American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

The Idolatry of Addiction: From Bondage to Freedom

 

Eric Scalise, Ph.D.


 

vadim-kaipov-83342Marriages and families today are facing an epidemic of addiction related issues and problems. Some addictions involve the use of chemicals and substances and other addictions are more behavioral. Nevertheless, the statistics are staggering and they are sobering:

 

 

  • There are an estimated 15 million alcoholics and 10 million drug addicts in this country. Forty percent of all family problems brought to domestic court are alcohol related. Seventy-five percent of all juvenile delinquents have at least one alcoholic parent. Over 150,000 teens use cocaine and 500,000 use marijuana once or more per week. In addition, nearly half a million junior and senior high students are weekly binge drinkers. An estimated 10-15 million teens need treatment for abuse each year.
  • 5-10 million people are addicted to prescription drugs.
  • It is estimated that every addict directly affects at least five other people. In a recent Gallop poll, 41% of those surveyed indicated that they had suffered physical, psychological or social harm as a result of someone else’s drinking or drugging (double the level reported in 1974).
  • 40-80 million Americans suffer from compulsive overeating and 5-15% will die from its consequences in any given year. Some $20 billion is spent yearly by Americans seeking to lose weight.
  • There are an estimated 2.5 million pathological gamblers and another three million compulsive gamblers in the United States. It is a $500 billion dollar industry. The suicide rate for this population is 20 times higher than the national average. Some 50 million family members are said to be adversely affected.
  • There are currently over 300 million pornographic Web sites with an estimated 6-8% of the population diagnosed with some level of sexual addiction. Thirty percent of minors have agreed to meet someone they know only via the Internet and 14% have actually done so. There are an estimated 15 million new cases of a sexually transmitted disease (Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV/AIDS, etc.) contracted every year—about one every two seconds. Of the top 11 reportable diseases in the United States, five are STD’s.
  • No one really knows how many workaholics there are since this addiction has received comparatively little attention thus far. One study indicated that over 10 million adults average 65-70 hours of work each week. Several recent studies charge than many of the organizations in which we work and live are like dysfunctional families and force work patterns that promote and encourage workaholism.

Sources: U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, U.S. Dept. of Justice, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the American Institute on Stress.

 

kaley-dykstra-10484While the neurobiological and treatment factors of addiction are important, it is equally valid to consider biblical concerns from a holistic perspective. Addiction, in all its various expressions, can result in the formation of spiritual strongholds and spiritual bondage in the life of the addict, not to mention the impact on one’s marriage or within the home environment. It may not sound very profound, but a good definition of a stronghold is that it simply represents something having a strong hold of a person.

There are several Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments that speak to this subject. The Greek word, pharmakon—a feminine noun from which we derive words like pharmacy, pharmacist, and pharmaceutical—is used to describe a curative or medicinal drug. Interestingly, a derivative with the same root, pharmakeia, is associated with drugs, but more related to sorcery, the occult, witchcraft, illicit substances, and incantations. These terms are found in Galatians 5:20-21 and Revelation 9:20-21 (translated as sorcery in each case).

The human body is remarkably (even divinely) balanced chemically, and when that balance is disrupted—either from introducing chemicals into the system that are not necessary, or through other mental health conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia—spiritual doors (mostly hurtful) seem to be opened within a person’s soul. Discontinuing the substance use or introducing antipsychotic medications often closes those doors and restores a sense of equilibrium. Nevertheless, this may be why we frequently find ourselves in a spiritual battle when addressing addiction issues with our loved ones.

Every addiction (chemical or process/behavioral) also has certain aspects that are in common regardless of the neurobiology factors that may come into play:

  • They provide a form of escape.
  • They serve the purpose of removing a person from his/her true feelings.
  • They always involve pleasure.
  • They override the ability and/or willingness to delay self-gratification.
  • They involve obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
  • They lead to a system of denial and/or minimization.
  • They totally control the addict and that control transcends all logic or reason.
  • They are destructive and unhealthy in the long run.
  • They take priority over all of life’s other issues.
  • They involve psychological dependence.

 

zach-guinta-51887The Apostle Paul, in Romans 7:14-25, understood the battle clearly; listen to the inner struggle and emotional turmoil from his discourse regarding this powerful dynamic, as well as his conclusion that it is ultimately Christ who is the deliverer. Consider also the following passage of Scripture from 2 Kings 17:16-17 (NASB). This was during a time of Israel’s history when the people, by-in-large, had deserted their singular devotion to God and began committing what the Bible refers to as spiritual adultery. Several words are highlighted, which speak to an important process:

“They forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshipped all the host of heaven and served Baal. Then they made their sons and daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him.”

 

In the passage above, a progression can be seen that begins with a choice and ends with a generational impact.

  1. The first choice the Israelites made was to forsake In this context, it means they engaged in a volitional act of the will to turn their backs on Him and to walk in a manner that was contrary to what He desired for them. All addictions involve moral choices. While the research clearly indicates a genetic predisposition for some individuals (especially in the case of alcohol dependency), it does not mean a person will be automatically compelled to take the first drink. Choices are still made. In a pure disease model, choice would not be a factor. For example, if a person had cancer, he or she typically would not merely wake up one morning and say, “I choose not to have cancer” and it would then disappear. However, when it comes to an addiction, people can make choices to live differently. If exercising one’s will was not an option, no one would ever move from addiction to sobriety and into the recovery process.

 

  1. The second choice of the Israelites was that they made In other words, they took what was already in their hearts and minds and spirits and then brought these objects into their tangible reality. When it comes to addiction, a person first makes a choice of the heart and mind and then, for example, brings the bottle, the line of cocaine, the pornographic image, the food item, the slot machine, etc., into reality. They set it before them for the purpose of engaging the object or behavior.

 

  1. The third choice the Israelites made was that they worshiped what had been created. Worship at its most basic level is simply giving someone or something one’s time and attention in such a way it is elevated in prominence and priority. People can worship many things other than God. In any addictive pathway—from experimentation to occasional using to regular using to dependency— individuals begin to spend more and more time and give more and more attention to the object or behavior they have set in front of them.

 

  1. The fourth choice the Israelites made was that they served Baal (the idol they fashioned and then worshiped). The Hebrew word for serve here is “abad” and it does not mean to serve in the positive connotation of assisting or helping another. The literal translation is “to be in bondage to” or “enslaved by” something. The progression from an act of the will, to bringing something into one’s life, to giving it greater priority, may then result in bondage and enslavement (addiction and dependency) to the object or behavior.

 

  1. The fifth choice the Israelites made was that they sacrificed their children as a result of their other choices, and in essence passed the problems on to the next generation. Baal worship at the time included human sacrifice among other abominations. When it comes to addictions, we often see the negative and sometimes destructive impact on the addict’s family members and loved ones.

 

So now, let us return to the beginning of the process. If forsaking God is the first step down a path leading to damaging consequences, then from a faith-based perspective, confession, repentance, and godly sorrow now become the first steps back to sanity and a healthier lifestyle. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says:

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you; what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong.” (7:10-11).

alex-wigan-16999Look at the first three steps from Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous:

 

  • We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

 

These Steps speak to the principles of ownership, faith, and a commitment to action. Addiction is a complex phenomenon involving genetic/biological factors, as well as psychosocial, relational, and spiritual dynamics. Spouses and parents must be aware and alert. The good news is that people still have choices. With God, there is always a path that points in the direction of freedom.

 


 

scalise_ericEric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.

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