I’ve counseled many people caught in the grip of addiction. Whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, food, gambling, pornography, drugs, exercise, sleeping, or spending money, the pain is often significant in the life of the addict and those close to him.
Addictions so often leave a trail of shattered lives in their wake.
One of the first steps to overcoming a controlling habit is to understand what it is and the hold it has over you.
Consider eight dynamics of addiction:
- Repetition of pleasurable and therefore habit-forming behavior, plus escalating tolerance and desire.
- Unpleasant after effects of such behavior, including withdrawal symptoms and self-reproach.
- Vows to moderate or quit, followed by relapses and attendant feelings of guilt, shame and general distress.
- Attempts to ease this distress with new rounds of the addictive behavior (or with the first rounds of a companion addiction).
- Deterioration of work and relationships, with accompanying cognitive disturbances, including denial, delusions, and self-deceptions, especially about the effects of the addiction, and the degree to which one is enthralled by it.
- Gradually increasing preoccupation, then obsession, with the addictor.
- Compulsivity in addictive behavior; evidence that one’s will has become at least partly split, enfeebled, and enslaved.
- A tendency to draw others into the web of addiction, people who support and enable the primary addiction. These “co-dependents” present certain addictive patterns of their own—in particular, the simultaneous need to be needed by the addict and to control him. The co-dependent relationship is thus one in which primary and parasitic addictions join (From: Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
Have you given up?
Many realize they need to break a controlling behavior but give up trying. After failing many times, they’ve lost all hope of change.
“Mary was overweight. The doctor assured her that the cause was not a physical problem, but was caused by her overeating. She tried several diets over a period of months. This wasn’t easy for her; she unrealistically expected dramatic and immediate results. Repeatedly, she broke her promises to herself. Eventually, discouragement turned to hopelessness, and Mary gave up trying to lose weight” (Erwin Lutzer, How to Say ‘No’ to a Stubborn Habit).
If you’ve accepted failure as a way of life — a change of attitude is your first need. There are no easy formulas for change, but it’s an impossible path for those who accept defeat.
We are deeply affected by the mindsets we choose. Change must begin in our thinking before it alters our behavior. Lasting change requires daily choices to look at life through the right lens. Defeat is the wrong lens! (see: Philippians 2:3-5; 4:8, 13)
A plan for change - 20/20
The psalmist prayed, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. … I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11).
I recommend a 20/20 approach to Scripture: read for 20 minutes; contemplate for 20 minutes. In Scripture, we find the hope and power for change.
In “How to Say ‘No’ to a Stubborn Habit,” Dr. Erwin Lutzer wrote, “A young man, caught in the grip of homosexuality, struggled with this sin for a period of months. God eventually changed him so radically that he developed normal attractions for the opposite sex. Today he is a godly, sensitive young man. God taught him principles of commitment which he has been able to apply to all areas of his life. He memorized more than 200 verses of scripture during those months of agonizing struggle. His sinful habit drove him to seek God and become intimately acquainted with the Almighty. He began by being occupied with his problem; today he is occupied with his God.”
Although there are no easy solutions for breaking long-established patterns, change is possible. Through patient and persistent application of truth we can break the power of deception and make steady progress.
Victory is possible!
Setbacks are often part of the struggle, but as Lutzer suggests, “God uses your struggle to give you a thorough housecleaning, reorganize your priorities and make you dependent on His grace … You must want spiritual freedom, not merely for our own sake, but for God’s sake as well. Only then will you find the victory he promises.”
Prayer for victory:
“Lord, I confess my sin, particularly my rebellion against your authority. In agreeing that I have sinned, I also agree that this sin must be forsaken. Thank you for your forgiveness. I am grateful for this powerful temptation, which gave me the chance to prove that I love you more than any pleasure in the world. I thank you that the temptation is not greater than I can bear, and I rejoice at how you will use it in my life. I look forward to getting to know you better, and I am glad that you have sent me this trial as a reminder of how desperately I need you” (Erwin Lutzer).