SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell
For practical reasons, many experts are taking a broader view of addiction, a biopsychosocial one. They view substance abuse as a complex condition and endorse multiple strategies for dealing with it. Using drugs and alcohol may serve any number or purposes – avoiding responsibility, medicating emotional pain, dealing with a difficult relationship, etc. These behaviors are inadequate ways of coping with the underlying problems that sustain them.
*God in a Bottle – If there were one reason above all others for people becoming addicts, it would be a spiritual one. People worship their addictions. Ironically, for them, spirits replace the divine Spirit. It is a form of selfishness or self-idolatry. The feeling of power and exotic excitement in addiction is an attempt to rise above the routine of living. For this reason, many label addictions idolatry. It is obviously so, since the addict’s center of life has become the substance/behavior to which he or she is addicted. Addicts testify that nothing else mattered to them once they became hooked – not family, health, pleasure – nothing was more important to them than satisfying their craving for a fix.
The Old Testament describes idolatry as putting something in front of God. When God commands that we “have no other gods before” Him, idolatry/addictive behaviors consist of putting something/anything in front of God, disguising and distorting God’s true face. Every sin emerges from the fact that God is no longer first in our lives but is concealed by something created.
Viewing addiction as a form of idolatry should encourage us as Christians to be confident of our own spiritual resources to treat it. Salvation through faith in Christ and sanctification through reliance on the Holy Spirit strike at the heart of idolatry.
*For Pleasure or Escape – Addicted people are crippled by their past experiences, unable to choose and exercise responsibility for their behavior. Some use addictive behaviors as a way to escape emotional hurt sometimes sourced in their troubled childhood family. People often use addictions not to make their hearts happy but to put their souls to sleep. When people use addictive behaviors to escape suffering, they fail to cope with their problems in functional ways. This only compounds their problems, which don’t go away but remain to keep nudging them to return to their “drug” of choice to escape.
Dependence is learned as a result of living in a family where a behavior is rewarded one time and punished the next. Children learn to be dependent on cues from their environment to know how to act. They are often not taught to follow their feelings but rather to follow the actions of another – to react as opposed to act. The perceptive child grows to learn how to watch the family so that under each changing set of circumstances he or she will know how to act. When the cues keep changing and the consequences for mistakes are severe, the child becomes dependent on these external cues to know what to do. By training themselves to trust only external cues, not only do children learn dependency but they also perceive that feeling good can come only from a source outside of themselves. This helps explain why children of addicts learn to depend on others and not themselves in a relationship. Once addiction becomes a problem for them, addicts will continue to use the substance/behavior not so much to obtain enjoyment but to blot out the pain of the disastrous effects their heavy use is causing them. They then search for more relief from the addiction moving farther into the process of addiction. Sobriety means giving up their maladaptive way of coping with their emotions and their troubles. Recovery must include making major life changes.
*Relational and Trust Issues – Sometimes addictive behaviors are blamed on others and other relational factors can be involved in addictions. One’s acting out might keep the focus of the problem on the addict rather than other family members. Some use addictive behaviors to draw attention to themselves and excuse themselves from their responsibilities. Addictive behaviors can be used to control others through manipulation or as a way of not being controlled by others. Addictive behaviors can be used to avoid intimacy and the threat of self-disclosing including the risk of rejection. Because of not having healthy relationships, those involved in addictive behaviors may not have learned to trust people. Their emotional isolation from others eventually leads them to establish an emotional relationship with some substance or activity. They turn to it because it is dependable – they can trust it to give them the lift that they need and the nurture that they are unable to receive from others. Addictions are dependable; people are not.
*Stinkin’ Thinkin’ – The thinking of one involved in an addictive behavior is distorted. One’s life can be falling apart, health deteriorating, family in ruins, and job in jeopardy, but he/she seems unable to recognize this. Family and friends may even be taken in by this “addictive thinking” because the addict sounds convincing to friends, pastors, employers, doctors, and even counselors. It is difficult to understand if this perverted reasoning is the cause or the result of the addiction. For example, “Am I addicted because of my intolerable life, or is my life intolerable because of my addiction?” Once the intense craving begins, it affects the person’s thinking in much the same way as a bribe or other personal interest distorts one’s judgment. The addict’s need will be so powerful that he or she will think anything that will justify the next fix. Addicts’ illusion of control is part of these rationalizations. Although their lives have become grossly unmanageable, they steadfastly insist they are still in charge. They falsely claim they can quit anytime they want. They do this because they think in terms of minutes, not hours or days. Recovering addicts must patiently stay sober moment after moment.