A Theology of Addiction

Life is hard because of the curse of sin. God looked over His finished creation and said, “It is good.” God is working out His plan of redemption and restoration to return to the “it is good phase.” Until then we must deal with the realities and consequences of sin’s curse. Some do so successfully while others don’t. This is where addiction enters the human story.

Escape from life realities
At the core addiction is about escape as a coping mechanism. We have studies about the effects of substances on the brain and genetic predispositions to addiction. These things can make it harder to overcome addictions. It also can explain why non-addicts can’t understand why addicts do what they do. The addiction process usually starts as a way to cope with life stressors.
Everyone has life stressors, but some have more or ones that are more severe than others. Plus, we are all unique individuals and handle things differently. Our genetics, personalities, environments and stressors cause us to choose different coping mechanisms to life’s challenges.
What are these stressors in life? They can be many things, but at the core is often self-image. A healthy and biblical self-image is “I am loveable by God and others, I have worth and am as good as others.” The opposite of these feelings is self-hate. This view of self can come from attachment or nurture wounds. They can also be triggered by different forms of abuse. There is also the stress from normal life responsibilities – finances, problem solving, relationship conflicts, decisions that come with becoming an adult. People must learn to deal with negative emotions such as depression, anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, regret, sorrow, specific phobias and the list can go on. Fantasy is less stressful than reality, so why not escape to it?

Why it’s not a real solution?
Addictions do work but only temporarily. That is why people turn to them. In the beginning, they are an easy solution. It makes the person feel free, euphoric, relaxed. It can also supply courage, self-confidence, along with grandiose ideas. It seems so simple and easy while true healthy coping can be much harder. You have to learn to live with the pain. Process it and persevere. Many have never learned how to do this. They were never taught healthy coping skills. We also now live in an age of entitlement and denial about how the real world works. Many expect life should be problem free, fair and without struggle. These are unrealistic expectations
Addictions are not a true solution for the realities of life. One reason is because the relief doesn’t last; it eventually wears off. Two is because you build a tolerance to the substance. Now the person has to use more to get the same relief. This begins the never-ending quest for supply to overcome the constant fear of running out of the substance. The physical or psychological dependency on the substance becomes an obsession that takes over the life. Another reason this is not a real solution is the cost of the addiction. What starts as a way to cope with life takes over the life and becomes a life of its own. In the end, it will cost the addict everything. They can lose their job or business, health, relationships, marriage, family, freedom, reputation and self-respect as their life fills with shame. It may even cost them their life. This is not a solution but simply the development of a greater problem than what they started with. The theological truth is that Satan is a liar and deceiver and offers us counterfeit solutions to the complexities of life.

The real solution
God, who is the Creator of life, knows how to make it work even in a world under the curse of sin. A lot of bad things can happen to people, and life is unfair and stressful. However, as we have seen, addiction is no true solution to anything. Addicts have a certain mindset that must change before they can be helped. They are the only ones who can change their mindset. This usually requires hitting bottom. The pain and cost of the addiction must outweigh the temporary pleasure of using. This process is illustrated in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. When he woke up one day in a pig pen the scripture says, “he came to himself… I will arise and go to my father and say… I have sinned.” This is the necessary motivational crisis that produces a willingness to get help to change.
To reach this point it is crucial for all friends and loved ones to not get in the way and shield the person from the negative consequences of the addiction. This only delays the bottoming out. It is very hard watching someone you love go through consequences, especially when they include the possibility of death. To stop any enabling is not the same as giving up on the person. You can still reassure them of your love as you show tough love. You can attempt an intervention. You can pray for them realizing God loves them more than you do. The theological truth is that people have free will. Only when they choose to reach out for help are they ready for help. Then God and others can step in without enabling.

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