A WCA-affiliated colleague recently described alcoholism as a sin. Addiction is not a sin. Abusing drugs and alcohol may be classified as sins because the actions are symptoms of spiritual emptiness. I was building up resentment over this and other things that he said when I ran across What If The Apostle Paul Was An Alcoholic on The Addict Pastor. Christ Rollman considers Paul’s proverbial thorn in the flesh was something over which the Apostle had no choice. The post reminded me of how hard it is to get something important across to people who do not want to understand.
Addiction As A Disease
I live with alcohol abuse disorder. If I drink alcohol once, I may get by with just one the first time. It will not work later though. My recovery has not been a straight path. I didn’t detox, go to inpatient and outpatient programs, and never drink again. I only started getting better when I decided I wanted to live. Many colleagues including some other WCA-affiliated ones have encouraged me along the way. I am grateful to all of them.
There is, however, a denial of science involved when we consider addiction a sin. It is no wonder that many of the same colleagues who deny climate science, the biological factors involved in human sexuality, and the reality of COVID-19 dangers consider addiction in the same way. One may argue that addiction comes from bad choices and is sinful. But the same could be said for cardio-vascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The sad truth is it is easier to pick on the addict.
Augustine’s famous remark, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you,” describes the chronic spiritual emptiness of sinners and saints. But the spiritual emptiness of the addict is more acutely felt. This is because addicts are easily ridiculed. Real heroes hold their liquor in every movie, television program, and other forms of escapist entertainment. Foster Brooks was always a funny drunk while in character. But those who live with addicted people know it is not funny.
Condemning addicted people for being awful to others is easy to do. The person should not act that way. Ridiculing that person is easy to do as well. “Watch how drunk we can get Julie. It’s funny as Hell.” What others see is the acute spiritual emptiness in someone else that they deny is chronic in themselves.
We destroy what we do not understand. And we destroy what we do not wish to understand. Adding criminalization as a consequence to addiction only makes the problem worse. Someone may say, “At least, they are not using or drinking in there.” The troubling words in such a claim are “at least.” And it is likely not true.
While I was in addiction treatment, another patient said to me, “If it wasn’t for Obamacare, I could not be here.” I watched as others left treatment because their insurance would not cover it; and they could not afford to stay. I was in treatment with some people who were able to write checks hoping to keep the awful words off their insurance records. Addiction recovery is difficult. The failure rate is exceptionally high.
The stigma may be the reason. I do not write solely about my recovery simply because I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a “recovery pastor.” The number of recovering addicts and alcoholics who become recovery specialists is one way for them to get away from the stigma. A church leader suggested to me I should try getting a counseling job at a rehab. He thought I had qualifications to be an addiction counselor just because I was newly sober.
Does Not Go Away
Church ministries that claim to deliver people from addiction are fraudulent. Addiction does not go away. The human brain is elastic and can recover from addiction. But the familiar pathways are remain. It is easy to relapse. Denying the medical realities of addiction has only made the problem worse. No amount of Bible-thumping or other means of condemnation or coercion will help either.
Recovering people must know the addiction does not go away. Their lives and health will improve by avoiding the drug of choice. But don’t go around rubbing their faces in their failures. They condemned themselves more than someone else ever can. Someone trying to make themselves look better by condemning the alcoholic and addict should look to their own spiritual emptiness. Such people are showing symptoms.