They are screaming it from the rooftops, “Addiction is a disease!”
Addiction has been classified as a disease by all the authoritative sources. The American Medical Association labeled alcoholism an illness back in 1967. The Centers for Disease Control and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) classify addiction as an illness. Alcoholics Anonymous urge us to think of alcohol and drug addiction as diseases.
And great minds such as Oprah Winfrey, Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and English comedian-actor Russell Brand have all confirmed that addiction is a sickness, a disease which afflicts many people.
The disease theory has powerful forces behind it, most notably money. The word “disease” is important, particularly in terms of the dollars addicts are spending to get help. If you say it’s a choice and not a disease, then insurance companies may not reimburse for that and government funding of programs would dry up.
Plus, the disease theory has a comforting thought behind it: “It’s not your fault.” After all, you can’t be blamed for catching the flu, can you? So much for being a morally flawed human being. It’s good guilt therapy.
Addiction-as-disease is in some ways a thoroughly American idea. It ties together our greed for profit opportunities and our proudly tolerant spirit in which being judgmental is seen as a kind of vice. Author Stanton Peele in his book, The Diseasing of America, writes, “The United States has elevated addiction to a national icon. It’s our symbol, it’s our excuse.”
What does the Bible say?
In 1 Corinthians 6:9 ff., Paul talks about some of the men and women who will not enter heaven. He calls them wicked. He tells us to “not be deceived.” These people include: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, the greedy, slanderers, swindlers, and drunkards.
Notice: Paul calls alcoholics “drunkards,” a rather emotionally charged, pejorative term these days (to say the least). He puts the behavior of excessive drinking in the same category as adultery, homosexuality, stealing, slander, and greed—and calls it “wicked.”
Yes, we are complex beings. Few will deny that there are multiple streams which can play into addiction—physical, psychological, social, spiritual. Everything from biochemistry, genetics, and temperament, to learned coping strategies can contribute to a person’s use of heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.
But at the bottom of all addiction is sin. The nature of all addictions (including gossip, gluttony, and anger) is that we have chosen (only God can determine each person’s culpability) to go outside the boundaries of God’s kingdom to look for comfort, security, and power. In turning to these idols, we are saying that we desire something in creation more than we desire the Creator. Such is sin.
Why does this matter?
How you name it determines how you deal with it. Misdiagnosis leads to mistreatment.
At its core, addiction is a sin issue. Sinners need salvation. Sinners need forgiveness. They need justification and sanctification. They need regeneration and reconciliation. Sinners need a Savior.
And thankfully, One has come to offer us salvation.
More education isn’t the cure. Better housing and higher-paying jobs isn’t the answer. Self-esteem isn’t the fix. Nor is therapy or medication or exorcism. These can all help, but ultimately we need a new heart and a new nature.
To reject the disease label is not to demote addiction, nor is it to diminish sympathy for the addict’s plight. Not in the least.
It actually gives us hope. There is a solution. There is Someone who loves sinners and promises to save them.
His name is Jesus.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
(1 Timothy 1:15)