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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Helping Your Loved One Find Freedom From Addiction

Helping Your Loved One Find Freedom From Addiction

When addiction steps in, your family may be turned upside down. In this compelling interview, Victor Torres shares his dramatic story of growing up on the streets of New York City as a gang member and a heroin addict and how God intervened to change his life. He’ll identify some signs of substance abuse and offer some first steps toward hope and healing for your addicted loved one.
Original Air Date: August 18, 2023

Victor Torres: Parents. One of the things that parents must do when they suspect that their child or their loved one is involved in some suspicious activity, drugs, or whatever it is that they know it’s not right. It’s not to be so naive, uninformed. You know, these are the traits, these are the circumstances, these are the consequences of t- this lifestyle. So, if your son and your daughter is acting kind of funny, suddenly there’s a lot of money or no money, or constantly asking for money, uh, something is wrong.

John Fuller: Victor Torres shares his insights with us today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: We live in a culture of self-medicating. It’s all over the place. I think my self-medication is maybe a little snack or two I shouldn’t have. And, uh, whether it’s innocuous like retail therapy, uh, I think people understand what that means, or treating yourself with sweets (laughs), as I have to escape life struggles. Uh, there are more dangerous substances like drugs and alcohol. Since 1999, nearly one million people have died from a drug overdose, and that number continues to rise every year. We’ve got the Fentanyl problem coming over the southern border. Lots of stuff going on in this category of addiction. More than 20 million people in the US are diagnosed with what is called SUD, substance use disorder, every year. But only 10.3% receive help, and that’s too bad. Today we wanna talk about that issue, especially from a Christian perspective with a wonderful guest who has spent his life helping people after his own brokenness. Victor Torres is, uh, gonna share that dramatic story, then identify some signs, uh, of substance abuse for those around you, your loved ones, your family members, and maybe yourself. And then offer some first steps toward hope and healing.

John: Yeah. And Victor is the founding pastor of New Life Outreach Church in Richmond, Virginia. He and his late wife Carmen, founded a residential treatment program called New Life for Adults and Youth. He has four children, 11 grandchildren, and as he says, more spiritual children than he can count. He’s captured his inspiring story and some solid practical guidance in his book, Reaching Your Addicted Loved One: Help and Hope for Those Battling Substance Abuse. You’ll find details about the book and other resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Victor, welcome to Focus on the Family. So good to have you here.

Victor: Jim, thank you. It’s, uh, it’s my, my blessing to be here.

Jim: Yeah. And we’re gonna cover your story. I love covering a person’s story ’cause, uh, the scripture says that they overcame the evil one by the blood of the lamb and the power of their testimony.

Victor: Amen.

Jim: And this is it, man. This is your testimony. Uh, with your ministry and treatment program, you’re working with people trapped in addiction. We talked about the scope of that a moment ago. How many people, uh, that are trapped every year and the ongoing entrapment that they experience, what is a common thing that you hear from these addicted folks as they’re working through their recovery?

Victor: Well, I think the most common thing that, uh, we hear is, “I’ve been through so much. I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.”

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: “I don’t know if this, this time is gonna help me or not,” because they, it’s a constant repeat of, uh, uh, making efforts, but not really surrendering.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: And, you know, that is the, the, the key word.

Jim: You know, people that may not have addictive personality, if we could put it in that context, you know, something that’s compulsive, uh, describe that for them, where it, it’s such a pull that people cannot or struggle to not do that behavior if it’s drugs or alcoholism because there’s a dopamine hit, there’s brain science in this that gives them such a good feeling that they want to keep coming back to that.

Victor: Yeah. I think that generally, you know, you don’t really think that this thing is going to control your life, and the, the control factor-

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: … then becomes a reality. But in the beginning, you know, when they start experimenting with drugs, it’s, it’s all, you know, getting high, it’s pleasure, “Uh, there’s nothing to this, you know, I’m just having a good time.”

Jim: “I can control it.”

Victor: “I can control it. I can stop whenever I want to.” But then the deeper they get, then they start to realize that they are dependent, they can’t sleep, they can’t function normally. And that’s when the desperation level kicks in.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: And suddenly they start realizing, “Wow, I’m hooked.”

Jim: Yeah. Can’t get away from it. Then they’re in trouble.

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: Let’s go to your story a bit. Uh, you grew up in the streets of New York. Describe that. Again, a lot of people have not had that experience. New York’s a tough place, typically.

Victor: It still is. Uh-

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: … I mean, when I was growing up, uh, I grew up in one of the worst, uh, neighborhoods in, in New York, a place called Brownsville.

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: And it’s very, uh, interesting that, uh, that area there was always, always known for mafia activity.

Jim: Ah.

Victor: So there, there was a spirit already there.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: Uh, and my parents, you know, they, they were trying their best to bring me up right. Uh-

Jim: You said they’re hardworking and both your mom and dad worked.

Victor: They were.

Jim: And you guys, you know, generally-

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: … had a good family.

Victor: Yeah, my father was a hard, hardworking man.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: You know, he held two jobs-

Jim: Wow.

Victor: … all the time that he was in New York. He, he had, uh, he was a rent collector.

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: He, during the daytime, during the night, he was a foreman in a factory.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: Um, and my mother worked during the day, which was great, you know, that they were employed, but, but the children were growing up by themselves.

Jim: Yeah. Where are you in that birth order? You number one or the last?

Victor: Uh, I’m number one.

Jim: Okay. So there’s responsibility with that. Describe again, what that environment’s like, what you’re getting into, how old are you and how did you fall into the drug addiction that caught ahold of you?

Victor: Yeah. Because of the environment, uh, you know, I was, I was already in school, but I had to fight my way into school, fight my way outta school every day. The environment was so rough, it was so tough. I was already running around with the wrong kids. And at the age of 12, I started carrying a, a, a knife with me because I felt like I needed protection.

Jim: Sure.

Victor: And one day, I, I just didn’t think twice. I pulled out the knife, I got into a struggle with, with a guy that was a bully and pulled out the knife. And I stabbed him in the armpit several times. And I had never felt blood in my hands like that. And I started running. Can you imagine, you know, 12 year old child?

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: And, and I’m scared. I’m, I’m frightened. I, I don’t know what to do. So I’m running home thinking that my parents can hide me. And, uh, my father was not home. At that point, my mother happened to be at home. She put me underneath the bed, but I was always long of legs. And when the cops came, they, they saw my legs sticking out from the bed, and they pulled me out.

Jim: So they did come.

Victor: They did come and they got me and I went to juvenile court at the age of 12. I started a path that took me a long, long ways, and it was a terrible experience for me. But then there was no stopping, because now at the age of 14, I’m using drugs. I’m using heroin at the age of 14. I’m carrying a gun. I’m, I’m part of this notorious gang in New York City. And at the same time I’m shooting up heroin.

Jim: Wow. How long did that last? How many years?

Victor: Eight years.

Jim: So you were in that environment for eight years.

Victor: For eight years.

Jim: How did God ever reach into your dark world and grab you by the collar?

Victor: Well, you know, I always tell people God didn’t live in our home. Uh, because, uh, neither my father, my mother went to church. And so, you know, God just didn’t exist in our home. But my mother, you know, came to a point of desperation. She was trying to seek help different places. Uh, nothing was working. And one day a friend of hers invited her to a, a small, uh, storefront church. And she started going there. And she found help there. She found support, she found friends, and she found faith. And so she started bringing Jesus to the house.

Jim: (laughs).

Victor: And, you know, I didn’t want to hear it.

Jim: How old were you at that point?

Victor: At that point I was, uh, 17.

Jim: Okay.

Victor: Yeah. 16, 17.

Jim: Wow. So you were-

Victor: I was at the, at the prime of gang life. Yeah.

Jim: Right. And you were telling your mom you didn’t want to listen to that-

Victor: No, I didn’t wanna even-

Jim: … that’s a bunch of nonsense.

Victor: You know, I would come home under the influence ’cause I shot up two or three times a day.

Jim: Wow.

Victor: So I would come home under the influence, I, I, I was a zombie. And, uh, my mother would talk to me. I didn’t wanna listen to her. And I thought she was nuts. I thought she was crazy. “Mom, this will never work for me. I don’t want nothing to do with religion or God, uh, any of your stuff. Just leave me alone.”

Jim: Hmm. Before you get to that part, and I want to hear that part where the Lord intervened. You mentioned in your book, uh, Reaching Your Addicted Loved One. You said that when a family member becomes addicted, the entire family becomes addicted. I know many families listening and watching, uh, are gonna connect with that. I guess define that for us, and then what do we do?

Victor: Yeah, it’s, um, it’s a fact. Uh, you know, family then begin to feel the impact because it’s an environment, it’s a culture in the home. You know, I-

Jim: People have to respond to you as the addict.

Victor: They have to respond, they have to talk with you. It’s arguments every day, confrontations. My father was a good man, hardworking man, but he hated to see me in that condition. You have to see it vividly to understand that, “Here’s, here’s your son. And he, he’s totally under the influence of this drug. He, he’s not normal.” You don’t respond normally. You come in 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, just sleep till 3:00 in the afternoon. Um, you know, there, there is no communication. So there’s a lot of frustration. After a while, that spirit, you know, catches on to the-

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: … family. And then, especially if somebody like my mom who took it upon herself, my father gave up. My father said, “There is no hope for you. You know, put him away. You know, I don’t, I don’t want to see him this way anymore.” My mother continued to pray and to bring people home, you know, f- friends from the church. And I hated that. Uh, but she, she never gave up.

Jim: And she did that to have you interact with them or for them to meet you-

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: … or just-

Victor: Yeah, she would introduce me to these, uh, you know, especially to a pastor, you know, and I didn’t want nothing to with… there was, there was no common, uh, there was nothing in common there. So I would just walk out of the house. But she, she was, you know, I always say she was the real gangster.

Jim: (laughs).

Victor: She, she-

Jim: You’re a gangster.

Victor: … she was a Jesus gangster.

Jim: Oh, man.

Victor: She determined that she was gonna find a solution.

Jim: Yeah. And Victor, we’re going to, we’re gonna talk about that in just a moment, but I think, you know, one of the concerns I have is the desperation that many parents feel in that moment with their 13-year-old, their 18-year-old, their 25-year-old, whatever it might be, and what to do, what is effective. And it sounded like your mom just handled that in the best of ways that she quietly prayed for you and brought people by the house that could have an impact on you. I’m sure she was praying for that. But speak to that parent that’s in the, kind of the beginning stages of this. Their son or daughter is addicted. Uh, they might be doing other behaviors that are addictive, maybe cutting or things like that.

Victor: Yeah. And, you know, they’re stealing.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: Uh, they steal everything that, you know, they can, uh, take away. They go into your purses, uh, you know, sell jewelry. Uh, I-

Jim: I… Yeah, I was just gonna say, I think most counselors would say, you gotta kind of draw the line and, and you gotta apply tough love.

Victor: You do. You do. You know, I think the, the main thing is for a parent not to give up. I always say, you gotta have, you gotta have, you know, uh, a, a, a determinant, uh, heart that you’re not gonna give up, a die-hard heart.

Jim: Did you and your dad ever talk about that, the fact that you felt like he had given up when your mom hadn’t?

Victor: Yeah. Yeah. Because we even got into ruffles. We, you know, the argument. And, and what I tell parents is, don’t, don’t get mad at your child, your loved one, don’t, it’s not their fault. You know? Sure. You know, they made the decision, but the one that they need to get mad at, it’s the drug, it’s the environment. And of course, you learn a lot. You think a lot. You know, you go through changes. “Where did I go wrong? You know, what could I have done that would have been different?” And this is where parents get frustrated. And, you know, and it’s, and it can be a long journey. But I always encourage parents and loved ones don’t give up because, you know, God is the God of all hope. There is hope. And as long as there’s, there’s life, there is hope.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: And so, you know, my mother captured that. She was a simple lady, uh, just simple, but hard work, working lady, and loved her family.

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: And, um, you know, she would tell me, “Son, I don’t care.” You know, like, you know, I would get busted. I would go to jail, and she would still be there.

Jim: Hmm.

John: Well, she really stood in the gap for you. It’s very apparent.

Victor: Yeah.

John: And, uh, that’s a lesson for all of us as parents. Don’t give up on our children and, uh, and make sure that we’re attuned to who they are and where they are. Well, you’re listening to Pastor Victor Torres on Focus on the Family. And if your family is dealing with addiction in some way, you’re gonna want to get a copy of Victor’s book, Reaching Your Addicted Loved One: Help and Hope for Those Battling Substance Abuse. It’s packed full of insights and information, and you can order that directly from us here at Focus on the Family. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Victor, uh, again, I love that aspect of your mom and her love for you. And I can understand your dad’s frustration-

Victor: Sure.

Jim: … a lot of parents live in that place. So this is going on. You’re 17, 18. Where does God actually begin to intersect with you and you start, you know, kind of the scratching of the head, “Maybe mom’s right about something here?” How did that unfold for you?

Victor: Well, you know, because every day that I would come home, she would always take a minute or two to tell me that she’s believing God to change my life, that I, that I will change. And, and, you know, she was looking for resources.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: And then she heard about this man that was already coming to the neighborhood. He was, he was already preaching in the streets. There were, there were other people that were preaching on the streets, but this, this particular one, his name was David Wilkerson.

Jim: Yeah. David Wilkerson.

Victor: Yeah. And so she met him-

Jim: (laughs).

Victor: … and she talked to him and she realized that there was hope because he had opened up a home practically in, in the neighborhood-

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: … you know, just maybe five miles away from where we were. And he opened up this home to help guys like me. And-

Jim: Wow.

Victor: … uh, and so she started telling me the, uh, about this place, but never mentioned that it was a religious place, a Christian place. And, um, you know, and I would think about it, bec- I, I had already been to Metropolitan Hospital in New York about 10 times, withdrawing from drugs. I was one of the first addicts to go into the methadone program.

Jim: Huh.

Victor: Uh, this was supposed to be the great cure, the great substitute for heroin. And it was only changing a dollar into four quarters. You know, you came outta the hospital, you was not hooked on heroin, but now you was hooked on methadone, which is big today.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: There are a lot of people that surviving, uh, by taking methadone.

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: But they are totally controlled by the same effect as heroin.

Jim: Yeah. That’s too bad.

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: If we suspect that we have a loved one, a family member that may be addicted, what would be the red flags we should look for?

Victor: Well, behavior, uh, behavior patterns, uh, you know, conduct. Uh, coming in late hours in the night, not talking the way you talk, your grades, uh, if you’re in school. Who are you talking to on the telephone? A lot of secrecy.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: Uh, constantly asking for money. You know, those, some of the things that, that begin to show up, they surface.

Jim: Kind of a, yeah, mood change, behavioral changes-

Victor: Exactly. Exactly.

Jim: … that kind of thing.

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: What are some of those other dos and don’ts when you have the suspicion with, let’s just speak to your children, keep it in that context. But it could be a nephew, a niece, a uncle, a aunt, who knows-

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: … somebody in your family?

Victor: Sure. Confrontation with no love. Confrontation with no love.

Jim: Is a don’t.

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: (laughs).

Victor: You do not do that. One of the things you don’t wanna do is you don’t wanna run ’em off, you know, but at the same time, you don’t want to compromise.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: So, you know, I, I, I call it, uh, you know, true love.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: Truth love. Just tell the truth with love.

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: You know what you’re thinking. You know that, you know, that you suspect something. Well say it, but say it with love, not anger, you know, not, uh, in a confrontation kind of way, because that can run ’em off forever.

Jim: Let me go back ’cause I really wanna make sure people listening, uh, hear the Lord intervening in your life. I just wanna make that really clear. Do you remember what was happening? And, uh, you know, David Wilkerson certainly took you to the home, but where did God say, “Alright, Victor, you’re mine.” And you said, “Okay, Lord. I believe.”

Victor: Well, that’s when I, I finally enter the home, and I went under the influence, uh, of drugs. I was high. And so that day for me to be there was a piece of cake. But the night, that night, there were no bars. You was there voluntarily. All this time I’m thinking, “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know that these people are gonna help me.” There were no doctors, no nurses. This was like bible prayer, you know, constantly and that kind of thing. You know, sit down and we pray for you and talk to you. And I just didn’t know how this was gonna work. But that night, that first night, I got so sick, I needed a fix, and I couldn’t sleep. And all this time, I, I didn’t understand, “Why am I, you know, why am I staying here?”

Jim: Ah.

Victor: And, um, uh, on the third day I decided to leave. I couldn’t take it anymore. And I remember one day David was coming over to me, putting his arm around me and say, “Son, you know, you gotta make it, you gotta make it.” At that time also, Nikki Cruz was there.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: And Nikki became a great inspiration to me because I was one of the first addicts to actually enter David Wilkerson’s program.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: So he became a great inspiration in, in my life, even though, you know, he didn’t use drugs, but, but-

Jim: Sure.

Victor: He, he-

Jim: He was there to help.

Victor: He was there to help. He, he was a gang leader and all this, and, and our gangs were enemies on, on the streets, you know, and here’s this guy preaching to me. And so, uh, I decided to leave. But just before I made that final decision, another guy came up to me and said, “Victor, you gotta give this a chance. You’ve given so many things a chance. Give this a chance.” And it’s almost like I heard my mother praying for me, and I walked back into the building. He, he, I was by myself then. And I walked inside of a small place, they call the chapel. And I walked in there and I just threw myself on the floor, my knees. And I just started to talk to God, uh, if there was a God.

I said, “If you, if it’s true that you can change my life, that you can gimme a new mind,” I said, “Please, God, you know, I do want to change. I don’t want to die as a drug addict.” And it was almost like I was hearing my mother, you know, her prayers-

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: … and others that were now in the home, that were speaking to me. Well, the more I, I prayed, the more I began to sense something happening in my heart. And that’s when I broke and I asked God to forgive me. “Please forgive me. Do something with me.” And I just totally broke. And I felt, I didn’t feel the floor, you know, slip from under me or, or lightning or anything like that. But I felt something in my spirit, in my heart that something had happened to me in that moment.

Jim: Wow.

Victor: I had an encounter with Jesus, and I stood up to my feet and I was so happy and so excited, you know, and from that moment on my life was changed. Never went back to drugs, never dipped that, had no desire to go back. I embraced Christ into my life and then went off to college and ended up in the ministry.

Jim: Yeah. No, I mean, it’s an amazing story. And your mother, whatever happened with that conversation after that? You and your mom, did you have an incredible embrace and your mom wept? What is… I would envision.

Victor: I, I, I gotta tell you, I gotta tell you this, because, you know, they would give you a pass. And so after the first three months, they gave me a pass to go home for the first time. I had not seen my mother in three months.

Jim: Wow. Wow.

Victor: So, and it was Mother’s Day.

Jim: Hmm.

Victor: And I went home and, uh, and I remember, you know, being there with her. And I told her, I said, “Mom, I don’t have a card for you ’cause I didn’t have any money. I, I, I don’t have a present for you, but I just want you to know that I love you.” Oh, that was, that was a divine moment.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: You know, my mom just started weeping, you know, but for a, a good cry.

Jim: You were the present.

Victor: Yeah. That’s what she said. “You are the greatest gift that I could ever receive on Mother’s Day.” And she was ha- so happy. And today she’s in Heaven. But she saw, she got to see the results of her prayer. You know, both, uh, my father, ’cause my father came to the Lord after that. He didn’t trust me for about almost a year after I was, uh, you know, converted. Uh, he still looked at my eyes suspiciously, but, you know, show me, you know, love and all this. But I knew he didn’t trust me. And one day he went to church with my mom. He gave his life to Christ, and he became a great, great man for God.

Jim: Wow. What a, what an incredible story.

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, I’m sure they felt in those early years, such hopelessness, watching your life, you’re shooting up heroin, gang banging around New York and people dying around you. That had to be desperate for them.

Victor: And also, uh, knowing the knowledge of some of my friends-

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: … overdosing, dying.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: You know, I, I’d say 99% of my friends died terrible deaths. They died on the street. They overdose, they died in prison, you know, so they knew this.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Victor: And, you know, they lived like walking on eggshells every day, that somebody was gonna come to the door, a policeman, someone was going to come and give him bad news. But now, you know, they see the change. And, and it’s really interesting that after my conversion and I went off, off to school, m- my dad was promoted. You know, he started saving money like never before. He always wanted his own house and he was able to buy it. And, you know, I mean, God just began to bless them.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: You know, Jesus came to dwell in our home.

Jim: Yeah. And it’s such a beautiful story. You know, people are listening right now watching YouTube. Uh, hopefully someone might be passing this message along to somebody who’s really hurting. And I think the bottom line, what I’m hearing from you is go to Jesus.

Victor: Yeah.

Jim: That’s the place to go.

Victor: Yeah. And, you know, find help.

Jim: Yeah.

Victor: You know, that’s one of the first things that God put in my heart was to open up a home for guys like me and women, both.

Jim: Yeah. And if you’re in that spot, I want you to call us. I mean, right here at Focus on the Family, we have caring Christian counselors who can help you. We have referral lists that can point you in the right direction, uh, to a counselor in your area. Uh, we are a mound of help and you just have to make that phone call or get in touch with us. And we want to reach out and help you, believe me. And, uh, obviously we’d love to get you a copy of Victor’s book, Reaching Your Addicted Loved One. And, uh, you know, if you can make a gift, that’d be great. And we can do ministry together. If you can’t afford it, just get in touch with us. We’ll get it into your hands, trusting that others will cover the cost of it. So reach out to us and we will wrap around you. That’s what I want you to hear.

John: Hmm. Yeah. We really are here to help in any way we can. And you can set up that consultation with a counselor and donate and get Victor’s book when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or online, stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Today's Guests

Reaching Your Addicted Loved One: Help and Hope for Those Battling Substance Abuse

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