I have counseled many people who are caught in the grip of addiction. The addictions have involved alcohol, spending money, tobacco, food, gambling, pornography, drugs, exercise, sleeping and more.
The pain in the lives of the addict and those close to him is often significant. Addictions have the power to leave a trail of shattered lives in their wake.
One of the first steps to overcoming a controlling habit is an understanding 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 from controlling behavior but have given up trying. After trying and 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).
If you’ve accepted failure as a way of life– a change of attitude is your first need. There are no easy formulas for changing, but change itself is impossible for those who accept defeat.
We are deeply affected by the mindset we choose. Change must begin in our thinking before it affects 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)
My personal story
As a teen, I wasted two years in rebellion against God and all authority. I left home and joined the gang life on the streets of Philadelphia. I quickly spiraled down a bad path. After hitting the bottom, I turned to God and made a recommitment to serve him with my life. I found change to be very hard to accomplish. I also learned that my main obstacle was my mind.
During my rebellion, I had accumulated bad memories that continually pulled me in the wrong direction. I knew that change would only occur if I could wash my mind of wrong thoughts and fill it with good ones (see: Philippians 4:8). This led me to an intense commitment to memorize scripture. Through the discipline of filling my mind with God’s Word, I was able to change the way I thought about life. This progressively led to the changes I desired in my behavior.
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 behavior 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.”
Here is a suggested prayer to help you stay on the path of 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).