Addiction: Is it a Disease?

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)

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5 Comments

  1. Dennis Anderson

    Your message is right on. Even wrote a book on it. Since God, who created us, knows the difference between a disease and sin. He didn’t call leprosy a sin, since it was a disease. And he didn’t call addition a disease since it’s a sin and He should know the difference. He’s Holy.

  2. Excellent and well written article. As the apostle Paul articulated in Romans 5:17, the problem with the human heart is the heart of the human problem. Adam and Eve where a real people, in a real time and a real place. God gave both a pristine paradise to enjoy, except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When Satan slithered in the garden and both the first man and first women fell into rebellion and disobedience, all humanity, including myself, a former crack addict; we all were ruined and disgraced by sin.
    As someone that has received the abundant and resounding grace of Jesus Christ, I unashamedly confess that I have been delivered, redeemed and am a lover and disciple of Jesus Christ. We all need to repent, confess and daily build ourselves through reading, meditating, confessing and living the scriptures. Only then can we begin to live the life God intended for us to live and Paul identified in second half of Romans 5:17. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬
    Just an opinion of one who is thankful Our Heavenly Father saw fit to reveal himself to.

  3. Love you Pastor Jeff but this is one issue that I wish you wouldn’t make so black and white. As a graduate of Life Challenge I’ve always had a real issue with topic. Addiction sucks and it almost destroyed me and I owe Life Challenge more than I can ever repay but if I looked at my issue as only a sin issue I’d be a dead man. Sinning is so easy and until I took personal responsibility for my decisions I was never going to get better. Letting God back in my life has helped bring balance back into my life but until I recognized their was something wrong with how my brain deals with compulsion I was not going to be able to put this mental disorder into remission. Whats great about this disease is its my choice if it stays in remission or if it destroys me. The year I spent at Life Challenge allowed me to clear my head and learn how to live again but I wish the Christian community would not look at this issue like its a Red or Blue state. Maybe a little God and a little education about the disease over a 365 period wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

  4. Thank you for your article. Very well written. I wish I could get some of my family members to understand but, alas, it “feels better” to think they are victims, not sinners.

  5. Another great article pastor. So vital in these days that we constantly feed ourselves the word of God. This world is speaking and the volume is LOUD!! Lord help us to believe God always over what we see and feel. Our deepest most personal thanks to you and the ministry of Life Challenge. We will be forever grateful for the seed you have sown. We are believing God for the harvest!! May God continue to bless you.

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