By Don Umphrey
(scriptural citations from the NIV)
How does an addiction start?
It is clear that every addiction starts with a pleasurable experience and/or fulfills a perceived need.
If a person keeps returning to that same substance, behavior or pattern of thinking to re-experience the pleasure or to fulfill the perceived need, it may become addictive.
Once addicted, an individual needs increasingly greater doses. This leads to decreasing positive effects while the perceived need continues to grow.
The Path of Self-Destruction
An architect friend of mine, now drug-free after many years of cocaine addiction, said he kept seeking to get the same effect as the first time he used it. He never experienced the same “high,” but the quest for it ruined his life.
I’ve heard the same thing from a heroin addict.
Here’s how an addiction to alcohol worked in my life: While In high school I was very concerned about my popularity. Fearing rejection, I was afraid to kiss a girl and too self-conscious to dance fast.
Beer was the magic elixir that made these problems vanish.
Going away to college, I had the idea that alcohol could do for me what I could not do for myself. It became number one in my life, a false god/idol that could be purchased in brown, green or clear bottles.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
This phenomenon occurred in my life as I started thinking that the people at the church where I’d grown up were old fogies and out of touch. Religion seemed to be a means of preventing people from missing out on the best that life has to offer.
Later, I claimed to be an atheist because there was no way to justify my lifestyle with what I knew about the Bible.
While I initially drank to address my adolescent apprehensions, depression and anxiety came to rule my life a decade later. I reached the point where neurotic fears of impending doom took me to the verge of suicide at age 27.
Late one night when I couldn’t sleep, I called the suicide prevention center. “Have you been drinking?” queried the woman who answered.
“Yes,” I replied.
“You need to stop.”
I hung up.
A few mornings later I woke up in terror, gulped down eight beers and then started on a fifth of whiskey
My “god” had turned its back on me; it no longer provided even an iota of relief; I was in abject misery. Not knowing where else to turn, I called a friend who drove me to a mental hospital.
My story is similar to one found in Proverbs 23:29-35. As related there, the wine looks and tastes good. But “in the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things... ‘They hit me,’ you will say, ‘but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?’”
Through the grace of God, my story doesn’t end there.
Finding a Solution
In the hospital I visited with a psychiatrist every other day, but the solution to my situation came from a fellow patient in his early forties. His problems were alcohol-related, and he wondered if the same might be true for me.
I had long assumed I was mentally ill and used alcohol to cope. Knee-deep in denial, it never occurred to me that alcohol was the cause of my problems and not the solution.
After two weeks in the hospital, I went home, and heeded the advice of my friend to attend a program for problem drinkers. The people there told me that my sobriety was contingent on my relationship with God.
I kept attending those meetings and returned to church a few months later. Through the grace of God, my last drink containing alcohol was the whiskey I chugged in the parking lot of the mental hospital just before admitting myself.
That was 48 years ago.
Believing the Lie
Jesus called Satan “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Can you see how believing a lie coincides with the onset and eventual negative effects of an addiction?
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote, “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain, and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.1 (Recall that Lewis is writing as a demon, so “Our Father” in this context refers to the devil.)
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck called Satan “a spirit of unreality.”2
“The idols speak deceit,” wrote the prophet Zechariah more than 2,600 years ago (Zechariah 10:2). Except for the nature of the idols, nothing has changed since then.
- C. S. Lewis, Harper-Collins, San Francisco, 2001, 44-45.2.
- M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Touchstone, New York, 1983, 162.
© 2022 by Don Umphrey
“New International Version” and “NIV” are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.
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