Recently, hubby and I unexpectedly got ‘addicted’ to a Korean drama… It was ‘unexpected’ because it was not the usual romantic brainless comedies that I like. Furthermore, my hubby was never a drama fan. It was in a moment of boredom that he got drawn by the drama series. Just once, and he was totally captivated. Even though he was someone who valued sleeping, he would watch it till late in the night. Strange enough, though I initially thought it was a boring historical period drama, before I knew it, I too was smitten by it.
Addiction can just hit any one of us suddenly.
Addiction is an issue that has been close to me. I studied psychology and worked close to 9 years in an offender rehabilitation field, where many are uncontrollably consumed by drug and substance addiction.
On my family side, I also saw a number of my relatives being caught up in smoking, alcohol and gambling addiction. At a personal level, I too find myself having to be vigilant against the traps of modern addictions, such as Internet and social media, as well as drama addictions.
Addiction is scary, because it is uncontrollable, even if it is senseless. It can strike anytime. Even if it is something we never imagined ourselves getting obsessed with, it may hold us hostage without warning. Even if we thought we had moved on from a certain addiction, it may come back again suddenly.
Addiction is Common to Humanity
Psychiatrists have classified addictions into different types, namely addictions to (1) substances, such as drug or alcohol; (2) processes, such as sex, work, gambling, religion and worry; and (3) behaviours, such as work performances, being liked, helping others, and so on.1
However, I prefer Gerald May’s description of addiction. According to him, “addiction is, at root, a spiritual issue; and every human is addicted to some variety of substances, behaviors, and thought patterns.”2 In other words, every person, not just the drug and substance addict, is more or less addicted to something.
“Socially Acceptable” & Modern Day Addictions
While certain addictions are irrefutable, such as pornography, substance and gambling addiction, there are also subtle forms of addictions which seem “socially acceptable” in the modern day. These less blatant addictions include excessive use of the mobile phone, obsession with TV dramas and computer games, the compulsion to keep searching for new thrills, etc. They are “socially acceptable” because many people are enmeshed in them.
Addiction Always Wants More Yet Never Satisfies
Arends correctly observed the general effect of addiction that is plaguing mankind: “We buy objects that require us to buy more objects. We make some money, ratchet up our lifestyle in response, and find we need more income to sustain us. The harder we work, the more work there is to do. And the harder we play, the more elusive the fun…Yesterday’s thrill is today’s old news. We always need more. One of the hallmarks of addiction is “tolerance”—the experience of requiring an ever-increasing amount of a particular substance or behavior in order for it to satiate us.”3 On the same note, Oates recognized that “the power of addiction is that it is never satisfied”4. Indeed, man can never be truly satisfied when he is separated from his only source of satisfaction, His Creator—the only one who knows exactly what man needs according to His divine design and who has ability to fill that need.
Causes of Addiction
Undeniably, there are many secondary causes of addiction, such as the feeling of loneliness, powerlessness, low self-esteem, stress, dysfunctional family background, boredom, the need to feel loved and important, and so on.
However, the Bible offers us insights into the primary root of addiction. Interestingly, scholars like Carl Jung, Gerald May and others, had expressed an association between the longing for relationship with God and the occurrence of addiction. 5
The Root Of Addiction Is Sin
Even since the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, sin enters the world and all people are made sinners (Ro 5:12,19). The presence of sin separates man and God, thus inhibiting man from tapping on the power of God. Without the empowerment of God, man cannot overpower sin on his own. Thus, even the great apostle Paul himself claimed that he had no control over what he had loved to do, but instead, the evil that he did not wish to do, he kept doing <Ro 7:15, 21-24>. This is in agreement with Schaef’s definition of addictions as “any process over which we are powerless. It takes control of us, causing us to do and think things that are inconsistent with our personal values and leading us to become progressively more compulsive and obsessive. An addiction will lead us to begin deceiving ourselves and other people — to lie, deny, and cover up.”6
Therefore, everyone is addicted,7 because every fallen man has sin which we cannot have control over. We tend to judge the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the recurrent gamblers, and the like, but the truth is, we are equally addicted, because of sin.8
Addiction Is One Expression Of Idolatry
Being apart from God and in our bid to feel happy or important, we easily let other things occupy the rightful place of God in our hearts. Because man’s relationship with God broke down, man turns to other sources to satisfy himself. However, God had said that “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3; Deut 5:7), and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Therefore, the preoccupation with something else—drugs, alcohol, gambling, work, social media, drama, or even the obsessive care of others, etc—instead of God, is idolatry, it is addiction.9 Even religion can become addictive and hurt a person’s relationship with God. 10
Addiction Due To Relationship Breakdown
Sin tears the relationship between man and God apart. As a result, man loses his dignity as the glorious image-bearer of God. Thus, his relationship with himself also breaks down, such that he loses the capacity to live out the image of God. Consequently, a damaged relationship with God and self leads to warped relationship with other people, which is manifested in the form of sin and addiction.11
Whole Person Restoration
Therefore, addiction is not simply a psychological issue, but also a spiritual one. The more important issue at hand is not merely to help a person out of addiction, but to first restore him to spiritual health,12 and a relationship with God.
Divine Grace that Frees
Going back to the Scriptures quoted above, the solution God offers for us is Jesus Christ Himself. Ro 5:15 says, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Paul offered the answer after his lament, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Ro 7:25). In addition, Gal 5:1 encourages that, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Gerald May also professed that grace is the power that frees addicts.13 However, to be freed from addiction, simply knowing about grace is not enough. What is important is the genuine obedience to live in keeping with the truths of grace.14
Practical Steps Of Being Healed By Grace
1. Admit Helplessness, Turn to Jesus
As highlighted earlier, both sin and addiction are beyond human control. Therefore, the foremost practical step to healing, is to first admit that humans do not have the capacity to save ourselves, then seek and accept God’s merciful salvation through Jesus Christ. Only when we surrender our pride and face the reality of our helplessness, can God work in our lives. Toward this end, it is essential that we cease trivializing, rationalizing and remaining in a state of denial about our sin and addiction.15 Though we may not have the ability, at least we can have a willingness to shake off any form of sinful addiction that is binding us.
2. Active Detachment from Addiction, Rediscover Joy in God
Secondly, we need to actively detach ourselves from our respective sources of addiction and replace them with the rightful bond with God. Freeing ourselves from a strong compulsion which used to mesmerize us so intensely, without filling the void with something higher, will not be effective. Thus, we need to foster a liking for solitude with God. By God’s unchangeable principle of creation, we humans can only be satisfied when we are in a fulfilling relationship with God. Inherently, humans long for God. Thus, satisfaction of our souls comes when we spend deliberate moments with God. Solitude with God is a time when we can confront our innermost issues such as loneliness, boredom, dissatisfaction, wounds, fears, accusations, etc, and then rediscover God’s gifts of joy, peace, love and contentment to us.
3. Faith Community and Accountability Partner
Lastly, we have to acknowledge that God is present yet unseen. Thus, we also need support from people around us. At a broader level, one can gain support from the larger faith community in Christ (cf. 2 Ti 2:22). By always placing oneself in the fellowship of believers, confirming the word of God and praying together, our hearts and minds will be more guarded against addictions. At a more personal level, it will be useful to find someone, an ‘accountability partner’, to help us walk out of our addictions <cf. James 5:16>. Confiding in a trusted and spiritually matured person can help keep us in check, to avoid covering up our addictions and sinking deeper into them. Having a regular contact to disclose our inner struggles as and when the triggers of addiction come, and getting spiritually sound advice and prayers, will aid our battle with addictions.
Dear friends, have you realized that you are also an addict to something outside of God? If such addiction is not dealt with and the rightful relationship with our Creator God is not restored, our thrills can only be temporary and diminishing returns will set in. It will suck more and more from us but fulfill us lesser and lesser. Addiction, be it in the overt or covert forms, is something everyone needs to grapple with. Only with the grace of God, and the power of the gospel, can we gradually find breakthroughs in this battle with sin and addiction.
- Massey, Denise McLain. “Addiction and Spirituality.” Review & Expositor 91, no. 1 (1994): 12.
- Arends, Carolyn. “Can’t get no satisfaction: addiction is the spiritual disease of our time.” Christianity Today 54, no. 12 (December 2010): 60.
- Oates, Wayne Edward. “A Biblical Perspective on Addiction.” Review & Expositor 91, no. 1 (1994): 74.
- Massey, 11; Oates, 74.
- Massey, 11.
- Ibid., 12.
- Can refer to the article by McDonough, William C. “Sin and addiction: Alcoholics Anonymous and the soul of Christian sin-talk.” Journal Of The Society Of Christian Ethics 32, no. 1 (2012): 39-55.
- Cross-reference: Oates, 73.
- Massey, 13
- Ibid., 14.
- Oates, 74.
- Massey, 15.
- Arends, 60.