By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC
References “Addiction & Grace” by Gerald G. May, M.D.
Human beings are creatures of desire—we want for things. The woman at the well wanted water. The rich young ruler wanted to enter Heaven. Jonah wanted to be anywhere except Nineveh. Theologians say this unquenchable desire is meant to direct us to God. We eventually realize that earthly pleasures can only provide temporary satisfaction, so we turn to God for fulfillment.
In his book “Addiction & Grace,” Dr. Gerald G. May describes addiction as a distortion of the longing God placed in us for him. He contrasts repression and addiction. We repress some of our desires out of a fear of disappointment. In the past, we did not get what we wanted, so we squelch that desire in order to avoid further disappointment. The flipside is addiction. “While repression stifles desire, addiction attaches desire, bonds and enslaves the energy of desire to certain specific behaviors, things, or people. These objects of attachment then become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives.” (3)
Chemical Dependency: The Physiology of Addiction
Addiction is incremental. People do not take a first drink and become powerless to alcohol. They start drinking for all the reasons other people do– curiosity, to impress their friends. But, eventually something changes. They begin to rely on alcohol to deal with stress or pain or anger. The brain’s physiology changes to expect the chemicals. This is what separates addicts from people who can take the substance or leave it– an addict’s brain has modified to become dependent on chemicals contained in the source of their addiction. Without these chemicals, the brain goes into overdrive demanding them, because it has forgotten how to get along without them.
As is the old story with sin, while you may begin by gleefully skimming your toes in the water, you may eventually find yourself struggling to keep your head abover the surface. This is why professional treatment is essential for recovery. White-knuckling through periods of abstinence will never be enough. You must address the biological aspects of your addiction.
Desire and the Sinful Nature: The Psychology of Addiction
Addicts must also confront why they want the source of their addiction. They may use as a means of dealing with stress or ignoring problems they would rather not confront. “The writings of spiritual giants throughout history reveal their repeated struggles to find purity of heart and wholeness of love in the midst of their own mixed motivations. Further, as they grew in purity, they became ever more humbled by the apparent endlessness of their attachments.” (53)
We know when we do wrong. But we find excuses for doing those wrong things because they make us feel good. This is the theme of Romans 7. And this is the conflict within every believer. The new nature we take on when we believe in Jesus makes us want to be like him. Unfortunately, we still possess our sinful nature that wants to please itself. So, we contrive excuses to fool our conscience.
Self Deceit and Addiction
Addicts are masters at assuaging their consciences. After all, the quantities addicts consume and the level of disruption they wreak on their families requires a lot of explaining. Their behavior is not normal. So they must convince themselves it is to justify continuing it. Alcoholics tell themselves they’re not really drinking that much. Gamblers believe they will win it all back next hand. Hard drug users say they can stop anytime.
They build these mental loopholes because they want their addiction. Recall Paul’s lamentations at the end of Romans 7. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He did it anyway. And he struggled to understand why. Any addict who has experienced the shame of betraying their own resolutions can surely sympathize.
Christian Counseling for Addiction
Essential to recovering psychologically from addiction is to understand why you want your addiction. What does it provide for you that could be better supplied by God? They can help you discover what motivates your addiction. A professional Christian counselor will use therapeutic techniques to help you gain the upper hand over your addiction. They will also use biblical principles to help you target your desire on Christ instead of your addiction.
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