Addiction through an LDS lens

This is an article I posted Mormon Mommy blogs several years ago now, but not sure I ever posted it here:

Addiction can be a difficult topic to understand.

Most of what the scientific community has uncovered about addiction can seem to go against LDS beliefs regarding “free agency.” However, it is true that addictive behavior robs an addict from the ability to engage in agency – making the topic of “willpower” controversial.

Current research shows the chemistry occurring inside the “addicted” brain differs dramatically from that of a “normal” brain. The addicted brain is diseased and therefore, not able to function in the same capacity or capability of one that is not. If this pivotal point goes misunderstood, it can cause unrealistic expectations regarding personal accountability, treatment, and sobriety that affect both addicts and the loved ones who are affected by an addict’s behavior. Unrealistic expectations are detrimental since they are followed by other feelings and emotions that further complicate and delay health (i.e. shame, depression, inappropriate guilt, anger, betrayal, decreased trust, decreased intimacy, doubt, confusion, self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, etc.).

Information that is important for all affected by addiction to know includes the following:

  • “Bad” behavior does not always translate into what would be deemed an “addiction.” Just because a person looks at pornography once in a while, has a drink every now and then, plays a few midnight games on the computer or goes on a spending spree, does not mean this person is “addicted.” This is not to minimize unhealthy behavior which can cause legitimate issues within meaningful relationships. However, for a behavior to be considered an addiction there are certain diagnostic criteria that need to be met. A primary care physician and/or mental health provider can be helpful resources in providing proper diagnosis. Getting a correct diagnosis is important so that the corresponding treatment is also correct, applicable and useful.
  • Relapse is more than likely going to be part of the recovery process. Quitting an addiction “cold turkey” is not the experience most people have who successfully achieve sobriety. Having expectations that this is a realistic approach sets up individuals and their loved ones for failure. Progress is a process – a process that includes many small victories and losses. None of us experience perfection attempting change – much less so when there is a chronic disease such as addiction in force.
  • Honesty with others and self, coupled with accountability are vital to the process towards recovery. People who are successful in achieving sobriety from an addiction are usually involved in some type of group therapy (i.e. AANAthe church’s addiction recovery program or some other more formal inpatient/outpatient clinical setting). There are many groups and treatment centers available that address almost any type of addiction depending on the community you live in.

Addiction is usually referred to as a “family disease” because its harming influence reaches much farther than the individual level. The following is addressed to those who find themselves in a relationship with an addict – either spouse, child, parent, etc.

  • Addictive behavior should not be taken as a personal attack. This is understandably difficult since the behavior of an addict can cause such devastating effects on the lives and relationships of their loved ones. However, addictive behavior has little to do with the people surrounding the addict. The reasons that explain why addiction is present are complex and include a variety of facets of an individual’s make-up: temperament, personality, environment, genetics, family patterns, developmental delays, response to pain, coping mechanisms, problem-solving skills, etc. Therefore, the following sentiments – How can you do this to me? If you loved me you would stop.- are usually not useful in achieving a healthier family dynamic. It is important to remember that addictive behavior has nothing to do with the “love” an addict has for his family and the addict is usually not equipped with the necessary skills and tools to stop addictive behavior on their own. Seeing addiction through the “disease model” can be useful in stopping negative beliefs seeped in inappropriate blame and shame that are detrimental to all involved.
  • Co-dependency and enabling are common issues among the loved ones of addicts. You cannot do the recovery work FOR your loved one. You can only work on yourself and your responses to the addiction. This is why many spouses and family members find it useful to be part of a group therapy process.Al-Anon is a good example of such a group. Marital and individual therapy are useful tools as well, along with family therapy that includes any children involved in the family dilemma. These are resources which can help immensely with setting appropriate boundaries, expectations, communication styles and coping skills that see a family through to the recovery stage.
  • Since honesty and accountability are such important factors to an addict’s recovery process, how does one foster a safe environment where this is possible within the bounds of appropriate boundaries? This is an important question for loved ones to explore. The way we choose to respond and communicate about the addiction will affect the process. This does not mean that we cannot express emotion, grief, disappointment, and even feelings of anger. However, expressing these feelings in a direct, respectful and loving manner can be much more productive than falling into negative patterns such as screaming, ranting, threatening, blaming, guilting, and carrying on.
  • Self-care through an addict’s recovery process is vital. Otherwise anger, resentment and bitterness can take over and make reparation of relationships much more difficult in the long run.
  • Well-meaning friends and family will not always be great advice givers when it comes to dealing with issues of addiction. Because of the many myths, opinions and misperceptions surrounding addiction (i.e. tough-love, agency, willpower, etc.) it can be horribly confusing for those making decisions related to divorce, separation, kicking a child out of the home, legalities, etc. Getting information from objective and research-based sources should be a priority for all involved.

It is important for both addicts and their loved ones to know that recovery is possible! It is important to remember the concepts surrounding the atonement – how do these apply to the addict and to the loved one? Repentance and recovery are often a messy process – and yet the atonement offers its cleansing power as a constant in our lives. It is important to remember the doctrines based on self-worth, divinity and heritage afforded to all of God’s children – regardless of the struggles we face. Hope, love, and faith coupled with an educated stance on addiction, treatment and the recovery process are a family’s best bet towards success. I speak to the issue of addiction often on my blog - mormontherapist.blogspot.com- and welcome any further questions as well as any comments from those who want to share experiences related to this topic.

Helpful Resources:

The Disease Concept by the National Institute of Chemical Dependency

Addiction and the Brain’s Pleasure Pathway: Beyond Willpower by Nora D Volkow, MD

Change through Recovery from Addictions by James E Faust

“Another kind of change I wish to address is recovery from enslaving habits. They include disorders associated with alcohol, drugs, tobacco, eating, gambling, unworthy sexual behavior, and viewing pornography. I quote from a recently published book on debilitating addictions: “Substance abuse is a leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. The misuse of drugs ruins families, costs billions in lost productivity, strains the healthcare system, and ends lives.”4 It is a curse on society.

There are many kinds of addictions, and it is difficult for someone who has one of these serious addictions to change because some of them are mind-altering. A recent article on addiction said, “In the brains of addicts, there is reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, where rational thought can override impulse behavior.”5 Some addictions can control us to the point where they take away our God-given agency. One of Satan’s great tools is to find ways to control us. Consequently, we should abstain from anything that would keep us from fulfilling the Lord’s purposes for us, whereby the blessings of eternity may hang in jeopardy. We are in this life for the spirit to gain control over the body rather than the other way around.
Any kind of addiction inflicts a terrible price in pain and suffering, and it can even affect us spiritually. However, there is hope because most addictions can over time be overcome. We can change, but it will be difficult.

We begin by making a decision to change. It takes courage and humility to admit that we need help, but few, if any of us, can do it on our own. The Church has an addiction recovery program that has been adapted from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into a framework of the doctrines and beliefs of the Church. These 12 steps are found in A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing, which is available to priesthood leaders and other members.

A complete change in lifestyle may be necessary. We must desire with all our hearts, minds, and strength to overcome these harmful addictions. We must be prepared to renounce totally and absolutely our participation in any of these addictive substances or practices.”

Alcoholism and Its Effect on the Family by Tetyana Parsons

Alcoholism is also known as a family disease. Alcoholics may have young, teenage, or grown-up children; they have wives or husbands; they have brothers or sisters; they have parents or other relatives. An alcoholic can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime. According to U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, seventy six million American adults have been exposed to alcoholism in the family. Alcoholism is responsible for more family problems than any other single cause. According to Silverstein (1990), one of every four families has problems with alcohol.


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