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Breaking Free From Addictions

Help is available!

All kinds of substances and activities can become addictive.
How do you know when you or someone you love needs to break free?


We first feature Carol Cannon. She is clinical director at The Bridge, a treatment center for addictive disorders in Bowling Green, Kentucky. To learn more about their program, visit their Website, known as The Bridge to Recovery.

Part two of this feature is by Marvin Moore, editor of Signs of the Times.

Addiction of any kind can be a crippling illness. But with understanding from friends, colleagues, and family, and with adequate professional treatment, most afflicted individuals recover and return to productive lives--addictive behavior can be conquered.

Both articles are reprints from Signs of the Times, with permission from respective authors.

"We have seen and experienced terrible addictions within our own circle of friends and family. But by God's grace, His infinite power, His unlimited love and mercy even to those who felt badly defeated, they have been delivered--some from minor addictions and some from horrible bondage." --Eric Kreye, author of

Part 1 Part 2 Practical Help A Story of Deliverance!

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Part 1

How to Recognize an Addiction

When Dennis is exhausted and irritable after a hard day's work, all he wants to do is go home, flip on the TV, and lose himself in a football game. Several beers later, he falls asleep on the couch. That's how Dennis handles stress. His wife, Kathy, deals with her daily frustrations by "going on and on and on" about her problems to Dennis or anyone else who will listen. By some standards, Kathy would be considered a talkaholic. The coping techniques this couple employ seem normal enough, although they are at odds with each other when Kathy wants to talk and Dennis wants to watch football!

Carl's way of relaxing is to submerge himself in restoring old cars. Mary Ellen, his wife, heads for the refrigerator when she's overwhelmed. If Carl chides her for over-eating, she laughs good-naturedly and says, "I'm not eating--I'm self-medicating."

Are these people placing themselves at risk for addiction? What is the difference between normal activities and addictive behavior?

An unhealthy relationship

Addiction is an unhealthy relationship between a person and a mind-altering substance or experience that renders that person unable to quit. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and smoking are collectively known as chemical dependencies. Process or activity addictions like gambling, overworking, eating disorders, and sexual excesses are considered clean or non-chemical dependencies.

Addiction is a disease of the extreme. If one's interest in a particular substance, activity, or person is pursued moderately and integrated into real life, it may not be a problem. The problem is in becoming preoccupied to the point that we are using the substance, relationship, or activity to avoid intolerable reality or to sidestep the challenges and responsibilities of everyday life.

One of the first indicators of addiction is the impulse to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Another typical indicator is the creation of logical explanations--rationalizations--to explain one's behavior. We use such defensive maneuvers to avoid facing the reality of the situation.

Other key indicators of addiction are preoccupation with the activity and a drivenness to engage in it. Addicts are often secretive about their activity and deceptive when discovered. By contrast, moderation and integration into real life mark a behavior as healthy. As previously noted, the tendency to make a single substance, person, or process one's sole source of meaning, identity, and value is a sign of unhealthy dependence.

Isolation and unreality typify addiction. The narrower one's focus and the more removed from real life and real relationships one's behavior, the greater the likelihood that he or she is developing an addictive disorder. This is especially true for non-chemical dependencies like compulsive worrying, caretaking or control, workaholism, cyberspace addictions, etc.

In practical terms, addiction is any activity people make highest priority in their life when they do so to their own detriment or the detriment of the people closest to them and when they continue to do so in the face of adverse consequences, like the loss of family, job, freedom, or health.

People graduate from healthy to addictive behavior when they begin to neglect important social, occupational, or relational responsibilities. Their behavior becomes increasingly unmanageable. They make futile attempts to regain control--cutting up credit cards (which is not necessarily a bad idea) in order to curtail excessive spending or not drinking before dinner to avoid alcoholism. Such attempts to control generally fail. Eventually, everything yields to the obsession. All activities are scheduled around it. Addicts cannot predict how much they will consume or how long they will "use" once they've taken the first dose of whatever they're hooked on. They're powerless to stop even though they know they're hurting themselves. Research indicates that the inability to quit is a by-product of changes in the brain brought on by the use of the drug itself.

Why risk addiction?

Why would anyone want to risk getting addicted in the first place? The answer is simple: drinking, drugging, shoplifting, having love affairs, and other mind-altering experiences are rewarding, relaxing, stress-relieving. They make people feel good. The chemical activity in the brains of people who are in the first flush of romance or entrepreneurs who are making swift business deals is essentially the same as if they were high on cocaine or heroin.

Once people begin a mind-altering activity, they can easily become addicted. Their life becomes increasingly unmanageable. In the early stages of addiction, most users have an uncanny ability to justify what they're doing and to blame others for their actions, which greatly confuses the issue. They rationalize and minimize the negative impact of their behavior.

Jason, a young husband and father, had a series of extra-marital affairs even though he believed that infidelity was immoral. He told himself that his actions were justified because his wife had gained a lot of weight and he was no longer attracted to her.

Emily, a physician's wife, developed the habit of overspending. She justified it on the basis of her husband's workaholism. "I wouldn't go to the mall so much if he were home more," she reasoned.

Darlene, a dedicated Christian who was deeply involved in personal ministries, spent an inordinate amount of time on church and charitable activities even though she had several children in need of her attention. She frequently left her children with a church member in order to do her "good deeds." When her eldest son told her that he was lonely and bored, Darlene excused her neglect by explaining that the reason she was working so hard was that people would be lost for eternity if she didn't tell them the "good news." She exhorted her son to stop complaining and count his blessings.

The various forms of addiction affect addicts' families in the same way as if the addicts were alcoholics. It doesn't matter whether Daddy is at the bar or at the office--if he's not there for the children, he's not there for the children! It doesn't matter whether Mom "passes out" on the couch from an overdose of ValiumTM or from exhaustion. Her children are emotional orphans! The symptoms seen in the children of workaholics are indistinguishable from those seen in the children of alcoholics. And experts agree that the children of workaholics are harder to treat therapeutically than are the children of alcoholics.

So, what can you do if you become aware that you are relating addictively to a substance or activity? If your life is so unmanageable that you are at risk of losing your family, your health, your job, or perhaps even your life, then I recommend professional treatment. Counseling can help, but in severe cases, attendance at an addiction recovery treatment center is best. While these are typically quite expensive, they are cheap compared to the alternatives.

A good alternative for milder addictions or for those who cannot afford professional treatment is a Twelve-Step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs have a strong spiritual component. Research suggests that addicts who attend them consistently are more likely to maintain sobriety and achieve high-quality recovery than are those who don't.

Support groups for most addictions are available, including groups for the families of addicts. The key is honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. Meetings can be found almost everywhere, and God is present in these places! There is no better alternative for anyone seeking moderation, balance, and a better way of life.

"You are my lamp, O Lord;
the Lord turns my darkness
into light."

--2 Samuel 22:29


Part 2

How to Overcome an Addiction

Tracy can't stay out of stores. Three to four times a week she's at the shopping mall. She's maxed out two credit cards and is loading up a third. "I'm never happier than when I'm shopping," she says. Tracy's a shopping addict.

Delbert's favorite pastime is sports. He turns the TV to a sports channel the moment he gets home in the evening, and in the morning he catches the sports news from the night before. He subscribes to six sports magazines, and he often drives several hundred miles to attend sporting events. He spends several thousand dollars a year on sports. "The thrill of the competition relieves my anxiety," he says. Delbert's addicted to the excitement of sports.

Pastor Gerald Whitehead is a favorite with his parishioners. Whatever the need, when they call, he's there to help. Recently he signed up for a cell phone so he'd be more accessible. "I love helping people," Gerald says. "I can forget my own problems when I'm helping others with theirs." Gerald doesn't realize that he's addicted to caretaking.

While each of the above activities is normal in itself, if you could talk to these people, you'd soon realize that something isn't quite right. There's a drivenness to their activities; they consume their every waking moment. The word for this is obsession. When the opportunity to engage in their favorite activity comes around, they can't say No. It sucks them in like a whirlpool.

A Way Out!

This obsessive-compulsive thinking and behaving lies at the foundation of all addiction. The question is, How can Tracy, Delbert, and Gerald get out of this nightmare? How can you get out of yours?

1. Recognize the problem

The first step is to recognize that you have a problem. We tend to deny that anything is wrong. We "enjoy" the addictive behavior, and we don't want to give it up. Often, in fact, we're terrified of giving it up. But until we acknowledge the problem, it will keep sucking us in deeper and deeper-and closer and closer to destruction.

How can you acknowledge the problem when you're in the middle of denial? God will help you to do that. He's promised to convict you of sin and guide you into all truth,* and that includes the truth about yourself. So, when you recognize one of those moments in your life, just say, "God, if You're trying to tell me something about myself, lead me into a willingness to accept the truth."

You may be able to stop the destructive behavior at that point, but you may have to "hit bottom" first. Hitting bottom means reaching a crisis-such as a health problem, loss of a job, or a divorce-that forces you to face your addiction honestly.

The question to ask yourself is, How bad am I going to let it get before I finally admit the truth about my life? That's why asking God to lead you out of denial is so important. He can help you to hit bottom before the consequences become catastrophic.

2. Acknowledge your powerlessness

Step one of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says, "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable." This truth applies to all addiction.**

The emotions driving our addiction are so powerful that we're incapable of shutting them off in our own strength. Alcoholics Anonymous says it well: "We were the victims of a mental obsession so subtly powerful that no amount of human will power could break it."***

3. Seek God's help

To break out of our obsession we need help. And two kinds of help are available.

The most important is God's help. People with experience in Alcoholics Anonymous say, "We have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking [fill in your own addictive behavior here] that only an act of Providence can remove it from us."**** And "Providence," of course, means God.

So I suggest saying this prayer: "God, I'm powerless over this obsession [name it]. Please remove the desire for it and give me instead a desire for what's right." From personal experience, I can assure you that God will do that. Most of the time He doesn't remove the desire instantly, but if you keep asking for His help, and if you cooperate with Him in other ways, you will discover that the obsession gets weaker and weaker.

4. Seek help from others

The other source of help is people who've struggled successfully with addiction. Twelve-step meetings are extremely helpful in this regard, especially if you can find a group that deals with the same issue you're struggling with. Make a commitment to attend regularly for a period of years--perhaps the rest of your life. If this sounds difficult, remember that you'll make friends you'll cherish the rest of your life, too.

It's also a good idea to get what AA calls a "sponsor." He or she should be someone with whom you can be totally honest. Often, this will be someone you meet in the group you attend.

If your sponsor has had experience with the Twelve Steps, ask him or her to guide you in working through them. These steps are entirely biblical, and they have helped millions of people to break free of addiction.

5. Offer praise and thanksgiving

One of your most powerful tools for conquering addiction is praise and thanksgiving. I recommend the following prayers:

"Thank You, God, for Your power that is breaking the hold this addiction has had over my life."

"I praise You, Jesus, for dying on the cross so that I can be forgiven for the times I've yielded to this addiction."

"God, I thank You for accepting me right where I am."

The more you thank God for the victory--even before you have achieved it--the more you are strengthening your faith that the stranglehold the addiction has had over your life will be broken.

I want to assure you that, regardless of the nature of your addiction, there is a way out. Hold on to that belief, then go in search of the answer. God will guide you, often through other people.

You can be free!


*See John 16:8, 13; **See Romans 7:15, 24; ***Alcoholics Anonymous, The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions, 22; **** Ibid., 21.


Practical Help

Helpful suggestions for overcoming an addiction:

1. Recognize and admit that you have a problem. If you don't realize you have a problem, you can't work on a solution. You know you have an addiction when the behavior in question is causing a problem in your relationships. Face your addiction honestly. Ask God to lead you away from denial. He can help you.

2. Know that you can't get the victory over your problem by yourself. The first step on the road to recovery is a big one--asking for help! You are incapable of dealing with your addiction--
whatever it is--in your own strength. No doubt you have tried and failed many times and have discovered that no amount of human willpower can do it.

3. Make a conscious decision to change your life behavior and give the problem to God. As you feel the compelling urge to continue your addiction, ask God to help you overcome that urge. He may not remove the desire instantly, but keep asking and cooperate with Him in any way you can. You will soon discover that the urge is getting weaker.

4. Talk to another person you can trust, preferably someone who has struggled with the same problem you have. Try to find someone with whom you can be totally honest. Be sure to share everything regarding your struggles with your particular problem with that person. In other words, be accountable to him/her. When you fail to maintain victory over your problem, tell that person all about it.

5. Be sure to thank God and your trusted friend for the help they have offered. Especially offer thanks and praise to God, even before you have achieved final victory. And don't forget to thank those other people who have been such a help to you. This will help you experience a self-fulfilling suggestion.

6. Continue these suggestions, even after you think you have achieved final victory. You don't know when you might be tempted again, and you are always vulnerable to fail. A strong urge may surprise you suddenly when you least expect it.

7. Be willing to share your experience with others struggling with the same problem. This will strengthen your own resolve to maintain your victory.


A Story of Deliverance!

It was time to make some changes.
And Dave knew he couldn't make them by himself.

Stanley Maxwell

"After the fireworks died down and the shouts grew hoarse, Dave Schultz dashed into his house, grabbed a brown paper bag, ran to his neighbor's house, and rang the doorbell.

"Happy New Year!" he exclaimed as the door opened. "I saw your light was on, so I knew you were up. I came over to give you this." He handed the bag and its contents to C. Mervyn Maxwell, late professor emeritus of church history at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. "I was planning to get drunk," he confided, "but I just made my New Year's resolutions, and I've decided to stop drinking."

He went on. "Tomorrow's not only a new year; it's also a new decade--the perfect time for me to quit. It'll be another 10 years before an opportunity like this rolls around again."

Dave pointed to the bag in Maxwell's hand: "That's a bottle of cheap booze. I want you to keep it because I know you're a pastor, so you won't touch it. I'd trash it, but I know myself too well. If I opened this bottle now, I'd just pour it down my throat. I want to quit now--not tomorrow. Please pray for me, Pastor."

Maxwell prayed for Dave in those first few moments of the new year, and promised to keep him on his prayer list. He took the bottle from Dave and stored it in the back of his refrigerator, where it stayed for the next six months.

On June 1 Dave stopped by to report that, with the Lord's help and with the aid of Alcoholics Anonymous, he hadn't had a drink since New Year's Eve. He announced that he was applying for a job at a nearby retirement center, and he asked to list Maxwell as one of his references. Later that evening Maxwell took the bottle out of his refrigerator, and he and Dave took it out to the backyard and poured its contents onto the lawn.

"Pastor, I can honestly say that I no longer like the taste of alcohol," Dave said as the last drop dripped from the bottle. "It's a miracle. Thanks for your prayers; God must listen to you."

Still a Struggle

Early in October Dave celebrated nine months of victory by sharing some ice cream with his boss. So impressed was his boss with Dave's recent job performance that he had made him manager of one of his two retirement facilities. But when the facility was struck by staffing shortages caused by employees going back to school or taking other positions, Dave found himself struggling.

One week, after working 53 hours in less than three days, Dave felt that old thirst return in response to the mounting pressure. He didn't crave the taste of alcohol so much as the release from stress that he imagined it would bring from his work-related problems. However, he willed himself not to succumb.

At that moment the lights went out--literally. In the darkness of his office Dave groped for the telephone and called an electrician. As he waited in the darkness he remembered the acronym HALT that he had learned at a recent meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. HALT stood for hungry, angry, lonely, tired--obstacles that stood between him and his continued sobriety. He realized that to keep away from alcohol, to keep the respect of his employer and his employees, he'd have to depend more fully on his relationship with God. Prayer seemed the only solution to the weariness, frustration, loneliness, and spiritual hunger he felt. He knew his friends were praying for him, and he pleaded with God for help in not disappointing them.

The electrician arrived while Dave was praying. As Dave showed the electrician where repairs were needed, he mumbled to himself, "Will this ever end?"

It'll pass," the electrician replied, startling Dave, who didn't realize he had spoken out loud. "Don't worry," the man smiled. "I've been through plenty of rough times. I know what you're going through. I've been there." He patted Dave on the shoulder.

Dave straightened his shoulders, confident that he didn't need alcohol to help him solve his problems. Still, he prayed.

Help Is on the Way

One afternoon while visiting Lamson Hall, the women's dormitory at Andrews University, Dave mentioned to the dean that he was looking for nurses to work at the retirement facility.

"Why don't you call Amanda?" she suggested. "She's a nurse; if she wants work, she'd be great."

Dave took the number, thanked the dean, and hurried off to join his evening support group at Alcoholics Anonymous. At the meeting he was jolted by the revelation that many of his peers at the sessions had been involved in social drinking off and on for several months.

Their confessions shocked Dave and made him wonder: If they haven't licked their problem, what hope do I have? Why should I try to resist each and every day? Don't I deserve a drink every once in a while for working so hard? He couldn't help thinking of a quiet corner in what used to be his favorite bar.

But Dave's better judgment kicked in, and he resisted the impulse to condemn his buddies. He felt disappointment, but he decided that for him, prayer meant the difference between success and failure. Their failure made his resolve stronger.

Leaving the meeting, he drove home, took Amanda's phone number from his pocket, and dialed her number. A woman's voice answered on the second ring. "Hello, Amanda?" Dave asked politely. "What were you doing before you answered the phone?"

"You won't believe this," she answered, "but I was on my knees praying that someone would call and offer me a job."

"Well, I've got a job opening," said Dave, "and I was praying that you'd fill it."

The next day Amanda met Dave in his office at the retirement center, and he interviewed her for the opening he had. They signed a contract, and she began working immediately. Two days later another nurse approached him about a job, and he hired her as well.

Victory in Christ

The next evening Dave saw the light on in the Maxwell home. He went over to share what God had been doing in his life. "I keep telling myself I can make it through this. I'm not going to crack.

"I can look my boss and my employees in the eye," he said. "They know I can handle tough times without resorting to a crutch such as alcohol.

"Pastor," he said, "I know your prayers helped me, but it's good to know that God listens to my prayers too."

Adventist Review, January 23, 2003. Used by permission of author.
Stanley Maxwell was teaching English at Osh University
in Kyrckzstan when this article was written.

In the whole Satanic force there is not power
to overcome one soul who in simple trust casts himself on Christ.

--Christ's Object Lessons, page 157.

Take to Him [God] everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. THERE IS NO CHAPTER IN OUR EXPERIENCE TOO DARK FOR HIM TO READ; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds."* The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were no other soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son." --Steps to Christ, page 100, Emphasis supplied; *Psalm 147:3.


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