By Brandon Sutton
There is a massive debate in the recovery world, and it centers around this question: Is addiction a disease? In 1956, the American Medical Association stated that alcoholism is an illness. Then in 1987, that same Association declared addiction itself is a disease. Since then, that idea has become commonplace.
It is helpful at this point to define our terms. We assume everyone knows what we’re talking about when we say the words addiction and disease.
What is an addiction? A standard definition is: “Addiction is defined as the ongoing use of mood-altering substances, such as alcohol and drugs, despite adverse consequences” (Morse and Flavin, 1992). I would tend to agree with that definition. An addiction is when someone uses mind-altering drugs or alcohol even though it causes them and others harm.
What is a disease? A disease is an illness in the body. It is a deviation from the normal structure of the body’s functions. For example, if you have cancer in your lungs, you have diseased lungs.
Here’s the problem with calling addiction a disease. In most cases, when you have a disease, it is not your fault. For example, if you have asthma, that’s not your fault. Likewise, it is not your fault when organs in your body don’t function properly (unless, of course, you’re the one who damaged them).
Therefore, it is problematic when we classify addiction as a disease. When we do so, it is no longer my fault. It is not my fault that I use. I have a condition. It is not my fault I hurt my family. My brain isn’t right. When we believe addiction is just another disease, I can’t be held personally responsible for my choices.
First of all, there is no conclusive proof that addiction is a disease or that you have inherited genes that make you an addict. But here’s what we do know: God is going to hold every man and woman accountable for their actions. No one will be able to stand before God and say, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to live that way.
We need to think biblically about our addictions.
So, what is addiction according to the Bible? The Bible would call addiction idolatry. You and I have been made in the image of God. We were designed to worship the Lord. But sin has ruined us. As a result, instead of worshipping God, we glorify His creation. We worship ourselves.
Everyone worships. And idolatry is when we worship someone or something that isn’t God. Idolatry is when we give all of our love, attention, and focus to someone or something, not God. Here’s what I am trying to tell you: That’s what we have done with drugs and alcohol. We have made drugs our god. We have put drugs on the throne and bowed down before them. We have sacrificed to our gods. We have given our time, money, freedom, families, and health to drugs. Drugs have become our god.
And because of that, we have drifted further and further from the one true God. And when we do that, we sink deeper and deeper into moral and spiritual depravity.
This is why the gospel calls us to repentance. God commands that we turn away from our idolatry, take responsibility for our actions, confess our sins, and trust in Christ. When we do that, He cleanses us of all unrighteousness. He forgives our sins. He restores us to a right relationship with Himself, and Christ alone (not drugs) becomes our sole focus and source of joy.