At the root of addiction is longing, a vital spiritual force. But by longing for things that drain them rather than fulfill them, addicts court idolatry and then enslavement. Addiction is a complex, progressive, injurious, and often disabling attachment to a substance (alcohol, heroin, food, money) or behavior (sex, work, gambling) in which a person compulsively seeks a change of mood.

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Addiction in Scripture 

In Scripture there are plenty of examples of and warnings against addictive sins such as avarice, gluttony, and lust. It’s doubtful that Scripture treats addiction as clinically defined. But it comes close by describing bondage of the passions and bondage of the will.


Warning and Comforts

Reflections about Addiction

Addicts long for wholeness or fulfillment, but choose substances or behaviors that not only fail to deliver, but also threaten to disable the addict. Accordingly, the addict longs not for God but for self-transcendence, not for joy but for pleasure—and eventually for mere escape from pain. Addiction taps into longing the way a blackmailer garnishes your wages. Every time you meet a demand, a new demand takes its place. Because of this escalation, the addiction progresses from mild to serious forms that can eventually disable or even kill the addict.

To major-league addicts, addiction feels wily and perverse. It feels demonically alive, as if not just something but someone is hooking them—someone who first tempts them and then mocks them for succumbing, thus flooding them with guilt. 

In the classic addictive spiral, what converts a person from a mere delinquent (someone who abuses alcohol) into an addict is distress over a split will (the person keeps doing what he or she doesn’t want to do) and, especially, the choice of how to combat this distress. Addicts try to relieve their distress by indulging in the same behavior that caused it, thereby starting a whole new round of the addiction.

Addicts "keep doign what they don't want to do," except in some other compartment of their being they are doing exactly what they want to do. William Lenters believes that a Nietzschean “will to power” may sometimes overcome addicts’ knowledge that they are devastating themselves and others by their addictive behavior. They are going to do what they are going to do. (William Lenters, "The Life of Bondage in the Light of Grace,” Christianity Today, 9 December, 1998, p. 42)

Richard Mouw’s take on this phenomenon is an altered version of Luther’s famous hymn stanza: “Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also; I’m going to get loaded”. ("The Freedom We Crave—Addiction: The Human Condition,"Eerdmans, 1985, pp. 15-17.)

Sin or sickness?

Addiction surely may be triggered by sin—by drunkenness, for instance, or consumption of porn. But it can also be the result of factors outside the addict’s control, as in the case of a child in utero hooked on its mother’s abused substance. And there are physical, social, and psychological factors that make some of us much more vulnerable to addiction than others. God alone knows whether and to what degree an addict is culpable. In any case, addicts who are serious about recovery at some point take responsibility for the wreckage that surrounds their addiction and for the salvage work that now needs to start. Duane Kelderman has observed (in conversation) that nobody is more insistent than Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholism is a disease; nobody is more insistent than A.A. that alcoholics need to take full responsibility for their disease and deal with it in brutal candor.