Doctor, Doctor: Are You Addicted?

PillsAlcohol. Drugs – legal and illegal. Tobacco. Those are the “usual suspects.”

But there are a whole lot more: food, pornography, sex, gambling, internet/tech use, exercise, and more.

Is addiction a physical problem? A mental health issue? A spiritual matter?

Yes, yes, and yes. It’s all those. And if you struggle with any addiction and you don’t address each one of these areas, you are very unlikely to experience any real healing or relief. As with most things, it’s a matter of body, mind, and soul.

A whole movement has come about convinced that addiction is a disease. Calling addiction a disease does emphasize some things that are true about any addiction.

Being addicted is not a matter of weakness. You don’t wake up one day and decide to be an addict! Whatever you’re addicted to takes over your life, and you are powerless on your own to get rid of it. It becomes more important than your health, your family, even your life. There are true physical, biological, even genetic aspects to addiction that are very real. And it affects every part of your life – physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, financially, and spiritually.

I believe, however, that one aspect of the disease concept of addiction is dangerous. That concept can give the idea that you’re not responsible for your behavior in relation to your addiction. But that is not true!

If you struggle with an addiction you may have to take extraordinary measures to behave differently. You may have to get special help, and you may have to make permanent changes in your lifestyle. But you’re responsible to take those measures. Changing your life in this way may be terrifyingly difficult, but it is possible.

Some addictions are more destructive to your life than others, and some of them have a greater physiologic component than others. But it’s really only a matter of degree. The process in the brain is remarkably similar with most addictions.

It almost certain that genetics plays a role in many addictions. But all that means is that addiction is one of the challenges you have to face. Someone else may have a different set of challenges. That doesn’t give you an excuse to let addiction take over your life forever.

Rather than calling addiction a disease, I prefer to call it a symptom. But a symptom of what?

Addiction is a symptom of brokenness. It’s a way our human nature tries to survive when faced with seemingly overwhelming needs that aren’t getting met any other way. It’s a way to cover pain and emptiness.

When addicts leave off one addiction – say, alcohol, or nicotine – it’s easy to just run to some other addiction – say, food. Moving to a less-destructive addiction may be better than doing nothing at all. But all addictions end tragically.

By moving to get healthy in every area of your life you can learn to live free. Learning to live free of all addictions may be the biggest challenge of your life. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It may take every bit of internal strength you have, and some you never thought you could find. But it IS possible.

For my short list on what to do about an addiction, try this:

  • Pay attention to your physical health – nutrition, rest, exercise.
  • Identify the underlying brokenness – perhaps shame, guilt, fear, anger, loneliness, etc. Take action to deal with those root issues.
  • Get some help. Whether it’s 12-step meetings, medical treatment, spiritual support, or all of the above, find someone else to do it with you.
  • Grow spiritually. A growing relationship with God will be the strongest protection against relapse, and the best resource when you fall and need to start fresh.
  • Don’t give up. It takes most people an average of seven tries before they successfully quit any addictive substance. It may take you less, or more. Just don’t quit!

Every person I know who has overcome an addiction has lived a difficult journey. But the reward of freedom is worth it. You’re worth it!

Your turn: What are you addicted to? Where are you in your journey of recovery? I’d love to hear from you!

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