Is Addiction a Disease?
2 Corinthians 12:7 A thorn was given me in the flesh…
I wrote yesterday of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. As I prepared to move on to the next passage though, I could not get that thorn out of my head. Was Paul’s thorn a disease? Are all of our defects diseases, or is it just the physical ailment which we consider to be a disease?
The first chemical dependency counselor I ever met told me I had a brain disease. It’s just like cancer, he said. Though I wanted to listen, that just did not sound right. A cancer patient does not lie, cheat, steal and hurt others so they may continue in their cancer. A cancer patient does not usually pursue behavior that grows the cancer.
Categorizing my addiction as a disease seemed to inappropriately alleviate me of responsibility. If I have brain cancer, I am at no fault for the cancer or the misery it causes my family. You did not choose to be an addict so you are not responsible for its subsequent symptoms (destructive behaviors). While I would love to be absolved of responsibility, I knew that was just wrong. I found quitting to be difficult, but when I was motivated properly, by loss of career and family, I quit immediately. I made choices. I was not an innocent cancer victim.
Additionally, Christians, even pastors, insisted that the disease model of addiction was the foolishness of a godless world. You do not have a disease. You are a sinner and you need Jesus. Needless to say, I had a hard time then, accepting addiction as a disease.
As it turns out, I do now see addiction as a disease, or at least it is a symptom of a greater disease, called the flesh nature. My previous objections to the disease model were predicated on an inaccurate definition of disease and a misunderstanding of our flesh nature and God. Both well-meaning counselors and pastors contributed to that misunderstanding.
Insisting that addiction is just like cancer, is senseless. To say that one disease is the same as any other disease is ridiculous. The brain cancer of a 5-year-old is not the same as the lung cancer of a life-long smoker. Diabetes is not the same as depression. These are very different diseases, requiring very different treatments. No one would suggest that we treat diabetes with brain surgery or chemotherapy. No one would suggest that the diabetic does not bear a great burden of choosing daily treatment if they want to live. Diseases are not all the same. We should stop saying they are. This does not mean addiction is not a disease, it just means that it is not a disease just like brain cancer.
We all have defects of our flesh and flesh nature that are unique to our genetic and environmental influences. When my wife first took a pain medication, she had a very different response than I did. This was not by choice, it is just my brain. I have a predisposition to drug addiction that she does not have. She in turn, may struggle in ways that are foreign to me.
I am not responsible for my predisposition to a defect. I am of course, the only one responsible for my behavior in response to that defect. Like the diabetic, I can choose to daily treat my disease or I can allow it to kill me. I am responsible for seeking the appropriate treatment for my disease.
There is much more but this is getting long, so it will continue tomorrow.