-commit.  
  • And lastly, you don’t have to have all the answers – nobody has! 

About Church Army & STAR: 

Church Army partnered with STAR to deliver a training program to churches across Sheffield. Our lead evangelist, Stephen Ramshaw, works closely in an ecumenical partnership to host Life Courses in Sheffield city centre, and has recently launched the city’s first Recovery Church.  

We are deeply grateful to Emma and STAR for their expertise, and we dream with them for a world where people struggling with addiction are no longer feared but loved. 

Will you join us in our mission to love those who face addictions?