Is Alcoholism Really A Problem For Clerics?
Yes. Alcoholism and addiction affect clerics just like other people, perhaps even worse. Some statistics indicate that alcoholism among clerics may be twice the rate of the general population. That would put the rate of alcoholism in the clergy at roughly 10%. If the cleric serves in a church or religious organization which views alcoholism as taboo, especially in regards to the cleric, then the problem is magnified. Plus most clerics are conditioned to put the needs of others ahead of their own. In this kind of environment a cleric is very likely to hide their problem as much as possible. Alcoholism, even under the best of circumstances, is a disease of denial. In dealing with a profession in which the person is believed to be above reproach, denial is even more of a problem. Thus many alcoholic clerics will tend to cover up their alcoholism until the problem becomes too great to ignore. This can result in numerous problems for both the cleric and their church before the core problem of addiction becomes acknowledged and the cleric brought into treatment. Many lives can be broken and vocations lost in this slow spiral down the slippery slope of addiction. If the cleric can be counseled to see his or her problem early on, and enter into a program of recovery before things get too bad, much misery can be avoided both for the cleric, their family, and their respective churches and religious organizations.
Why Is The Rate Of Alcoholism So High Among Clerics?
There are many reasons for this. Some research has shown that clerics and church workers and volunteers alike tend to come from homes in which alcoholism and addictions were a problem. A friend of mine who did church workshops on alcoholism would go into meetings of the church leadership and ask for a show of hands as to how many people there had family histories of alcoholism. Usually 80% would raise their hands. According to his view these people of faith who grew up in environments where alcoholism was a problem also grew up with the message that there was nothing a person could do for the alcoholic except hand them over to the Grace of God. In many areas of the world today alcoholism has such a low recovery rate, that this attitude can be very common. Seeing their family afflicted with a problem to which only God could be turned to for the answer, some go into church work or the ministry in an attempt to help themselves and others. The problem is that many of these people ignore the 12 Steps and other proven methods of recovery, and tend to operate according to their faith and religious understandings alone. Thus you can easily see where many religious organizations might be filled with either alcoholics, adult children of alcoholics, or other family members of alcoholics all seeking out help from above while ignoring programs of recovery below.
Another factor is stress. Ministry, even where alcohol is not a factor, is a high stress highly demanding vocation in which the rate of burnout is high. It is not uncommon for people in high stress positions to "self medicate" by turning to alcohol or other drugs. We see this in ministry as well as law enforcement and the medical community. They turn to the quick fix of drugs and alcohol until some become addicted...leading only to more problems for themselves and others.
Can Alcoholism Be Treated Effectively?
Absolutely Yes!!! The most common approach to treatment are the 12 Steps founded by AA back in the 1930's. When this method is applied in a recovery group like ACA where members are in the company of those who have experienced recovery for themselves and can guide others through the Steps, chances of recovery are greatly improved. Also of benefit in the treatment of alcoholism is the practice of Contemplative Prayer and Meditation. Step 11 speaks of this, but it tends to be glossed over in many groups today. People who practice the 12 Steps within the context of a good support group, plus the 11th step of Prayer and Meditation, greatly improve their odds of recovery. Speaking from my own experience, I tried working the Steps on my own for many years without success. Only when I worked the 12 Steps with the help of a sponsor who also instructed me to spend time daily in Meditation and in regular group meetings, did I experience relief of my alcoholism. I drank for over 25 years, and thought myself to be beyond help. If I can get this program and find recovery, anyone can!