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3 Misconceptions about Addiction

June 17, 2017



  Just say no.


DARE to keep kids off drugs and alcohol.


The problem with these anti-drug slogans is twofold: 1) their simplicity ignores the complexity of the problem; and 2) they focus on the drug/the substance/the action when the real issue is the person.


Over the years as a pastor, I have been involved with many people struggling with addiction. That’s not a surprise given the problem is epidemic in our culture. I have worked with people who have received amazing freedom from their addictions. I have worked with people who worked hard at their sobriety only to fall back repeatedly. I have worked with people who have denied their addiction in the face of overwhelming evidence. I have seen the affect this has on family members and those trying to help. I have also been involved with people whose addiction has taken their life. I have learned this much…


It isn't simple.


The first point is obvious. If addiction were simple, it wouldn’t be an epidemic. If telling kids, “Don’t do it” or showing them the consequences of their actions were enough, wouldn’t every parent have a foolproof plan? Would 25% of high school seniors report using illegal drugs in the past 30 days? Would internet pornography be a $3 billion business? And, if ending addiction were as simple as just saying no, would 1 in 4 Canadian deaths be attributed to illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol?


No, addiction and its cure are far from simple. But you know that, so let’s move on to the BIG misconception about addiction: Focusing on sobriety – removing the substance or behavior from a person’s life - will lead to recovery. It won’t.


That isn’t to say that sobriety isn’t important. Because it is. Removal of the substance is important; but, in and of itself, it will not bring new life.


Misconception 1: Addiction is about drugs and alcohol.


Many in a recovery program refer to “white knuckling it" - an extended period of sobriety without true life transformation. Many have gone without their drug of choice for months or even years before coming for help, but the desire to use remained constant and they were relying on sheer willpower to abstain. Eventually, their willpower fails them, as it always will.


Don’t focus on the addiction.


A central recovery philosophy is to treat the person, not the addiction. To change what you do, you must change who you are. You must focus on the person – their wounds, their choices, why they continue to self-destruct.


Misconception 2: Addiction is about a lack of self-control.


One of the ironies of addiction is that the desire to fix one's life often makes things worse. "Just Say No" implies a form of control when recovery requires surrender.


One described his personal struggle with control over his addiction like this: “I thought I was very much in charge of my life. Every time I’d fail, I’d try harder, and then when I’d fail again, I’d double up in pain, but I wouldn’t give up.”


All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can't.’


Surrender is the beginning of recovery. Not self-control.


The following definitions may prove helpful as we seek to sort true from false in our discussion of addiction:




Psychology Today defines addiction as “a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.”


The 4 Cs


The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health uses this easy-to-remember formula for determining whether a habit or behavior has become an addiction.

  • Craving

  • Loss of Control of amount or frequency of use

  • Compulsion to use

  • Use despite Consequences.

Process Addiction


Process Addiction, according to processaddiction.com, “refers to compulsive behavior, such as compulsive gambling, sexual addiction, eating disorders and spending addictions…This term is often used as a blanket for any behavioral addiction which does not involve an addictive chemical. This is ironic as there are actual chemical processes which occur during the behavior which are very like the chemical changes which take place during substance abuse.”


Misconception 3: Addiction is rare.


So far, these definitions might appear to let most of us off the hook. Perhaps you're imagining yourself scratching one after the other off your personal list: drug addiction, alcoholism, workaholism, eating disorder. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.


Well, here comes the third big misconception about addiction: It’s a problem relegated to a relatively small number of people. However, …


We can be addicted to feeling loved, getting praise from others, the comforts of TV, being thin, sex, or power to name just a few.  Some of these addictions are obviously more serious than others, but if we are forced to go without them, we will become depressed, irritable, angry, manipulative and much more.  Our addictions become intertwined with our deepest desires and even our identity, and in this sense, they function like idols in our lives. 


They replace God as our source of hope, desire and love with life-draining patterns of behavior.

Most of us struggle with some form of addiction. We want to control our lives. We want to avoid pain, and so we turn to someone or something other than God to find relief. And when we do that repeatedly, when it becomes a pattern, that’s addiction.


If you recognize any of this in your life, particularly the four ’Cs’, please know there is help. Also, please remember, gritting your teeth and clenching your fists will not help.


Most addictive behavior or substance is the ‘solution’ we come up with to mask or numb an emotional hurt or pain in our life. The real solution is dealing with the pain, getting rid of it; rather than simply trying to numb it. I would be happy and excited to help you with that. Contact me: mike@gettingbacktomyfuture.com


Next time, I will give you five reasons why people with addictions should matter to us a Christ-followers.




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