An addiction is anything that gets ahold of your “want to” and won’t let go. It will have increasingly destructive consequences, but you excuse or overlook them in favor of what you want. Examples are myriad: alcohol, gambling, porn, sex, eating, fasting, exercising, adrenaline. An addiction may be to something healthy or unhealthy.
When the addiction is to a healthy thing, it became an addiction when you couldn’t do without it, at the point when it got out of balance. Let’s take food for example. Obviously, we need to eat. However, when I self-medicate by eating, when I continue to eat too much and too often, when I cannot do without a meal, snack or drink without feeling deprived or uneasy, then I may well be addicted to eating. Relationships are healthy. We need to be connected to other people. However, when I cannot go a moment without someone, when I feel the constant need to know where they are and what they are doing, when I become jealous of other people who may take the person’s attention for any period of time, then I’ve got a problem. So does the person to whom I am addicted.
Then there are addictions to dangerous things. This is usually where we identify addiction. The physiological attachment to something that destroys health. Why would someone do heroin, a sober person asks? Well, they may have been tempted to try it, then it got ahold of them, caused chemical changes in their body and made them need it.
Interestingly, a chemical doesn’t have to be physiologically addictive to gain a hold on you. Many people enjoy marijuana, and they will tell you that it is not an addictive chemical. Yet, the telltale signs of addiction may still occur: constant need for the high, continuous use of the drug even when it is obvious to those who are sober that negative consequences are occurring, escalation of usage, and/or an unwillingness to cut back. I’ve watched people over the years who have brought negative consequences into their lives as the result of smoking weed, but they will not slow down or stop. As an example, several years ago a young adult I was seeking to mentor got into some trouble with the law and was given probation. As a condition of his probation he was prohibited from using any illegal drug. He was required to meet with his probation officer weekly, and would receive random drug tests. He loved smoking weed so much that he stopped meeting with his p. o. in order to avoid being tested. He tried to hide. He got busted and is now serving an extended sentence for the original crime. Why? He needed marijuana.
Alcohol is a well known addiction. Those who recognize that they are addicted may call themselves “alcoholic” and see it as a disease. In fact, that is the dominant model for alcohol addiction. However, it has the same characteristics and consequences as any addiction. What alcohol has in its favor is social acceptance (marijuana is catching up). My father was an alcoholic. It is believed by some that alcoholism is hereditary (again the disease model in effect). As the result of this, and coming to faith in a baptist church that opposed drinking, I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 37 years old. For many years after that I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or beer, or perhaps a margarita. I could do with it or without it. Recently that has changed.
I don’t want to stop drinking alcohol. I’ve done a number of fasts over the past few years, but it has been difficult to give up alcohol for more than a few days. Drinking too much gives me a headache. You’d think that this would be enough to stop me. All it does is slow me down. I’m careful. But I don’t want to quit. I like the feeling it gives me, until I don’t. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m addicted, if not to alcohol, then to the reward, the feeling I get as the result of drinking. So, I need to stop. Is it a disease? I don’t believe so (check out the book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis). Is it an addiction? Yes, and I need to not need or want it, or I need to end it altogether.
The Bible teaches “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). That last phrase is very important. An addiction becomes the master of a person. I begin by enjoying something, but when it takes hold, it starts running my life—and ruining it. However, as a Christian, I have professed Jesus Christ as my Lord, which means I’ve given him control of my life. How dare I, or worse some chemical or thing, take control from Christ.
So, what to do? Well, during Lent I’ve been fasting alcohol, then my birthday came up and I started drinking occasionally again. Today is Monday of Holy Week and I’ve chosen to (following a fellow minster and friend) do a complete fast until Easter. No food. No alcohol. I want nothing in control of my desires but Christ.
I hope my little confession has helped you to evaluate your life, and maybe encouraged you to make some changes. I am not a clinician, psychologist or certified addiction counselor. You may need to get help from someone like that. I am a minster of the Gospel, and I will try to live up to that as well as I am able, with God’s help.