I saw a television commercial recently that stated drug addiction is a disease. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has stated, “Addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease.”
I have great concern for those who have addictions, whether they are struggling with gambling, pornography, obesity, compulsive shopping, smoking, drugs, an obsession with the internet, or a fixation with video games.
But can you justifiably call any of these addictions or obsessions a disease? I don’t think so. I do know that alcoholism can cause diseases like pancreatitis, cancer, ulcers, and cirrhosis of the liver, among other illnesses, but alcoholism in and of itself is not a disease, but a choice.
The same is true with smoking. Smoking can cause diabetes, vision loss, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and all kinds of cancer, but smoking cigarettes is not a disease in and of itself, but a choice.
Additionally, drug addiction can cause a myriad of diseases including cancer, hepatitis, strokes, heart attacks, mental illness, and numerous other illnesses, but in and of itself drug addiction is not a disease, but a choice.
Marc Lewis, Ph.D., writing for The Guardian, says, “There is a good reason to ask whether addiction actually is a disease. If it is, then we might expect it to have a specific cause or set of causes, an agreed-on repertoire of treatment strategies, and a likely time course.
“Furthermore, we might wonder how the disease of addiction could be overcome as a result of willpower, changing perspectives, changing environments, mindfulness, or emotional growth. There is evidence that each of these factors can be crucial in beating addiction, yet none of them is likely to work on cancer, pneumonia, diabetes, or malaria.”
Unfortunately, Lewis left out the power of a conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. Countless individuals who have been through Celebrate Recovery and other Christian programs have found deliverance through Jesus Christ and His saving grace.
Lewis, who is a neuroscientist, explains in his book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease, “Rather than a disease, I would say that addiction is a habit that grows and perpetuates itself relatively quickly when we repeatedly pursue the same highly attractive goal.”
In his book The Heart of Addiction, Mark Shaw declares, “A physical addiction occurs when you satisfy a natural appetite and desire with a temporary pleasure repeatedly until you become the servant of the temporary object of pleasure rather than its master.”
If one says that his addiction or compulsive behavior is a disease, he is denying his own responsibility, belittling God’s power to change him, placing the blame on his genetic makeup, and perhaps even blaming God for making him that way.
In this day of tolerance, it is common for our society to call addictions a disease, to say that homosexuals are made that way (it’s in their genes), to justify sin and whitewash evil. We cannot minimize sin, gloss over iniquity, and downplay depravity without also belittling the Gospel.
Making excuses for our sins has been around ever since Eve told Adam she ate the forbidden fruit because the snake beguiled her and ever since Adam told God he ate the forbidden fruit because Eve had mesmerized him with her charm.
Christians who stand for biblical truth and hold the line on what God condemns may not win the favor of this secular society. But, we must call sin what God calls it and proclaim the Gospel joyfully as the only solution to man’s devastating and dooming sin problem.
Taking the label off a bottle of strychnine and relabeling it “the essence of peppermint” doesn’t change the destructive potency of the death-dealing poison. And calling sin a bridal bouquet doesn’t abrogate God’s hatred of sin or discount the certainty of His judgment.