The Power Of Addiction | Letters To My Son
Quitting smoking is easy; I've done it hundreds of times.—Mark Twain
But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.—Luke 21:34.
But I'm Not An Addict
I know you are not, but so many are, and like Mark Twain above they deny it or ignore the power of it. Addiction is a growing epidemic among men. I find myself thinking about this on your behalf all the time because men are much more likely to become addicted than women to things like alcohol, pornography, gaming, gambling, smoking, drugs, and later in life work, money, success, and power.
Addiction is an associated learning process. It's a continuous brain reward and motive rewiring that results in physical, mental, and social dysfunctions and is characterized by an inability to abstain or control. We can be addicted to both a substance or an activity. A substance addiction would be something like nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. An activity addiction would be something like gambling, gaming, or pornography. The power in addiction is the pleasure that is outweighing the harm the substance or activity carries.
Therefore as men, we need to be on the watch for things of this life that attempt to steal our very being in the short time we are given in this life. Jesus himself warned us of this. "But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap."—Luke 21:34.
The following are valuable lessons I have learned about addiction that I have learned from others.
Lessons Learned About Addiction
One | Moderation vs. Addiction
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be enslaved by anything.—1 Corinthians 6:12
Some substances and activities are harmful from day one. It is easy to discern which these are. Many of them are illegal. Consciously we understand this; even basic intuition tells us they are wrong. But then there are those that we need for survival which we must moderate. And I believe learning to moderate the ones that are required helps us to learn moderation. For example, take food. Food is a substance that is necessary for life. Unmoderated food substances and eating activities do become problems for many people.
In the Bible, the first limit, or rule, a man was given was based on eating. God commanded us not to eat of a single tree, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat"—Genesis 2:17. I have always thought this was interesting. God could have chosen anything for a first rule and thus the first sin, and his choice was a particular food and the eating of it. He took a needed activity and was requiring us to moderate it. And thus we can conclude that conscious moderation is not addiction.
Two | You Must Consider The Costs
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?—Luke 14:28
Addiction is defined by the harm it inflicts, but an injury can occur on two levels. There are direct costs of addiction and indirect costs of addiction. For example, a direct cost of addiction to alcohol would be the cost of purchasing the substance and the time allocated to buying and consuming it. The indirect costs are the risks assumed with addiction to alcohol would be the effects on you physically, decreased performance mentally, damage to your reflection of Christ, and the potential impact on others. Most consider the direct costs of addiction, but fail to recognize the indirect costs, because the payoff of the "high" is too rewarding for them.
Considering both of these costs is important because as we make one choice, we must make all the other subsequent choices that go with it. For example, when someone chooses to use illegal performance-enhancing drugs in a sport, they are also giving way to making all the other choices that go with this first choice—including removal from a team, loss of scholarships, and the difficulties that result. These second-tier choices and costs are powerful lessons, and they can be an unfortunate teacher. I would prefer that you not learn this way but instead "count the cost" before.
Three | Loss Of Control
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.—Proverbs 25:28
The definition of addiction infers that addiction only occurs when we demonstrate a "loss of control" with substances and activities, and then bad behaviors begin to pile up. Please note: this is different from a single sin since we are talking about "perpetual sinning pattern." Also note: this does not mean the substance is wrong; only the activity surrounding the use of the substance is improper. For example, in the Garden of Eden, the fruit of the tree was not "bad," in fact, the woman in the garden saw that it was "good for food" before she ate it. However, it was the eating of the tree that was bad. Another example, could be alcohol is not wrong in itself, but the pattern of use can be wrong. And the limit is "loss of control."
Self-control is critical to learn. Self-control is practicing a healthy associated pattern. Each man has his limits, and you need to know yours. I have limits, which are conscious decisions I have made in advance about several things. Alcohol, drugs, pornography, food, relationships, and even who I spend time with in life. These "advance decisions" are a mean of self-control for me, so that when I am in a moment, I am not making a decision. I make decisions before events so that when I am in them, I do not find myself losing control of self. Now, this requires you to both know yourself and know the situation, but over time, you will. We all have moments when the pursuit of a human pleasure will overwhelm us—I get it. I, too, have been here. You will find yourself here also. How you respond to this next time is essential, and you need to learn and build a better "wall" as the Proverb above states. This virtue preserves our character and all the other ramifications that many don't avoid.
Four | Practical Ideas Using Discipline
The point of all this is to find a better associated-learning process that results in holy rewards, not bad behaviors that pile up. Here are four things I would do to avoid addiction and build discipline.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.—Proverbs 11:14
We all need relationships. But there are relationships we need to avoid and relationships that we need to develop that by association make us better. I would recommend spending far more time with people that make you better. I am not sure more needs to be said here.
Choose this day whom you will serve...—Joshua 24:15
Making advanced decisions keeps you from having to engage logical decision making in moments we are not thinking. I know it's laughable to say it that way. But too many times I have been caught, not thinking. You have heard me say when you have one boy; you have one brain. When you have two boys; you have half a brain. When you have three boys; you have a quarter of a brain. And when you have four boys; you have no brain. This is true because sometimes we live only for the moment, ignoring the apparent consequences. At this moment, advanced decision making comes in handy. You don't have to wait for logic to kick in too late because you have already made in a decision about what to do when the moment arises. This may serve you well in moments with other guys where compromise may be within reach—or even with a woman.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind—Romans 12:1
As men, we have to be continually renewing our mind. And the only way to "renew your mind" is to keep your mind in front of right thinking. I think some of the best thinking in the Bible, in an easy to read format, is written by King Solomon. His book of Proverbs is a book full of wise sayings that are great for putting a mind that can easily be corrupted in front of great thinking. There are 31 Proverbs, you could read one a day for a month, and this will fill your mind with great thoughts—thoughts that align with God's will.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.—1 Corinthians 10:21
A discipline that results in positive behavior is done from the motivation of Godly love ultimately for the glory of God. It's not just discipline done for a personal reward but an eternal reward. Godly discipline produces positive results and has a multiplying effect. It also results in freedom and joy that addictive behavior does not. The temporary reward of an addictive high is nothing compared to the rewards of spiritual discipline done for the right reason.
Along the way your going to make mistakes, but learn quickly. Remember, I'm here to help when you need direction or when you find yourself stuck. Never be too ashamed to reach out for help.
I love you, Dad.
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