Tracy can’t stay out of stores. Three to four times a week she’s at the shopping mall. She’s maxed out two credit cards and is loading up a third. “I’m never happier than when I’m shopping,” she says. Tracy is a shopping addict.
Delbert’s favorite pastime is sports. He turns the TV to a sports channel the moment he gets home in the evening, and in the morning he catches the sports news from the night before. He subscribes to six sports magazines, and he often drives several hundred miles to attend sporting events. He spends several thousand dollars a year on sports. “The thrill of the competition relieves my anxiety,” he says. Delbert is addicted to the excitement of sports.
Pastor Gerald Whitehead is a favorite with his parishioners. Whatever the need, when they call, he’s there to help. He makes sure to always have his cell phone with him so he’ll be more accessible. “I love helping people,” Gerald says. “I can forget my own problems when I’m helping others with theirs.” Gerald doesn’t realize that he’s addicted to caretaking.
While each of the above activities is normal in itself, if you could talk to these people, you’d soon realize that something wasn’t quite right. There’s a drivenness to their activities that consumes their every waking moment. The word for this is obsession. When the opportunity to engage in their favorite activity comes around, they can’t say No. It sucks them in like a whirlpool.
This obsessive-compulsive thinking and behaving lies at the foundation of all addiction. The question is, How can Tracy, Delbert, and Gerald get out of this nightmare? How can you get out of yours?
1 Recognize the problem
The first step is to recognize that you have a problem. We tend to deny that anything is wrong. We “enjoy” the addictive behavior, and we don’t want to give it up. Often, in fact, we’re terrified of giving it up. But until we acknowledge the problem, it will keep sucking us in deeper and deeper—and closer and closer to destruction.
How can you acknowledge the problem when you’re in the middle of denial? God will help you to do that. He’s promised to convict you of sin and guide you into all truth (John 16:8, 13), and that includes the truth about yourself. So, when you recognize one of those moments in your life, just say, “God, if You’re trying to tell me something about myself, lead me into a willingness to accept the truth.”
You may be able to stop the destructive behavior at that point, but you may have to “hit bottom” first. Hitting bottom means reaching a crisis—such as a health problem, loss of a job, or the prospect of a divorce—that forces you to face your addiction honestly.
The question you must ask yourself is, How bad am I going to let it get before I finally admit the truth about my life? That’s why asking God to lead you out of denial is so important. He can help you to hit bottom before the consequences become catastrophic.
2 Acknowledge your powerlessness
Step one of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) says, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” This truth applies to all addictions.
The emotions driving our addictions are so powerful that we can’t shut them off in our own strength. AA says it well: “We were the victims of a mental obsession so subtly powerful that no amount of human will power could break it.”
3 Seek God’s help
To break out of our obsession, we need help. And two kinds of help are available.
The most important is God’s help. People with experience in AA say, “We have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking [or fill in your own addictive behavior here] that only an act of Providence can remove it from us.” And “Providence,” of course, means God.
So I suggest saying this prayer: “God, I’m powerless over this obsession [name it]. Please remove the desire for it, and give me instead a desire for what’s right.” From personal experience, I can assure you that God will do that. Most of the time He doesn’t remove the desire instantly, but if you keep asking for His help, and if you cooperate with Him in other ways, you will discover that, as time goes by, the obsession gets weaker and weaker.
4 Seek help from others
The other source of help is people who’ve struggled successfully with addiction. Twelve-step meetings are extremely helpful in this regard, especially if you can find a group that deals with the same issue you’re struggling with. Make a commitment to attend regularly for a period of years—perhaps the rest of your life. If this sounds difficult, remember that you’ll make friends that you’ll cherish the rest of your life too.
It’s also a good idea to get what AA calls a sponsor. He or she should be someone with whom you can be totally honest about your addiction. Often, this will be someone you meet in the group you attend.
If your sponsor has had experience with the Twelve Steps, ask him or her to guide you in working through them. These steps are entirely biblical, and they have helped millions of people to break free of addiction.
5 Offer praise and thanksgiving
One of your most powerful tools for conquering addiction is praise and thanksgiving. I recommend the following prayers:
- “Thank You, God, for Your power that is breaking the hold this addiction has had over my life.”
- “I praise You, Jesus, for dying on the cross so that I can be forgiven for the times I’ve yielded to this addiction.”
- “God, I thank You for accepting me right where I am.”
The more you thank God for the victory— even before you have achieved it—the more you are strengthening your faith that the stranglehold the addiction has had over your life will be broken.
I want to assure you that, regardless of the nature of your addiction or the powerful hold it has on you, there is a way out. The first part of the way out is to recognize that God accepts you right where you are. Second, God is anxious to help you.
So hold on to these beliefs, and then go in search of the answer. God will guide you, often through other people.
You can be free!
Addiction and Sin
Some people object that the concept of addiction denies the biblical teaching about sin. Sin implies a moral flaw, they say, whereas addiction suggests a disease of the mind and/or body that is free of moral implications. People who claim to be addicts do so to excuse their sins.
While we must never excuse our sins, sometimes we are so oppressed with guilt for our shortcomings that the guilt itself gets in the way of our efforts to overcome. Temporarily viewing the problem apart from its moral implications can help to break the obsessive guilt. This can be an aid to recovery—which is the same thing as victory over sin.
However, those who are serious about recovery from addiction will admit the moral implications of their behavior. One of the major objectives of the Twelve Steps is to help addicts take responsibility for the damage their addiction has caused themselves and other people.
Furthermore, the Bible sometimes refers to sin as a disease. Speaking of the sin of Israel, Isaiah said, “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores” (Isaiah 1:5, 6). And the New Testament Greek word for salvation also means "healing." So when you are saved from sin, you are healed of it.