Addiction causes havoc in many lives. It may be drugs, sugar, screen time, drinking, shopping, gambling or pornography.
Whatever the poison, it can interrupt somebody’s functioning in everyday life. With an issue so harsh, it seems that there is little understanding of what are the real causes and solutions.
Addiction is not purely a biological story. It points to deeper issues that need to be addressed. It demands lifestyle changes to be made.
Rat park experiment
The Rat Park was a series of experiments done by Bruce Alexander.
Before this, researchers performed experiments where they put a rat in a cage and gave it two bottles to drink out of. One bottle was water. One was water laced with heroin. They found that the rat would compulsively drink from the water laced with heroin and they would overdose and die.
But Bruce Alexander came along, and he said this only happened because the rats had nothing else to do. He built a different park for rats. The park had toys, friends, it was a sort of rat heaven. They were given the same two bottles. This time, however, they drank from the heroin laced water far less. They never did it in a compulsive way. They never overdosed.
Alexander concluded addiction was more about the cage you were in.
I recently met somebody who said skating helped him quit smoking. Isn't that crazy? Obviously, it’s not a remedy for everyone. Not everybody will kickflip their way into good health! But it worked for him. But why did it work?
Firstly, starting to skate introduces yourself to new friends. Skating also gets you outside and to new places which is good for your health. It’s good physical exercise.
Skating promoted his health, promoted connection. It provided the lifestyle changes he needed to help kick the habit.
Positive lifestyle changes is one arm of attack to help us fight off addiction. It may be cutting something out of your life, hanging out with different friends, eating healthier, sleeping better, finding belonging in a community.
All of these help in an indirect way.
Another arm of attack is to address the core issue. At the core of addiction is the feeling that you can't bear to deal with the present. At the core of addiction is pain.
Covering this pain is how it starts. Whenever there is a stressor in our life, we turn to our maladaptive coping mechanism of drugs/alcohol/pornography/screen time etc. Then when you want to stop, it’s too late. Biological and psychological hooks are already embedded in you.
It may take a long time to uncover. But we can be assured that the same God that sensed the longing for forgiveness in the man’s heart in Mark chapter 2, is the same God that can peer into our heart and know our core issues.
Transforming our nature
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians chapter 2, verse 13)
Whenever we make that decision to reconnect to the vine, God continues his transformative work. He transforms our nature. He turns a bad tree into a good tree so that it may bear good fruit.
There is no better help. He will turn trash into treasure. The bad habits that we hold dear will turn into ash. The good habits that we neglect will become like gold.
It is the power of God.
Further implications apply when helping people.
Instead of nagging people to summon more will power, we can ask ourselves how we can help promote a healthier lifestyle.
Maybe catching up with someone struggling with addiction is the best thing we can do for them. Maybe our role doesn’t have to be so forceful, but it is in fact just to be their friend.
Of course, there is a time and place for intervention. But our responsibility is not to force anybody to change. That burden is their own.
How do we think our Saviour would act? I struggle to picture Jesus saying something like "you just don't want to recover bad enough" or "you need to try harder", Jesus looks past brokenness.
He sees who we are becoming. He supports us. He lifts us by his hand. I love the picture of Jesus raising the little girl in Mark chapter 5.
With almighty power he resurrects, but with gentleness he raises us to our feet.
We can be sure that if we make lifestyle changes and let God bring forth healing in our core issues, addictions will slowly melt off us.
There is victory in Jesus.
Roden Meares enjoys playing basketball, reading comics and going to the gym. He has a passion for evangelising and helping others in their faith through writing.
Roden’s previous articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/roden-meares.html