Missionary Papers: The Cross & The Culture
Addiction vs Disease: Debilitating Terminology
If you have followed this series of essays and podcasts thus far, you have learned of my distaste for the use of the term disease in reference to addiction. But, in my estimation, this idea needs to be thoroughly confronted if addicts are to receive the help they need. The assumption addiction can be approached as a disease dominates the rehabilitation industry. Experts on the subject, at least experts that are concerned with this approach, have suggested it will remain so due to functionality. That is, rehab centers understand they cannot prevent a person from doing what that person has decided.
Disease can be terrifying. Certain terms directed at us from our doctor can be life-altering. Cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, many auto-immune diseases, the list could be endless. But there are some very important concepts to consider. Disease, a real disease that is, alters life due to its forceful imposition of disfunction in place of function. That is the physical breakdown of practical bodily functions that result from the onset of respective diseases. The unfortunate victims begin to recognize discomfort, pain, loss of normal coordination, and any number of other abnormalities respective to the disease. They approach a doctor with their concern, upon necessary investigation and testing the disease is, Lord willing, discovered. As a result of this discovery, the person’s life and behavior will be altered to try and create an atmosphere of slowing, stopping or coping with the disease.
Yet, in terms of drug addiction, the addict begins a clear and noticeable series of life-altering “patterns” (choices) we will say. Patterns that are destructive, not in terms of a breakdown in biological mechanisms brought about by a disease such as cancer, but rather breakdowns brought about by some poisonous substance repeatedly consumed in some form. The cancer patient recognizes trouble in their body, then learns that trouble is brought about by the disease. The drug addict buys their substance of choice, then later is told a disease exists related only to the substance they buy and consume. The cancer patient discovers a disease that exists through unfortunate organic processes, the drug addict buys the desired substance and learns the repeated use of that damaging substance is a disease. We have some serious gaps in behavioral patterns between these scenarios. The cancer patients’ altering behavior is responsive, the drug addict’s behavior is a deliberate choice.
A few Podcast episodes back, we spoke about the house of Stephanas, mentioned in the Bible as being addicted to the ministry. 1 Corinthians 16:15 (KJV) I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,). If we take the idea of addiction as a disease and apply it here, most would say it’s ludicrous. Thus, the world around us can no longer become upset with Christians, they are simply struggling with a disease over which they have no control. We must tell others about Jesus, this behavior is the result of a disease we have. We must pass out tracts because of a disease we have. Or another explanation could be we found ourselves in awe of the Saviour that died for us, therefore we are devoted to his service. Our choice to become faithful to Christ can be seen in terms of the devotional nature of addiction. We develop a series of biblically prescribed behavioral patterns meant to be pleasing to Christ.
Addiction, of any sort, is highly goal-oriented. By the time a person is dubbed an addict, they often have had months or even years of substance abuse under their belt. Calling such goal-oriented behavior a disease poses many dangers broader than the area of drug addiction. Under these terms, any form of addiction will now be counted a disease. Indeed this is happening on a large scale. One’s refusal to put away pornography is now the disease of addiction-related to porn. Obesity is no longer related to poor choices of foods and eating habits, it’s an unfortunate disease over which the victim has absolutely no control. The hypocrisy in this is seen in its use being relegated to negative patterns of behavior. The millionaire that worked eighty hours-per week and carefully planned every detail of their financial situation to achieve that goal is not considered to have a disease. The college student that graduates Summa Cum Laude or Valedictorian does not have the disease of education, they simply applied themselves and showed great discipline and ability to finish strong. It’s only considered a disease when the chosen behavior patterns are negative.
Furthermore, the idea of addiction as a disease is the result of a logical fallacy. This form of fallacy resembles the Post Hoc Fallacy: When two events that run side by side are joined together causally. For example, in Sierra Leone, Africa there was an Ebola outbreak that lasted from 2014 – 2016. As a result, it was highly recommended that the world refrain from traveling to Sierra Leone. Travel to that region of the world might result in contracting this deadly disease. This historical situation will serve to illustrate the fallacy, and demonstrate how ideas can become conflated unnecessarily. The disease in question was Ebola, the decision to travel to Sierra Leone was not the disease. Nor did the decision to travel to Sierra Leone cause the disease, though making the choice to go may put one in a position to come in contact with the disease. Now, many may have developed the opinion traveling to that region is a bad idea. Just as, I presume, many have the opinion that tracking down a crack dealer and buying crack is a bad idea. Neither traveling to Africa during an epidemic or buying crack from a street dealer is the cause of a disease.
A Number of other fallacies are born out of this idea. Travel to Africa does not mean the traveler will contract a serious disease. Many diseases in Africa were brought there from other places. Some may be wondering, “What does any of this have to do with eating bats in China?” Well, it means travel to Africa is not synonymous with contracting a disease. Furthermore, many people try drugs once and never and never become addicted. Therefore drug use is not synonymous with contracting a disease. It takes years of dedicated focus and goal-oriented drug use before one can earn the title of disease. Years of tracking down dealers, avoiding the police, stealing items of value, selling said items, injecting some foreign substance into ones veins. All of which takes time, dedication, learning, and great focus. Only drug addiction is such a hard earned disease.
When a person is diagnosed with respective forms of diabetes, there is a reasonable expectation that behavioral patterns will need to change. Strict diets will need to be adhered to, insulin injections may be needed, certain exercises may be implemented; all for the purpose of helping the person get better or effectively cope with their disease over time. Only the behavioral patterns of the disease of addiction causes the degradation of an individual’s health. Their chosen pattern of behavior results in the pathological attributes diagnostic of their supposed disease. Again, the diabetes patient changes behavior after they are diagnosed with their related disease, they then begin to practice behavior that assists in correction or coping. Calling addiction a disease is so backward to the realities of a real disease. And not very respectful to individuals that suffer from life-altering physical troubles in their bodies.
It seems clear to me a drug addict, addicted to the substance of alcohol, walking into a bar and buying strong drink is very different from the manifestation of flu symptoms. Driving to the bar is voluntary, walking into the bar is voluntary, purchasing the drink is voluntary, contracting the flu is not standard voluntary practice. Remember, behavior is something we do, not something that happens to us. Unbridled appetites are characteristic of the choices made by undisciplined individuals. They have placed their personal pleasure and satisfaction above their varied responsibilities. Ecclesiastes 6:7-9 (KJV) All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
Once again, if addiction is something you struggle with, please let me know. While I am convinced the addictions in your life are based on choices you have made, I do not discount the difficulties that come with such deep-seated habits. I want to help you and I will do what I can to get you where you need to be to get that help.
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