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The addiction battle in our pews

'Drug use is everywhere and respects no one,' says a minister and recovering opioid user as he helps churches fight.

Speaking out of his own tragedy, Brandon Holt Sr. is gaining national recognition as he educates churches and leaders on the realities of substance use disorders.

Brandon D. Holt

Holt’s struggles began while he was working as a senior minister in Corona, Calif. He was in a car accident that required back surgery, triggering an addiction to pain medication — a condition that plagues more than 2 million people in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

As Holt rapidly decompensated, his family left him, his church fired him and his mortgage company foreclosed on him.

But those self-inflicted tragedies ultimately worked for good, Holt believes. He relied on the Lord and cleaned up his life. He’s been drug-free for eight years. He’s  preaching again. He and his wife, Crystal, reconciled their marriage. They have four children.

“I was preaching every Sunday, visiting the sick, attending leadership meetings, baptizing souls, counseling — yet secretly battling for my life.”

A 2003 graduate of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, Holt comes from a long line of prominent preachers among Churches of Christ. He is the great-great-grandson of G.P. Bowser, founder of Southwestern. He is also the grandson of George Philip Holt.

Holt is the founding minister of the Connect Church of Christ in Baytown, Texas. The church is raising money for its building fund and envisions opening a community based child care program and a counseling and drug treatment center. Holt is pursuing a dual master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy and professional counseling from Abilene Christian University’s online program.

Holt works closely with Judge Hazel B. Jones, serving the 174th Criminal District Court by assisting young probationers addicted to drugs.

Holt, a Licensed Chemical Dependence Counselor, works alongside Judge Hazel B. Jones of the 174th Criminal District Court in Houston, assisting young probationers who are addicted to drugs.

“Four years ago, my director/mentor Carol Nunn and Toby Bradley encouraged me to step out on faith and share my story with the church,” he said. “From that day, the Lord’s ministry for me elevated to another level.”

Knowing that drugs are harmful, why do people use them?

There are four main reasons why people use drugs:

• Curiosity. Daily, some people dream of peer acceptance due to a recognition-deprived childhood. Upon witnessing peer drug use, they become curious.

• To feel good. Now that they have experienced the euphoric high, they know how to feel good. This new feeling removes fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, grief and paranoia.

• To feel better. This is also known as “chasing the high.” Once the euphoric high passes, the euphoric recall immediately enters the mind. As their tolerance increases, substance users chase the dope, no matter the cost. What used to be one pill every four to six hours has turned into 20 pills to avoid psychological and physiological withdrawal.

• To perform better. Some athletes take stimulants such as steroids (a.k.a. “gym candy”) to improve performance. The midnight-shift worker may revert to stimulants (amphetamines, crack cocaine) to stay awake.

To what degree are drug usage and addiction present in churches?

Drug use is everywhere and respects no one.

Growing up in a Christian family, I did not witness drugs and alcohol.

Upon entering full-time ministry at 24 years of age in 2004, my life changed. While serving as the minister in Corona, Calif., I injured my back in a car accident, which required a five-hour surgery.

While in the recovery room, I remember the nurse saying, “Mr. Holt, click this button to eliminate your pain.”

At that point, my life began to spiral downward. I rationalized and justified my behavior due to having a prescription. I traveled to multiple doctors (doctor shopping) until I was red-flagged. I was preaching every Sunday, visiting the sick, attending leadership meetings, baptizing souls, counseling — yet secretly battling for my life. I was scared to share my struggle for fear of losing my job.

The drugs made me believe my Savior had given up on me. Guilt and shame sent me into severe depression and embarrassment.

Looking back over my life, my wife’s leaving me was the best thing that ever happened. It forced me to wake up and apologize to God for accusing him of leaving me when, in actuality, I left him. I have been clean from prescription medication since 2009. This past June, my wife and I celebrated 13 years of marriage.

What should churches be doing to help fight this problem?

Churches can make a positive impact by helping those who cannot help themselves.

As a start, pray for God to remove silent discrimination. The average person, church member or leader will not admit to the silent battle within.

“Churches can make a positive impact by helping those who cannot help themselves. As a start, pray for God to remove silent discrimination. The average person, church member or leader will not admit to the silent battle within.”

Several years ago, I dressed in disguise — I smelled bad, had holes in my clothes, smoke and dirt on me, had a shopping cart and brown bag with a bottle — and sat outside the church before service. People were afraid to speak to me.

I then moved to the auditorium. A member angrily stated, “If you do not leave, then I am calling the cops.” About then, a teenager sat next to me and said, “Welcome.”

When I stood up to preach, the sermon was already preached.

Here are a few more recommendations:

• Incorporate drug and alcohol education into your church’s budget.

• Host seminars and workshops on substance use disorders.

• Secure the professional services of a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) or Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC).

• Invite support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to use your facility.

• Start a “Celebrate Recovery” ministry.

• Set up or find a free, anonymous hotline service and encourage church members to use it.

• Send and encourage members to attend chemical dependency training programs and help with finances.

• Develop a resource binder that is readily available to all members.

Related: Churches aren’t safe from opioids

How can parents prevent drug usage by their teens?

There is nothing parents can do to ensure that their children will never use drugs. However, several precautionary measures can be utilized:

• Get educated about the signs and symptoms of drug-seeking behavior.

• Have a family meeting to communicate your policies and household expectations.

• Consider having a weekly “validation dinner” designed to demonstrate your love for your children.

• Keep your children busy with extracurricular activities.

• Involve yourself in their lives by attending school functions, meeting their friends, doing daily check-ins.

• Create “easy out” techniques designed to help your children leave the scene when offered drugs.

These simple steps can positively impact your children’s lives.

What can I do to help a friend or family member face their addiction problem?

Start praying today for God to use you to make a difference in their life.

This includes — but is not limited to — positive reinforcement, treatment referrals and intervention. You can hire professionals to help you host an intervention.

Remember that a substance use disorder is a chronic, lifelong brain disease that leads to destructive behavior. This disease is permanent, and anything can trigger a relapse.


In what new ways are teens abusing drugs? What should parents look for? See Brandon Holt Sr.’s answer at www.christianchronicle.org.

For more information about Holt’s ministry, contact [email protected].

Filed under: addiction Dialogue recovery Top Stories

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