A Biblical Definition of Addiction

While the dominant models of addiction counseling view the problem from within either a disease or choice framework, the Bible offers a more robust perspective.

The Bible can sympathize with this feeling of bondage, and yet it never avoids holding us morally responsible for our actions. We are moral agents, and the Bible treats us as such, even in the face of addictive habits. Ed Welch points out that drunkenness serves as a prototype for all addictions in the Bible, and it is always treated as a sin, never sickness.

 

How we understand a problem will always determine how we understand help for the problem. This is, perhaps, obviously true when we talk about the nature of addictions. While the dominant models of addiction counseling view the problem from within either a disease or choice framework, the Bible offers a more robust perspective. Within Scripture, addictions are viewed as “voluntary slavery.”[1]

The lived experience of addiction feels both like voluntarism and enslavement. An addicted individual feels both guilty and yet unable to stop, both responsible and out of control. How do we explain the disparity between these two feelings, even between these two seeming realities? The world does not attempt to navigate that terrain. More often than not, modern psychology simply offers an explanation that emphasizes one or the other of these realities. The disease model says you are a victim, in bondage to your broken biology. You did not choose your addiction; you are merely a slave to it. The choice model, on the other hand, asserts that addiction is a voluntary or willful decision to use/abuse drugs or alcohol. Each view has strengths and weaknesses but is insufficient as a comprehensive explanation for addiction.

For some Christians, this definition of addiction will be difficult. We often so emphasize the principle of moral culpability that we are reluctant to accept any notion that conflicts with this truth. So, we are more inclined to view addiction as a failure of a morally weak person than to accept that some forms of sin create a level of bondage that is hard to break. But addictions are like bondage, and the lived-experience of the addict reveals this. For instance, Jessica wasn’t making excuses when she told me that she didn’t want to drink a whole bottle of Jim Beam that night, but she knew she would. She couldn’t stop herself. She felt trapped. Kevin knew the second he had money he would buy drugs; it was the primary reason his mom kept control of all his finances. He couldn’t make himself do the right thing. Slavery is a fitting description of these experiences.

The Bible can sympathize with this feeling of bondage, and yet it never avoids holding us morally responsible for our actions. We are moral agents, and the Bible treats us as such, even in the face of addictive habits. Ed Welch points out that drunkenness serves as a prototype for all addictions in the Bible, and it is always treated as a sin, never sickness. He writes:

Drunkenness is against God and his law. Scripture is unwavering in this teaching and relentless in its illustrations. Noah (Gen. 9:18-27), Lot (Gen. 19:30-38), Elah (1 Kings 16:9), and Nabal (1 Sam. 25:36) all portray the moral foolishness of being mastered by alcohol.[2]

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