Today I want to look at the general theme of Addictions. Usually when we think of addictions, we think of alcohol or illegal drugs. Let me say that I am certainly no expert in the field. Neither am I now, nor have I ever been, addicted to either alcohol or illegal drugs. I have, however, had a grandfather who was, for a time addicted to alcohol. I have walked with several people when they were in various stages of addiction, from denying that they had a problem (while many of their loved ones saw a clear problem), to delirium tremors and withdrawal, to trying so very hard to stay clean and sober when life happened and clean and sober was so very hard.
So, am I addicted to breathing air? Or to drinking water? Webster defines addiction as “to devote or surrender oneself to something habitually or excessively,” and “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” Neither air nor water are harmful to me. Of course, if taken to extremes, or contaminated, both could be harmful. A few years ago someone died following a contest of who could drink the most water, and though I’m not medically trained I understand that an air bubble in my blood stream would not be a good thing.
So, let me go a bit deeper and ask some questions, How is it that some people drink alcohol and apparently never suffer any of the consequences of addiction? Where is the line when a social drinker becomes an alcoholic? Is it really worth the risk to me to see just how close to that line I can get without “going over the edge?” What is best for me? What about drinking and drugs for a Christian?
Here goes. I grew up in a Christian home where alcohol was not acceptable. I didn’t grow up in a vacuum, and I’ll admit to having tried alcohol. They say that the taste for beer is something that has to grow on you. That taste never took root on me. Whiskey is a different taste, one that I liked, but that I didn’t use enough of to become a social drinker, much less an alcoholic. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s when social rebellion was the norm for my age group and experimenting with marijuana and other illegal drugs was common. I didn’t experiment with marijuana or other illegal drugs, not even once.
While I was in my teen years I learned of my granddad’s dealing with alcoholism following the death of his wife (my grandmother) the year before I was born. Today we call that self-medicating. The whiskey numbed the feelings and gave him a warm feeling while he drove the road grader throughout the winters. It also drove a wedge between him and several family members. My take away from that was that whiskey is not a good thing, though as I said, I enjoyed the taste.
As a Christian, I read the verses in the book of Proverbs (20:1) about wine being a mocker and strong drink being a brawler. It says, “and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” I hung out with my brother, the Oklahoma Highway patrolman enough to learn that alcohol and driving a car don’t mix well at all.
Then I became a pastor. Soon a new member came to me asking for support. He declared himself to be an alcoholic, and asked if I was willing to help him stay sober. I don’t remember everything he said but haven’t been able to forget one statement. He said, “Alcoholics will break their promises, and break your heart.” It turned out to be a life-long battle for him…not long in years…but life-long. I have, in forty years of ministry been reminded of the truth my friend said, “we will break your heart.” Ministry has taken me to four different continents in three different languages. It has been true in every place that I have lived, the alcoholic/addict will break your heart.
I still don’t have the answer to the question of why some and not others become addicts. I have read several articles, some books, and still have a stack of seven books on my desk to read…all regarding addictions and recovery. I plan to dedicate the next weeks to researching and sharing what I can in regard to addictions.
There is help. If you or someone close to you is dealing with an addiction of any kind, there is help. Please reach out to me or one of our other chaplains. If you need help, we can help you get connected to it.