Friday 29 May 2015

Reader's question: How to deal with addictions?

Reader's Question: "You have often wrote so eloquently and insightfully about media addiction and I wonder if you might have any specific advise for coping with or treating addictions of other kinds that are embarrassing to discuss but which are a big problem in the modern world. Specifically I am referring to Pornography addiction and the daily barrage of temptation in the form of posters, adverts, media directed at encouraging sexual thoughts and licentiousness. "

My answer: I don't have any specific advice to give for any specific addiction. Because modern culture makes 'total abstinence' impossible - in the sense that addicted people cannot avoid getting bombarded with external temptations (especially in the example you give: almost the whole weight of modern culture has gone into the promotion of the sexual revolution). 

But most people have several or many addictions, and lack the 'will power' to fight them all, all at once - attack one addiction, and while you back is turned another one gets worse... 

From the ultimate perspective, we are all sinners. Therefore I suppose that the main thing with addiction, as with any sin, is to continue to struggle, to repent, and not to defend or promote the sin - this is the human situation. 

An aware, struggling, failing and repentant addict is in a better spiritual state than one who falsely regards himself as free of addiction.



Thordaddy said...

I believe this matter for Christians poses a tricky dilemma in that those who believe in God-ordained free will cannot subvert "it" with "addiction" whereas the Chrisrian might be forced to acknowledge addiction in others, but still remain reluctant to disposses that individual of his God-ordained free will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Th - I disagree. In no sense at all does addiction subvert a belief in free will; because the freedom of human will (or the reality of human agency) is a metaphysical, framing assumption concerning the human condition, that cannot therefore (in principle) be affected in any way by any empirical evidence.

All Christians must believe in free will (ie that the human soul is *capable* of being an uncaused cause - of originating and creating behavioural outputs that are not wholly consequences of inputs).

Addiction is merely one of multiple situations in which humans are simply too weak/ dependent to live indifferently to their environment.

To put it another way; in addiction our freedom of will *may* be revealed in the simple inner will-act of NOT-WANTING to be an addict - but whether or not we can actually achieve this wish is another matter altogether, which depends on many factors out of human control, and this has nothing to do with our free will.

Another way of thinking about this is that no matter how enslaved, tortured, addicted, suffering or (in contrast) euphoric a person may be - the inner soul can only be overcome by evil by an autonomous act of will (or surrender) from that soul - that accepts that evil, invites evil to dwell within the heart, consequently chooses to reject God's salvation.

After all, people (and animals) can be made-into addicts without any cooperation from them - it can be a physical, chemical process. But the addict might nonetheless be saved, might indeed be a Saint. Only if the addict chooses to defend their addiction, to argue that addiction is good, to define themselves by their addiction - or some such choice - does addiction become evil. But this would apply to any and every sin.

The uncomfortable, indeed viscerally shocking, fact is that Jesus came to save sinners (actual sinners, people while they are still sinners) - including addicts of all kinds. At the price/ with the requirement of repentance - which means the simple desire to be saved.

The situation of the addict is well expressed in the Book of Common Prayer - in words which any Man could say:

Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders; Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults, Restore thou them that are penitent, According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord: And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name.

I would simply add that when we cry 'have mercy upon us miserable offenders' this should be understood not as a request, but rather as a simple expression of confidence and gratitude that God WILL have mercy upon us miserable offenders; indeed already has done so by the promises and atonement of Christ Jesu.

Naturally, any repentant man should and will ask to live 'a godly, righteous, and sober life' but salvation is not contingent upon us actually *achieving* this - or else publicans and tax collectors and the second thief would all have been damned in despite of Christ's work and words.

Curio said...

I wish you gave more here on addiction. Anything from your med school days still ring true? What do you make of the current neurobiological accounts of addiction? (dopamine reward system)

What's your take on 12 step programs? CBT? Mindfulness? Biblical principles for overcoming addiction?

Thordaddy said...

Dr. Charlton...

I think our fundamental disagreement revolves around my concept of God-ordained free will and your concept of just plain free will. I speak of "free will" as an experience that serves as proof of God's gift and you are speaking of "free will" as originating outside of Perfection, i.e., not as God's gift. So in my thinking, the "experience" of free will cannot be subverted by the mechanical application of "addiction." Those who subscribe to addiction MUST DENY the very gift that can submit "it" each and every time.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Curio- I do lecture on the subject of drug dependence and addiction. The main point is that drug dependence is universal for all drugs that affect the brain which are taken in significant doses for more than a few weeks. Addiction is a sub-type of dependence where the drug produces a positive experience and is sought-after with cravings - but the largest problem is non-addictive drug dependence where the drug makes someone feel no different or worse, and there is no craving to take it - but attempting to stop the drug produces severe, perhaps dangerous, withdrawal problems - examples would be SSRI antidepressants and antipsychotics.

As for treatment of dependence/ addiction - wanting to stop is clearly necessary, having something to stop for, knowing that things will get worse before they get better, that it takes months or a few years event to recover from the physical problems of withdrawal... But tens of millions of people have succeeded.

I am impressed with Alcoholics Anonymous from seeing its effect, although I don't know a great deal about it - it operates as a theistic religion, and was devised by a follower of Jung who recognized that it was often vital for an ex-alcoholic to have a transcendental meaning to life to replace the drug, and that the tendency to addiction was often permanent.