Addictions destroy lives, families, and communities. Therefore, addicts destroy lives, families, and communities. I see it in my community today. You probably do too.

Addicts need help, but it’s hard to know how to help them. I have seen only one way to help addicts. It’s called legitimacy.

Counting the Cost

Why do people succumb to addictions? Isn’t it obvious that these things are bad? Ask any addict, most likely they’ll agree that they’re doing something bad.

So the question is, why do people do bad things – things that they know are bad? The answer: because they don’t know the cost.

Yes, they might have an idea of the cost, they might be able to tell you the cost, but they don’t know it. They do not have the implicit knowledge needed – perhaps only the explicit knowledge. [Here’s a great article on the difference between the two.]

In other words, they are yet to experience the cost. Or they experienced the cost before, and they forgot about it. (It’s common to forget painful experiences.)

How Can We Protect Them?

We feel for the addicts in our communities. We want to protect them from the cost, because the cost is often so severe that they end up losing families, careers, and even lives. 

How can we protect them from the cost?

There must be a way for the cost to be so clear to someone, that they stop an addiction immediately – and for good. 

How? By establishing the legitimacy of authority.  

If authority is not perceived as legitimate, people will rebel against it, even if they are warned of the cost. Our hope is that addicts will awaken to the legitimacy of authority before it’s too late.

Agents of Legitimacy

In his book, “David & Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell suggests three things that make authority seem legitimate:

  • It has to be fair – not favoring one people group over another
  • It has to be predictable – it cannot change dramatically from one day to the next
  • It has to listen – the people being governed need to know that they have a voice.

To be clear, most of us have little to no authority over others. Our job is not to punish the addicts in our communities. However, we can be agents of legitimacy.

We can employ the three aforementioned ingredients in our relationships. And thus establish the legitimacy of the authority we want to uphold.

We can establish:


We can make sure that we don’t value some people over other people. We can give our time, our positioning, and our resources to addicts. Especially the ones who are right about to reap the cost of their destructive behavior.


Not only can we value addicts, but we can do it consistently. We don’t want to just reach out to a friend once and then sending them on their way. (How would you feel if that were you?) We can structure our lives to give our time, positioning, and resources to them on a regular basis. They will know that we’re there.


And when we do reach out to addicts, we first must let them know we value their presence and their voice above the warning message we seek to deliver to them. 

7 Steps for Establishing Legitimacy

So hear’s what I want you to do:

When you’re planning this coming week

  • Find someone close to you who is doing something destructive in their lives – the addict. It shouldn’t be too hard. Pick the worst case (as long as they’ll be willing to meet you). 
  • Schedule to meet that person for coffee or lunch. Your treat. Make sure that the reason for your meeting is clear – to spend time together, that’s it. You need to value their time and their presence. The goal is not for you to preach to them.
  • Try to give 90 minutes of your time to this. Meetings tend to stretch that long – a half-hour of greeting, a half-hour of conversation, and a half-hour of wrap-up.
  • Try to find a place that’s easy to reach for both of you. It’s got to be something that works with your lifestyle – if not, it can be a burden for you or your friend.
  • Make sure the coffee or lunch is in your budget. Remember, it’s the time and presence that are valuable. You don’t need to go gourmet here if it’s going to empty your pockets and distract you from the main reason why you’re doing this.
  • Do it again. Shoot for once a week. More than that can be a burden on both of you, less than that tends to diminish the legitimacy. There’s something about the weekly cycle.
  • Remind them of the cost of their addiction. Only when you perceive that legitimacy has been established, you can communicate the danger of their lifestyle. It may take weeks for this.

It isn’t enough just to get our lives in order, make personal goals, and shoot for the moon. We need to care for our families and communities too. I’d love to see more communities fighting to be agents of legitimacy.

And by the way, someone did this for me once… it worked.

Have you been an agent of legitimacy for someone else? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below!