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From Despair to Hope

Note on the text:

The numbering for the document follows that found in the Enchiridion for the Family.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Phenomenon of Drug Addiction

A. The Person

B. The Family

C. Society

Chapter 2: The Specific Task of the Church

A. The Church and Evangelization

B. The Church Face to Face with Drug Use

Chapter 3: The Evangelizing Presence of the Church

A. Presence in the Family

B. Presence in the Parish

C. Presence in Communities for the Treatment of Drug Users

D. Presence in Culture




1707. In his pastoral concern, the Holy Father has often addressed the problem of drug  addiction. That this has been assigned to the specific competence of the Pontifical Council for the Family emphasizes how the Church carefully follows this problem and its dramatic and terrible effects upon family life and on the growth of young people.

Within the vast and complex phenomenon of drugs and drug dependence, there are many themes to consider. We have chosen one of particular importance: the relationship between the family and drug addiction.[1]

1708. The theme of drug addiction is so important that it arouses much pastoral and social concern. For example, from November 21-23, 1991, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers organized a Congress in Rome on the theme “Contra spem in Spem: Drugs and Alcoholism Against Life”. At that Congress important contributions were made concerning the various facets of drug addiction and the family.[2]

1709. The reflections we now present are the result of a working session, which took place in Rome on June 20-22, 1991. Documents, research studies and various materials were examined. The meeting was called a “summit” because of the number of select participants, the majority of whom are working directly with drug users.

1710. We do not intend to deal with the drug problem in an exhaustive manner. There are already many serious studies about this. We simply wish to highlight certain aspects of our educative and pastoral mission and make public the widespread concern and hope which motivates all of us. We also add certain considerations about the activity of those who actively work in the field of drug addiction in the name of the Church.

1711. As experts, we were called to participate in this meeting because, through our different professions and activities, we are every day with victims suffering from a grave problem, of which recourse to drugs is only a sign and symptom.

1712. In many cases we have often had occasion to observe that there is true hope for real liberation. As believers and members of the Church, this very hope encourages us to carry on, despite difficulties, this service for our brothers and sisters who are in need of solidarity, understanding, trust and help.

We had the joy of meeting with the Holy Father, John Paul II, who is united with us in our pastoral activity in a fatherly way, and of receiving his Apostolic Benediction. The Successor of Peter spoke to us about this service of the Church and described it as a path which leads “from despair to hope”. We could not have found a better expression! Therefore, because it is both realistic and encouraging, we have chosen it as the title for our work.

Chapter I The Phenomenon of Drug Addiction

1713. Here we mention only some aspects of this complex and distressing problem. Specifically, we refer to the following: the person, the family, and society.

A. The Person

1714. Drugs are not the drug user's main problem. Drug consumption is merely a deceptive answer to the lack of a positive meaning of life. The human person, unique and unrepeatable, with his or her own interior life and specific personality, is really at the center of the problem of drug dependence. However, the person is the object of the love of God the Father, who in his redemptive plan calls each one to the sublime vocation of being a son in the Son. Yet, by drug use, the realization of this vocation is gravely compromised, together with happiness in this world. The reason is that drug addiction has deleterious effects upon mental receptivity and the correct use of the intellect and will of the human person who is the “image of God” (Gn 1:27).

1715. The majority of drug users are young, and the age of initial drug use is constantly becoming lower. Today, however, there are many adult drug users from 35-40 years of age, and this constitutes a significant variation. Moreover, some are heavily dependent upon drugs and others are occasional users. Some drug users are marginalized while others are apparently well integrated into society. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that we are faced with an overall picture of a varied and disjointed phenomenon.

1716. Episodes of violence which are reported today among drug users indicate that we are no longer confronted with that deceptive and illusory “peaceful trip” of former years, which was propagated by a mass manipulation of culture among young people in the ’60s. Instead, the effects of drug use which confront us today are a violent reality and a collapse of moral character.

1717. There are many personal motives which lead individuals to begin using drugs. However, in every user — whatever their age and frequency of drug use — there is one constant basic motive: a certain crisis of values and the person's lack of interior harmony. Different combinations of motives, according to personal weaknesses, in every drug user render him or her incapable of living a normal life. An “unmotivated” and “indifferent” state of mind is created in the drug user, unleashing an internal moral and spiritual imbalance. This produces an immature and weak character which causes the drug user to take on unstable attitudes towards his or her own responsibilities.

1718. Drugs, in fact, do not enter into a person’s life like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. Rather, drugs enter a person's life like a seed that takes root in ground that has been prepared for a long time.

1719. The female drug user is different from the male in that she is more deeply affected in her identity and dignity as a woman, above all if she is a mother. For this reason, the negative consequences of drugs can be even more serious for a woman.

1720. Certain specialists have observed that drug users live in a mental state equivalent to an endless adolescence. This state of immaturity originates and develops within the context of defective upbringing. The immature person is one who often comes from families which, even in spite of the parents’ will, did not succeed in transmitting values. These families failed either because they did not exercise adequate authority or because they found themselves living in a “passive” society, with a lifestyle which is consumerist and permissive, secularized and without ideals. Basically, the drug user is one who is sick because of a lack of love: he or she did not know love; he or she does not know how to love correctly because he or she was never loved correctly.

1721. The endless adolescence, characteristic of the drug user, is frequently manifested in a fear of the future or in the refusal of new responsibilities. The behavior of these young people often reveals the manifestation of a painful helplessness due to a lack of trust and expectation with regard to social structures to which they no longer feel they belong. Who can be blamed if many young people have no desire to grow up and become adults? Have these young people been given sufficient reason to hope in tomorrow, to invest in the present so as to gain in the future, to be stable, feeling solidly grounded in a past which they feel belongs to them? Nonetheless, hidden behind shocking attitudes, often deviant and unacceptable, one can perceive a spark of idealism and hope in these people.

B. The Family

1722. Among the personal and environmental factors which contribute to drug use, the principal one is, without a doubt, the absolute or relative lack of family life. The family is the key element in the formation of a person’s character and attitudes towards society. Let us consider some of these more important factors.

1723. The drug user frequently comes from a family which does not know how to react to stress because it is unstable, incomplete or divided. Today the negative effects of matrimonial and family crises are increasing alarmingly: easy separation and divorce, living together, the inability to give a well-rounded upbringing to prepare one for facing ordinary problems, the lack of dialogue, etc. Factors that can predispose for the choice of drugs are periods of silence, fear to communicate, competitiveness, consumerism, stress resulting from excessive work, selfishness; in a word, the inability to raise children in an open and wholesome way. In many cases children do not feel understood, and find themselves without family support. Furthermore, faith and the value of suffering and sacrifice, so important for maturation, are presented as negative values. Parents who are not up to their task constitute a real shortcoming with regard to the formation of their children's character. And what is to be said about the warped and deviant behavior of certain families in the area of sexuality?

1724. In many cases, families suffer the consequences of their children’s addiction (for example, violence, robbery, etc.); but, above all, they must share their psychological or physical torments. Shame, tension and interpersonal conflicts, economic problems and other grave consequences weigh heavily upon the family, weakening and crushing the basic cell of society.

1725. Besides the family of origin, special attention must also be given to the family established by the drug users themselves. In many instances these couples are composed of partners, both of whom are users. Many of these, although still young, are already separated or divorced or merely living together. In this context the problems of drug users’ children take on particular importance, especially their upbringing. The problems of the orphan children of deceased drug users are also important.

1726. Particular attention must be given to pregnant women who are drug users. Many of them are unwed or simply abandoned. Unfortunately, abortion is often proposed to them instead of coming to their aid with concrete solidarity and assistance so that they may accept the life of the child and respect it.[3]

C. Society

1727. Such widespread drug dependence is an indication of the current state of society. Today the person and the family find themselves living in a “passive” society, that is to say, a society without ideals, permissive, secularized, where the search for escape expresses itself in so many different ways, of which one is the flight to drug addiction.

1728. The age we live in exalts a freedom which “is no longer seen positively as a striving for good… but is rather defined as an emancipation from all conditions which prevent each one from following his own reason”.[4] Utilitarianism and hedonism, together with individualism and selfishness, are extolled. The quest for an illusory good under the banner of the greatest pleasure ends up by favoring the strongest and creates conditions of frustration and dependence among the majority of citizens. In this way, reference to moral values and to God himself are erased both in society and in human relations.

1729. In today's society an artificial consumerism, which is contrary to the health and dignity of man and favors the spread of drugs, has taken root (cf. Centesimus annus 36). This consumerism creates false needs and urges man, especially the young, to seek satisfaction only in material goods, thus causing dependence on them. Furthermore, a certain economic exploitation of young people easily spreads in this materialistic and consumerist context. In many places, youth unemployment favors the spread of drug dependence.

1730. No attentive observer fails to notice that today’s society favors the promotion of unbridled hedonism and a confused meaning of sexuality. The exercise of sexuality has been separated from conjugal communion and from its intrinsic orientation to procreation, so that all that remains is a superficial enjoyment to which even the dignity of persons is often subordinated.

1731. In a society in search of immediate gratification and personal convenience at all costs, a society which is more interested in “having” than in “being”, it is not surprising that its culture of death considers abortion and euthanasia as goods and rights. The meaning of life has been lost, and the person is emptied of his dignity, which leads to frustration and a one-way street to self-destruction. In such a society, drugs are an easy and immediate but deceptive answer to the human need for satisfaction and true love.

1732. Today the family shares its task of upbringing with many other educational institutions and agencies, but necessary links and coordination are often lacking. Consequently, the values proposed are neither sufficiently clear nor consistent. Such a lack of continuity in the upbringing of the young is, in great part, responsible for the crisis of values which generates confusion. In fact, the ideals presented to young people are not only disconnected, but also contradictory.

1733. The mass media often exercise a negative influence favoring the spread of drug use, above all among young people. With direct and indirect messages, and through the industry of entertaining the young, the mass media creates models, sets up idols, and define “normality” by means of a system of pseudo values. In this way the young absorb a bizarre and distorted concept of life and society. Moreover, we should not overlook the violence which is served up to the public every day in particular videocassettes.

1734. Some of us participating in this meeting are convinced that there is danger, on the part of the mass media, of presenting an image of the drug user which only leads to criminalizing him or her as the one alone who is to blame. The talents, intelligence and other capabilities of so many young drug users cannot be denied; and these should be taken into consideration in any rehabilitation initiative.

1735. Special mention was also made concerning the responsibility of the State to give general norms for the means of communication. A more general mention was also made regarding the entire legal system, which must protect citizens from threats coming from drug traffic and consumption.

Given the religious implications of the problems connected with drugs, in speaking about responsibility one cannot fail to mention the silence, lack of action and inadequacies that still exist in the pastoral care of the Church in the area of drugs.

1736. Under the aspects of person, family, and society, the drug phenomenon highlights the urgent need for “wisdom” to regain an awareness of the primacy of the moral values concerning the person. The Holy Father, John Paul II, affirms: “The great task that has to be faced today for the renewal of society is that of recapturing the ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values… The education of the moral conscience, which makes every human being capable of judging and of discerning the proper ways to achieve self-realization according to his or her original truth, thus becomes a pressing requirement that cannot be renounced” (Familiaris consortio 8). With the help of this wisdom the new emerging culture “will not distract people from their relationship with God, but will lead them to it more fully” (cf. Familiaris consortio 8). This is the authentic “new humanism”, which can only be “an authentic family humanism”, to which pertains a “new mentality . . . essentially positive, inspired by the great values of life and man”.[5]

Chapter II The Specific Task of The Church

1737. What is the specific task of the Church regarding the phenomenon of drug use?

A. The Church And Evangelization

1738. The Church, sent as the “universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen gentium 48; Ad gentes 1), is the missionary people of God. The Church’s missionary commitment, her evangelizing activity, falls on every member of this people, each in proportion to his or her possibilities (cf. Ad gentes 23): “On all Christians… rests the noble obligation of working to bring all men throughout the whole world to hear and accept the divine message of salvation" (Apostolicam actuositatem 3).

The Church is “experienced in human affairs” (Populorum progressio, 13). Her concern is centered upon man, the object of the creative, redeeming and sanctifying love of God, One and Triune. Jesus Christ, “for us men and for our salvation”, descended from heaven, became flesh, died and rose from the dead.

1739. The Church’s message is addressed to every society and to all mankind. It proclaims God’s lofty calling for man. However, part of this message is the fact that redeemed man carries within himself the wounds of original sin and, therefore, an inclination to the dependence/slavery of sin.

The Church announces that God saves man in Christ, revealing to him his vocation, which is written in the truth about man and fully revealed in Christ Jesus (cf. Gaudium et spes 22). In this light, all have the right to know that life is a “yes” to God and holiness, not simply a “no” to evil.

1740. A person is called to live in (exsistere) communion with God, with oneself, with one's neighbor, with one's surroundings (cf. GS 13). By living such relationships, especially relationships with others, the full and integral value of masculine and feminine corporeity is highlighted, which reveals the profound meaning of human life as a call to love (cf. Familiaris consortio, 11). Sin, however, has an influence upon these relations. To live human and Christian values in an authentic manner, besides the indispensable support of divine grace, the following are necessary: the freedom of the spirit against materialism and consumerism; the truth about good and about man against utilitarianism and ethical subjectivism, the greatness of love, which always seeks the other’s good, also through self-giving, against making sex commonplace and hedonism.

1741. The merciful love of God especially protects those who have greater need of his compassionate and liberating action. The Lord said it is the sick who need a doctor (cf. Mt 9:12; Mk 2:17; Lk 5:31).

1742. The concern and activity of many persons and institutions are directed to the drug user. Even different sciences and disciplines are concerned with the user’s problems. Under what aspect, therefore, does the Church place herself at the service of those who find themselves under the yoke of this new form of slavery?

1743. In her decisively pastoral attitude, using the instruments offered by science, the Church approaches the drug user with her enlightening understanding of the truth about Christ, about herself and about man.[6]

1744. The Church offers her own specific answer as guardian of human and Christian moral values which are meant for all, can be proposed to all, with methods open to all: believers or non-believers, drug users or persons at risk, young or old, persons coming from “healthy” families or those without a family. The Church’s answer is about the values of the person as such. The Church’s proposal is an evangelical design for man. She announces the love of God, which does not wish the death but the conversion and life of those who are living the drama of addiction and suffer a miserable existence (cf. Ez 18:23). Her proclamation is about the fullness of life, eternal life, in situations which threaten or place it in danger.

1745. It is necessary to make the drug user, who basically suffers from the lack of love, know and experience the love of Christ Jesus. In the midst of incessant torment, in the profound emptiness of one's own existence, the journey toward hope passes through the rebirth of an authentic ideal of life. All of this is fully manifested in the mystery of the revelation of the Lord Jesus.

1746. Whoever uses mind-altering drugs must know that, with the grace of God, he or she is able to open himself or herself to him who is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6).

The drug user can thus undertake a liberating journey, discovering that he or she is the image of God, in the condition of a child, who must grow in the likeness of the image par excellence which is Christ himself (cf. Col 1:15).

1747. With her specific contribution, the Church takes part in solving the problem of drug dependence, both to prevent this evil and to help the users in their process of treatment and social rehabilitation.

In this way, we are witnesses to the fact that a prisoner of drugs, with the help of the Church, can begin anew with an attitude open to an ever-greater fullness of new life.

B. The Church Face To Face With Drug Use

1748. The Church’s answer to the phenomenon of drug use is a message of hope and a service which goes beyond the symptoms to the very heart of man. The Church does not limit herself to eliminating the hardship, but proposes the right paths for living. Without being unaware or disregarding other solutions, the Church places herself on a higher and more inclusive level which takes into account her precise vision of man and consequently points out new proposals regarding life and values. Her task is evangelical: to proclaim the good news. The Church does not take on a type of supplementary function with respect to other institutions and human aspirations. In fact, the Church’s service is in the “school of evangelization” accomplished by concrete forms of caring, which are the practical translation of her proposals of life and her message of love.

1749. The Church’s contribution to the solution of drug use is within her activity of evangelization. This activity, whether directed ad intra or ad extra, has one purpose: “to serve man by revealing to him the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ” (Redemptoris missio 2). This activity “has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith” (Redemptoris missio 46): “Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!” (Mk 1:15). This type of conversion “means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple” (Redemptoris missio 46). Only in Christ can every person find his true treasure, the real and definitive reason for all his existence. The words of Christ take on an extraordinary meaning with regard to the drug user: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28).

1750. The Gospel ties the proclamation of the good news to good works as, for example, to the curing “of every disease and illness” (Mt 4:23). The Church is a “dynamic force” and “the sign and promoter of Gospel values among men” (Redemptoris missio 20). For this reason, the Church, never losing “sight of the priority of the transcendent and spiritual realities which are premises of eschatological salvation”, has always offered her evangelizing witness together with her activity: dialogue, human promotion, commitment for justice and peace, education and the care of the sick, aid to the poor and to children (cf. Redemptoris missio 20). However, there should be no doubt that in her proclaiming the good news about the love of God, the Church does not coerce human freedom: she stops before the sanctuary of conscience; she proposes, but imposes nothing (cf. Redemptoris missio 39).

1751. The Holy Father recalls that the evangelical witness of the Church consists in proclaiming the good news, as she who has recognized in Jesus Christ the goal of her proper destiny and the reason for her every hope.[7]

Referring to the drug user, the Supreme Pontiff affirms the need “to bring him to the discovery or rediscovery of his own dignity as man; to help him to heighten and develop as an active subject those personal resources, which drugs had buried, through a trustful reactivation of the mechanisms of the will, oriented toward sure and noble ideals”.[8] Following this line for the drug user’s character formation, the Holy Father continues: “the possibility of recovery and redemption from the terrible slavery has been concretely proven… with methods which rigorously exclude any concession to drugs, legal or illegal, having a substitutive character”.[9] He then concludes: “Drugs are not overcome with drugs”.[10]

1752. But which are the “sure and noble ideals” necessary for the development of the drug user as an active subject? They are the ones which respond to man’s extreme need of “knowing whether there is a reason justifying his earthly existence”.[11] For this reason, “the light of transcendence and Christian revelation is necessary. The teaching of the Church, anchored to the indefectible word of Christ, gives an enlightening and sure answer to questions on the meaning of life, teaching to build it upon the rock of doctrinal certitude and moral strength coming from prayer and the sacraments. The serene conviction of the soul’s immortality, of the body’s future resurrection and of the eternal responsibility of one’s personal actions is the surest method for preventing the terrible evil of drugs, for treating and rehabilitating its impoverished victims, and for strengthening them in perseverance and in steadfastness on the ways of good.”[12]

1753. Today, with the vast diffusion of drugs, the Church finds herself face to face with a new challenge: she must evangelize this particular state of affairs. For this she prescribes:

1) the proclamation of God’s paternal love directed to the salvation of every man, a love which is above every sense of blame;

2) the condemnation of personal and social evils which cause and favor the drug phenomenon;

3) the witness of those believers who dedicate themselves to the treatment of drug users according to the example of Christ Jesus, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life (cf. Mt 20:28; Phil 2:7).

1754. This threefold activity involves:

— A duty of proclamation and prophesy, which presents the original evangelical vision of man;

— A duty of humble service, like the Good Shepherd who gives his own life for his sheep;

— A duty of the moral formation of persons, families and communities, accomplished through natural and supernatural principles to arrive at the whole and total man.

Chapter III The Evangelizing Presence of The Church

1755. After having examined the Church’s specific mission regarding the drug phenomenon, we would like to point out those subjects who are called to take part in the pastoral care of the Church in fighting the evil of drug use and in helping its victims.

A. Presence in the Family

1756. The Church feels she must reserve privileged attention for the family, the central nucleus of every social structure, and proclaim “with joy and conviction the good news about the family” (Familiaris consortio 86) to promote an authentic “culture of life”. Even though the family is besieged by so many dangers today in a secularized society, the family must be trusted. John Paul II affirms: “The family possesses and continues still to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his anonymity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with deep humanity and actively placing him in his uniqueness and unrepeatability within the fabric of society (Familiaris consortio 43).

1757. Nonetheless, according to the Holy Father, the Church must have particular pastoral care “for those individuals whose existences are scarred with personal and devastating tragedy, and for the societies which find themselves obliged to control a phenomenon ever more dangerous, which is drug use.”[13]

1758. The family is a vital and indispensable nucleus of human existence itself. Because of this, man is both an individual person and part of a community (a reflection of the one and triune God). Therefore, if the Church intends to face the drug phenomenon in an efficacious manner, she must make the family her pastoral priority: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (Familiaris consortio 86). The family is the “first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology’ ” and “the sanctuary of life” (Centesimus annus 39), the crucial cell of society, since the various aspects, both good and bad, of custom and culture are reflected in her.

1759. Notwithstanding the lack of interest, the prejudices and even the hostility which surrounds the family institution today, the experience of those who work with special competence in the world of drug dependence (e.g., psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, medical doctors, social workers, etc.), unanimously confirms that the Christian model of the family remain the primary point of reference upon which to insist in any action for the prevention, treatment and recovery of the vitality of the individual in society.

1760. This model rests upon authentic love: the unique, faithful, and indissoluble love of spouses. The Christian concept of matrimony as a community of life and love must be restored because, otherwise, the selfish and individualistic models will prevail. This requires education to the mutual gift of self and to generosity linked with a continual spiritual, religious and moral education.

We are well aware that this divine project clashes with today’s narcissistic, self-sufficient and ephemeral culture. Therefore, it is indispensable that there be a strategy of support, solidarity and openness amongst families in a work of patience and mutual care.

1761. In the effort to prevent and combat drug use, the family must call upon the interior resources of every member to face the everyday difficulties of life. From early adolescence children relate to their parents and family as models for life. Then they tend to separate themselves and acquire their own distinct character by seeking their own realization outside the family, often following models which are in contrast with those of the family. The family must become once again the place where children can experience the unity which strengthens them in their own particular personality. Families must be both the object and subject of an education in togetherness and self-giving in love.

1762. The significance of everyday life must be regained. To accomplish this the family must react against publicity which falsifies the perspective of life.

1763. The pastoral action of the Church, centered upon the priority of the family, is concerned with everyone, not only those who work in the many sectors of social hardship. Pastoral care of the family is the best prevention because it is concerned with upbringing, shapes catechesis, directs courses for the preparation of marriage, animates institutes for family formation, gives rise to study and prayer groups and promotes concrete forms of commitment such as volunteer groups, involving every component of the Christian community.

1764. The family, the “domestic church” (Lumen gentium 11), is capable of facing everything in light of the Word of God interpreted by the magisterium. If God really has the first place, the family becomes a place for growth and hope because everyday life is rebuilt in it through love, faith, patience and prayer. The magisterium affirms that, “the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates” (Evangelii nuntiandi 71).

1765. The family should be “an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny” (Centesimus annus 39). The family is where adults discover their educational role in the character formation of their children and where the child faces life and learns to love. In the family, man receives “his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person” (Centesimus annus 39). Adults should learn to respect their children as unique and unrepeatable, with their own personal gifts and vocations. Adults should teach them to have esteem for themselves and to discover their own capacities for the discernment of moral values. The family should continually sensitize them in a formative fashion about the drug problem and the dangers of deviation. It must be constantly kept in mind that “to educate” is not only “to inform”: information alone can create a desire to try, curiosity and imitation. In the formative process it is important to remember the different stages of development of the personality of the one to be brought up. Should the family, then, ever find itself directly involved in the drama of drug use, it should never close in upon itself. It should not be afraid to speak clearly about what it is experiencing. In a word, the family must have the courage to seek help from those who are able to give it support and good advice. In fact, the family would be lending itself to the drug user’s game by isolating itself in its suffering because of mistaken shame.

1766. All this is not easy. However, growth takes place only by overcoming difficulties and a constant effort, which also includes failures. Sometimes parents see suffering and sacrifices as negative values, but this is not so. Suffering and sacrifice help growth and maturity by strengthening the will and character. This was taught to us by the One who redeemed humanity through suffering. At times parents must be capable of making difficult decisions in order to help their drug-dependent child. These are decisions, however, which must never be lacking in affection. Parents also certainly need affection. It is indeed an eloquent observation made by many parents that it is necessary for them, first of all, to fill themselves up with affection in order to be able to give it to their children who are so needy of their affection.

B. Presence in the Parish

1767. The pastoral work of the parish contributes to building up the Church, the community of salvation, and to healing human hearts. It does this through all its activity.

First of all, there is the proclamation of the Word of God: it must be a strong and compelling proclamation in all its forms (catechism, homiletics, religious education in the school, etc.), favoring the growth of faith. The proclaimed word, when received, renews man and makes him a true witness of the Gospel. In the Gospel man learns the charity of Christ which makes known the justice and mercy of the heavenly Father. In this manner, man avoids judging his brother (cf. Jas 4:11,12). Critical consciences regarding false values and idols proposed by the consumerist and hedonistic society are thus formed. It is better understood that the ways for achieving a quality of life worthy of man are not those which make efficiency and success their first and absolute criterion. Rather, they are the ways which present demanding proposals and courageous commitments that open up the horizon of true freedom, far from the many dependencies and pleasures which make man a slave. The Word of God gives young people courage, strength, understanding and hope.

1768. The liturgy makes present the salvific mystery of Christ. Every community, in its joyful celebration, receives the gifts of its Redeemer and discovers the necessities of the needy and poor. In receiving the Lord in the Eucharist, the community discovers the need to be open to its brothers and sisters. Moreover, the Church ponders the example of Christ, who did not come to seek the healthy but the sick, to call not the just but sinners to conversion (cf. Mk 2:15, 17). For the ecclesial community, this means a readiness to give concrete attention to those forms of poverty which are present within its confines. Taking this poverty upon oneself under the banner of active solidarity is the first way to prevent drug use and give meaning to life.

1769. Pastoral care regarding prevention is a priority for the parish since it is an educating community. In the community, adults should feel that they are co-responsible educators in the formation of every child and young person. In this atmosphere the value of fraternal correction as a mutual stimulus for the good is strengthened. At the basis of all this is a love open to every man, especially to the poorest. This love expresses itself in solidarity.

1770. Regarding young people, demanding pastoral care is necessary:

—on the spiritual plane of growth in holiness;

—in preparing for free and generous service;

—in activity for youth formation and, in general, for education to a wholesome life in the form of sports, health, culture and spirituality.

1771. The presence of drug users calls the whole parish to a commitment which goes beyond simple economic help or easy delegation to specialized agencies. Within the Christian community, families or groups of families should make themselves available to welcome or assist a drug user in the phases of social rehabilitation or return to work. In this way, in fact, volunteer educating communities in a given territory (parish, neighborhood, town) come into existence. Thus, evangelical service takes root, and a message of hope is offered through concrete acts of acceptance and love.

C. Presence in Communities for the Treatment of Drug Users

1772. In the Church many initiatives also exist for the prevention, reception and treatment of drugs users and for their social rehabilitation. While the source of their inspiration is one and the same, the creative capacities of the persons who carry them out concretely are diversified. But if their source is the Gospel, and their service a message of love and hope, all these undertakings can only be of a community type, which has as its reference point the rebirth of the person and the family, and man’s call to live in a community.

1773. The community for the treatment of drug users is not merely a structure. It is a way of life to be lived everywhere: in the home, on the street, in school, at work and at play. The indispensable element and strong point of ecclesial commitment in this area continues to be the recovery of the person through an action which is inspired by an evangelic proposal made possible through various forms of care which make the Church’s message of love and salvation concrete.

1774. We are well aware of how, in so many communities, persons who have overcome drug dependence become able assistants and credible witnesses for others. They are like masters of prevention, giving the example of hope and a positive recovery. Ex-drug users become specialists in confronting the drug problem because they have gone through this suffering themselves. They know how to accept the proposal of the Gospel and, consequently, are more suitable to transmit what they have received to those who now find themselves in the same situation.

1775. Other specific characteristics of communities for the treatment of drug users are entrusted to the creativity and different charisms and ideas of those who take part in them. In respect for the different forms of these undertakings, the Church offers an effective service to drug users through these structures and always remains faithful to her own mission, which requires the proposal of clear guidelines for those who intend to follow her. With regard to this multiplicity of work and undertakings, the Church also has the duty of discernment. Adherence to the Gospel and the magisterium of the Church constitutes the parameter for defining the Christian identity of every community which hopes to consider itself as such.

1776. In a text of this nature we cannot enter into the subject of evaluating the variety of methods used for the treatment of drug-use victims. These methods also depend upon the cultural context of different countries and the particular state of families and drug users themselves. According to the level of secularization, there can be different emphases, depending upon the presence of Christian values in the community and in the persons who are victims of drug dependence.[14]

1777. Respecting the autonomy of the sciences and their own methodology, the Church is more interested in the work of evangelization, and especially when it is carried out in institutions belonging to her or placed under the inspiration and direction of her pastoral workers. The truth about man and Christ must be the center of a total or complete rehabilitation. It is necessary to carefully read the words of the Holy Father John Paul II: “Men need truth. They have the absolute necessity of knowing why they live, die and suffer! Well, you know that the ‘truth’ is Jesus Christ! He himself categorically affirmed this: ‘I am the truth’ (Jn 14:6). ‘I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness’ (Jn 8:12). Therefore, love the truth! Bring the truth to the world! Witness to the truth which is Jesus, with all the doctrine revealed by him and taught by the Church, which is divinely assisted and inspired. It is the truth which saves our young people: the entire truth, enlightening and demanding as it is! Have no fear of the truth, and place Jesus Christ only and always above so many masters of the absurd and suspect, who can be fascinating, but who then fatally lead to destruction" (Homily of John Paul II, August 9, 1980, to the Centro Italiano di Solidarieta.[15]

D. Presence in Culture

1778. There is an interdependence between perfecting the human person and the development of society itself (cf. Gaudium et spes 25). From the moment that man and society tend, within the temporal order, toward the common good through culture in a special way, the development and transmission of culture are among the principal fields of service to humanity in which the Church must be present.

1779. Culture contributes to the development and refinement of man’s mental and physical capacities. Through culture man promotes the common good of society by creating those social conditions which are capable of easily satisfying his needs and legitimate desires. Such social conditions, if they are to correspond to the true vocation of man, must be based upon the eminent dignity of the human person, who can only be understood completely in the transcendent light of Christian revelation.

1780. For this reason, the Church must “evangelize man’s culture and cultures (not in a purely decorative way, as it were, by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their very roots)… always taking the person as one’s starting point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God” (Evangelii nuntiandi 20). Through this evangelization, the Church aims at conversion, which is to say, the transformation of conscience, both individual and collective. In doing this, the Church does not destroy, but interiorly transforms culture by regenerating “criteria of judgment, sources of inspiration and models of life which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation” (Evangelii nuntiandi 19).

1781. On the other hand, drug use is the result of a culture which, emptied of so many human values, compromises the promotion of the common good and, therefore, the authentic promotion of the person. From this follows the commitment which the Holy Father requests of lay people for the promotion of the common good, which helps so many persons to be steadfast in goodness. For this reason it is the mission of the Church to re-evangelize culture and give new life to the temporal order, which makes it possible. This is, above all, the task of faithful laypersons with their participation in the social order under its different aspects (cf. Christifideles Laici 42).

1782. The evangelizing presence of the Church is necessary in the privileged places of culture, such as educational institutions (schools, universities, etc.), for an effective task of prevention. Such centers are also the primary places for character formation where educators are called to identify possible drug victims in time. Schools, since they participate in youth formation in a subsidiary manner, must always work in close collaboration with parents.

1783. Given the importance of the means of social communication for both the formation and transmission of culture, the Church’s presence cannot be lacking in this field. The evangelizing Church must perform her work of prevention by promoting a “new humanism” (Familiaris consortio 7) through the means of social communication.


1784. These pages, fruit of the meeting between persons with many years of experience, propose some thoughts about the work of drug use, prevention and the recovery of drug users. The final purpose of this study is that man, by leaving aside deceptive dependences, will find true freedom again in childlike dependence upon the heavenly Father.

1785. In conclusion, we turn to the Mother of God, who harmoniously lived her basic relations in accordance with the will of God. Mary, help all those threatened by the scourge of drugs and those who have become its victims. Guide them to the Father in the knowledge and love of his Son, Jesus Christ. May he, the Lord of life, make the many persons who are slaves of drugs, pass from despair to hope.

Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujullo


Bishop Jean-Francois Arrighi



[1] Other aspects are problems related to drug production and traffic in an international market, which is constantly growing. Other problems stem from drug consumption, which becomes the stimulus for an increasing demand. The Church must offer an ethical and pastoral position regarding these problems. We hope it will be possible to study this matter in the near future.

[2] To the participants in this Conference the Holy Father made the distinction between taking drugs and taking alcohol: “Whereas the moderate use of alcohol as a drink does not, in fact, clash with moral prohibitions, and only abuse is to be condemned; taking drugs is, on the contrary, always illicit because it involves an unjustified and irrational renunciation of thinking, willing, and acting as free persons. Moreover, recourse to psychotropic substances by medical prescription to mitigate suffering in carefully determined cases must itself abide by extremely prudent criteria to avoid dangerous forms of habituation and dependence” (Address of the Holy Father to Participants in the VI International Congress organized by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers).

[3] Many specialists tell us that not all children born of HIV-seropositive mothers are also HIV-infected. In fact, this infection is very difficult to diagnose at the moment of birth because it is not possible to distinguish between the antibodies of the mother and those of the child. The maternal antibodies disappear only when the child reaches the age of 12-18 months. From 12% to 24% of children born from HIV-seropositive mothers have only the maternal antibodies, and are consequently not HIV-infected.

[4] Address of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals on "The problem of threats to human life", 4-7 April 1991.

[5] Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VII, 2, p. 348.

[6] Cf. Address of John Paul II to the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops, January 28, 1979: L’Osservatore Romano, Jan. 29-30, 1979, n. 23.

[7] Cf. Homily of John Paul II in Piazza Sordello in Mantua, June 23, 1991.

[8] Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VII, 2, p. 347.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 349.

[11] Ibid., p. 350.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VII, 1, 1984, p. 115.

[14] Many methods were mentioned, including the one used by Viktor Frankl, called logotherapy. This method stresses values, which give meaning to life. It has, therefore, strong ethical emphasis and can be helpful in the treatment process. At a certain point, however, an explicit evangelization should begin in which Christ, the Logos (Word), is the center. In this way we could also speak of a Logos-therapy (Therapy of the Word of the Father).

[15] L’Osservatore Romano, CXX, p. 185, Aug. 10, 1980.

Documents on Drugs

Church: Drugs and Drug Addiction, Chapter 1

From Despair to Hope

Should Soft Drugs be Legalized

Excerpts from Church Documents

Addresses of Pope John Paul II

Addresses of Pope Francis

Messages of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

Final Statement

Christ in Gethsemane II by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Wikimedia Commons

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