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Addictions: The Power of Choice
By J.R. Ensey

The apostle Paul made it clear that he had been “apprehended” by the Lord Jesus Christ, and he was not ashamed of the fact (Philippians 3:12; Romans 1:16). He confessed that he had given up all things that he had formerly valued “for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8). Therefore he boldly declared that other than Christ, he would not “be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12 NASB), or “brought under the power of any” (KJV). He was saying that total control of his life had been surrendered to Christ, and that nothing else would have mastery over his life. It is plain that his personal will was involved in that decision: “I will not….”

Dr. Marvin Treece elaborated on this verse in his commentary: “In our vernacular we would say, ‘Does anyone think that I am not big enough to do these things?’ The same words are used again in a later chapter (10:23) but in a different setting. Both places, however, demonstrate for us that it requires a personal decision and choice of who controls whom.”1

We Christians who believe in the power of God have long said that nothing is im-possible—that God can fix whatever is broken in our lives. That statement is altogether true, but begs a qualifier: He does not do it all by Himself, riding roughshod over our own will. However, He provides the best motivation there is for doing the right thing: if we cooperate with Him in the process of activating our faith and obeying the gospel, we will be saved; if we don’t we will be lost! Our will is inherently involved in that process. Often in emphasizing the power of God, we understress the power of choice. When Jesus said, “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” one of the “powers” He was referring to is the power of choice, along with the power to stand and the power to witness.

We can’t walk in the Spirit without the Holy Ghost or bear the fruit of the Spirit in ourselves, but when we are born again we have the choice to either walk in the flesh or in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16,25). It is clear that God expects each of us to exercise our free will. He will not impose Himself upon us and thus make virtual robots of His people.

Is addiction a choice?

If we were to accept and believe everything the media dumps on us in the newspapers and magazines, and supposedly all the junk that flows from the tube, we would think that everyone in the world is addicted to something and is controlled by some external force. If they are addicted, dare we suppose they are addicted to addiction?

Addiction is not necessarily a bad word. It is used once in the Bible of a family in Corinth extolled by the apostle Paul: “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints)” (I Corinthians 16:15). Paul was saying that they had totally dedicated themselves to God’s service without reservation. They had made a conscious choice to do so. We do not normally use the term in that way in our modern vernacular, but what a positive way to commend those who had given themselves to humble service.

We are all familiar with so-called addictions to alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, heroine, or other recreational drugs. But what about…
•psychoactive drugs
•the Internet
•video games
•spending money (the pop psychologist Dr. Phil said of one person: “He was addicted to spending!”2)

…and a dozen other habits and behaviors which have recently been classified as addictive? One wonders if such categories are configured so as to make them more man-ageable, like doctors use “viruses.” It is much more comforting to hear a doctor say, “You have a virus,” than to have him exclaim, “I have no idea what is causing your problem.” Is the word “addicted” being thrown around in the same way? Is that more comforting to the ego than “you have no self-control”?

Dr. Stanton Peele has written a number of books on this subject, one of which is titled “Diseasing of America” in which he documents the steps the mental health industry has taken in the effort to make us believe that misbehavior is a “disease,” or an “addic-tion.”3 He states with authority, “We have elevated addiction to a national icon…it has become our symbol, our excuse!”4 After thousands of years we humans are still into the blame game.

A man in Quebec sued the Canadian government for 700 million dollars claiming the gambling machines they sponsored did not have sufficient warnings on them to let the users know that they were addictive. He is charged with stealing $50,000 to gamble and pay therapy bills but he says he had no power to control himself. “The machines made me sick,” he says. He actually confesses that he thought the machines were supposed to give him money! Duh! He went to the psychotherapist and was told that he couldn’t stop on his own—he was addicted!5 So in order to blame it on another “power”—an entity other than himself—he blamed the government.

Sue Silverman declares she was addicted to sex. She boldly admits that “[I] had to keep doing it over and over [because] it was the only time I felt loved!” In an interview, she described her ordeal: “I went to ten therapists and they all told me that it was an addiction, [that I] had no power to stop on my own.”6 She said she was told that because her father had molested her when she was a young girl, she had developed this “addiction.” Her new book, Love Sick, which was written as a college thesis, tells her sordid story and helped to earn her a degree.7

What would be more disheartening than to know that we were under the power of some foreign force over which we had no control? Many ministers have bought into these addiction concepts because the bookstores are full of books that make the claim, the media constantly pushes it, and it is what people like to hear. Current conventional wisdom is that since “educated” people with degrees are saying these things they must be true. However, that might be one of the best reasons not to assign credibility to the “I can’t help myself” syndrome.

Dr. Jeffrey Schaler has taken issue with this approach in his new book, “Addiction is a Choice.”8 He explains that people simply want to claim that they have no control be-cause they do not want to exercise the willpower to stop certain behaviors. “Addiction is a behavior and all behaviors are choices! It pays to say that you are addicted. It is the best excuse you can offer!”9

Are addictions and habits the same thing? In his book Dr. Schaler points out the difference between an addiction and a habit, although one can be addicted to a habit. By definition, addiction is “a fondness for, or orientation toward, some thing or activity because it has meaning, because it is considered valuable, or even sacred.” He urges his readers to choose their addictions carefully. Addictions we approve of are called “virtues,” and those we do not approve of are called “vices.”10 He stresses that addictions are voluntary rather than involuntary, and that it is the “leading ‘authorities’—usually journalists who know nothing—[who] keep on telling the public that ‘addicts physically cannot stop doing whatever it is that they do.’”11 “Addiction is a myth,” he states, in the sense that it is a course of action that the person literally cannot stop doing.

I have long believed that to be true, and now a few courageous doctors are coming out with new studies which confirm this is the case. However, when a huge, multi-billion dollar industry suddenly blossoms because people want to be told they can’t help them-selves, that they are “helpless victims,” it is difficult to be heard above the din. The al-mighty dollar seems to shout louder than our pulpits and the minority of honest practitioners who have turned the spotlight onto the corrupt industry.

Doctor Stanton Peele, in his book The Truth About Addiction and Recovery, de-scribes an addiction as “a habitual response and a source of gratification or security…a way of coping with internal feelings and external pressures that provides the addict with predictable gratifications.”12 This definition makes it easy to see the vast difference in a voluntary addiction and a disease like cancer or diabetes.

Rosemary Heinen worked for Starbucks Corporation and claims to have been ad-dicted to “impulse buying.” She allegedly embezzled about three million dollars and bought everything imaginable—from more than thirty automobiles to yachts to Rolex watches, along with hundreds of Barbie dolls. Her attic and garage were piled high with unopened, unused purchases. Her therapists said, “She couldn’t help herself!” They maintained that she had absolutely no control over these impulses, so she should not be punished for embezzling the money to accommodate her “illness.” Her lawyers contend that she’s a “sick woman!”13

Medical Model or Psychobabble?

Many reading this will remember a few years ago when Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was caught smoking crack cocaine—filmed by an undercover agent—but said he shouldn’t be convicted because it was an “illness.” He admitted that he was “addicted to alcohol and had a chemical dependency on Valium and Xanax.” He asserted that these were “diseases similar to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes…[therefore] they should treat us medically, not criminally!”14

One has to ask, where will that kind of thinking eventually lead us? The farther we go down that road we will witness even more heinous crimes committed in the name of “disease” or “illness.” Will pedophilia soon be dismissed as an “illness”? This very crime has already been a subject of debate within the American Psychological Association. God only knows where we will be twenty-five years from now! When America gets to where we are going, where will we be?

The man who ran onto the tennis court and stabbed Monica Seles said he should not be punished because he was “lovesick” for Monica’s rival Steffi Graf. Amazingly, the judge set him free with this observation, “He might not be responsible for his actions.”15

Where did this idea come from that these practices and habits were diseases that should fall within the medical model? Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), known as the father of American psychiatry, was the first to pronounce chronic drunkenness a “disease of the brain (mind).” But calling it a disease did not mean it was one! If one believes everything Rush taught, he probably also believes in the tooth fairy. The “father of American psychiatry” also said those who had black skin were stricken with a congenital form of leprosy called “negritude.” As if that were not outlandish enough, the brilliant psychiatrist declared that those who refused to join the revolutionary cause had a disease called “revolutiona.”16 Some of Rush’s ideas lay dormant for more than a century, but when in-surance came along, the psychology industry clamored for behavioral situations to be classified within the “medical model” so they would be reimbursed for treatment of the problem as a medical problem. The rest is history. If alcoholism is called a choice, there is no money involved, but if it is called a “disease,” then the medical model can put money in people’s pockets. The AA picked up the idea and put the real legs under the philosophy. Drunkenness is now categorized as an addiction, and an addiction as a disease. The “recovery” industry is now firmly entrenched alongside of or as a part of the psychology field.

Some players in this field have posited that particular people are genetically prone to alcoholism. This would tend to support the medical model theory. However, there is no persuasive evidence that alcoholism can be genetically inherited. In fact, columnist Marilyn Vos Savant, touted as the woman with the highest IQ in the world, has written in the 10/03 issue of Parade Magazine that it definitely is not linked to one’s genes: “One reason is that alcohol doesn’t exist in nature. Instead, alcohol is a creation of mankind: Our genes don’t know about it. Another reason is that about 80% of alcoholics are male. Yet no one suggests that problem genes are sex-linked, such as male-pattern baldness. So I am concerned that, in an effort to remove the stigma of alcoholism from individuals and to blame their genes instead, we are stigmatizing whole families and ethnic groups. In my opinion, that’s far worse.”

Another reason the disease model for behavior has become popular is because it provides protection for workers under the landmark American With Disabilities Act. The public is being sold the idea that addiction equals disease, and disease equals disability. This allows someone who may be fired or disciplined for drug abuse to file for redress under this Act if they say they are “recovering,” or that they no longer are “addicted.” To claim an addiction as a disability under this law is a slap in the face of those who are truly disabled and legitimately handicapped.

The psychology industry researchers have used everything from rat behavior to the way tiny minnows swim in fish tanks to prove their theories. Other researchers have recently used the same creatures to prove just the opposite.17 So we must be careful what and whom we tend to believe. Just because something is published in the media doesn’t mean that it is the truth.

The role of the will

Some who confess that they are addicted to hard drugs freely say, “Once you are hooked you don’t have a choice! It is a disease like cancer.” Is that really true? Do we really lose our free will or do we just meekly give it up because the professionals say that is what happens?

Dr. Sally Satel has written a book (several, actually, relating to this field) entitled “Is Addiction a Brain Disease?” In an interview she explains that it is not a disease of the brain, but a conscious choice that people make—not a choice to be addicted but to submit to the thing to which they say they are addicted.”18 Dr. Stanton Peele confirms that view and declares that we have “allowed recovery zealots and the treatment industry to convince us we are out of control.”19 The truth is: we are able to control ourselves unless there is a somatic, physical impairment, such as that which might be the result of a brain injury. I have a friend who had just such an accident and is unable to control some bodily functions, constantly making grunting sounds and involuntary motions. Diseases like whooping cough can cause brain malfunction and affect one’s motor skills and overall control. That kind of impairment is totally different from someone who drinks alcohol and claims to want to quit but does not exercise the willpower.

Studies show that rats in cages which were exposed to cocaine were eight times more likely to go back to the cocaine button which dispenses the drug to them than were those rats which were living in more open, sociable environments with other rats. Those in the open environment chose plain water over the liquid with the drug. They evidently didn’t really care for it. So it was more of an environmental situation where they had fewer social options and less space that made them more apt to taste the drug. Friendly interaction with others in a less confining environment reduced the “need” for drugs. If it was an addiction—an “illness”—they could not have made that choice.20

An experiment with monkeys at Wake Forest University put a group of monkeys in a large zoo-like, caged environment for three months to let them establish a hierarchy. Certain “boss” monkeys naturally rose to the top in the hierarchy. The entire group was also given cocaine for a season. When they were subsequently isolated individually, the monkeys who were bossed by their superiors went regularly for the drug dispenser but the bosses did not. Some chose it and others did not, with the choice evidently based on “felt” needs rather than addiction.21

Why do some cling to their negative addictions? People want to get rid of any idea that their problem(s) is caused by themselves. Therefore, they must place the blame on some outside force rather than accepting personal responsibility for their behavior. They don’t want any stigma attached to their “addiction,” but what better thing to stigmatize than the loss of control over one’s own behavior? The attitude of many is that they are “victims” of some thing, or some person, or a particular set of circumstances. The victim motif makes them feel less guilty. They are victims, but only of their own bad choices!

Dr. Edward T. Welch has addressed this issue in his book Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave in this way:

The basic theology for addictions is that the root problem goes deeper than our genetic makeup. Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship. Will we worship ourselves and our own desires or will we worship the true God? We are living in a culture where the theory and language of addictions are presently controlled by secular categories. Words like disease, treatment, and even addiction convey the idea that these problems have their ultimate cause in the body rather than the soul—a commonly accepted view that is at odds with clear biblical teaching.22

Dr. Welch has gone directly to the heart of the matter in bringing it into the arena of worship. People are apt to get angry with God if they think their cravings are genetic, that He made them the way they are, and that they have no control over their perceived needs. Add the perception that they are a pretty good person otherwise and they can come to the conclusion that God owes them. Psychologists and psychiatrists, most of whom feel that religion is a stumblingblock to sound mental health, have given credence to this concept. We cannot overemphasize that theology has everything to do with lifestyle and behavior. If we don’t think biblically we will think carnally and selfishly, and those thoughts will lead us away from God and help. A practical, day-to-day theology and scriptural worldview is essential to mental and spiritual wholeness. That worldview should include the conclusion that if we will exercise our wills and appeal to God’s Spirit for assistance, we can throw off the yoke of patterned wrong behavior (Isaiah 10:27; Philippians 4:13).

“Let the professionals treat your problem!”

The message from the psychology industry is: “You need professional help to stop!” That message is constantly projected in electronic and print media, and the public has finally bought it. It is what keeps the pharmaceutical and psychology industry in business, as well as all the luxurious rehab spas around the country. If aberrant behavior or the practice of a habit can be labeled as a “disease” they can collect insurance money for its treatment. And people feel better about taking the treatments when it is called a disease. But is it true that one needs professional help to stop?

Many soldiers who served in Vietnam became users of cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs because they were cheap in that country. When they returned to America, however, to a home environment and friends who were not doing those drugs, 88% quit within three years on their own (you usually only hear about the problems of the 12%) without professional help. These soldiers were tracked for three years. It was the “change of environment…a mindset” which motivated them to quit.23

People like to have a devil to fight, some spiritual enemy to blame for their struggles. The psychology industry has certainly created a sufficient number of devils and other foes for people to fight. We all should recognize, however, that the biggest battles are waged between our ears—with our own lusts, desires and personal ambitions. As the comic strip character Pogo said long ago: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

It is said that nicotine in tobacco is a very addictive drug. Why do people get in-volved with chewing, dipping or smoking tobacco, knowing that it is nasty and is said to cause cancer? Some say because it is pleasurable, or it provides something to do with your hands, like a ‘ritual’ (thanks to movies). Others say they like the taste, and some just want to do what others are doing (peer pressure). Still others (rebels) may do it because they know it is offensive to others. These and similar reasons are given for the choice to smoke. It doesn’t take away their freedom and chain them hopelessly to a life of smoking. It is the ceremony and the ritual of smoking that is important to most people, so they just put up with the inconvenience, the cost, and the penalties of smoking. Movies and wartime experiences induced millions to take up the nasty habit, but what people are finding out is that they can quit if the right motivation comes along:

•My fiancé won’t marry me unless I quit.
•It was nasty and I became embarrassed.
•It took up my time and cost too much.
•My wife threw away an equal amount of money.

And the best reason: “I want to please God and live righteously, not selfishly and arrogantly in self-imposed bondage to some substance or other!”

We seldom hear about those who quit on their own without professional help, and yet 60% of the smokers since 1964 have quit—as an act of the will—since the Attorney General’s report came out that year.24 A test was conducted among pregnant women who smoked. They were given vouchers that they could use in local stores for food or clothing if they refrained from smoking. They quit for money, which shows that they were not en-slaved as though it were a disease like cancer. (Once you have cancer, you can’t choose to have it or not have it, but that is not the case with “addictions.”)

What about the nicotine patch and similar products? Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that wearing one is no more effective than not wearing one.25 This suggests that the “addiction” is mostly psychosomatic.

The truth is that people can quit! I know that we have emphasized over the years that God can deliver from nicotine or any other habit-forming practice, but certainly the purposing in our hearts to repent of our ungodly “addictions” (choices) is a powerful mo-tivation. This takes nothing away from those who testify to instant, miraculous deliverance. Thank God that for whatever reason—they stopped, even though some experienced what were dubbed “withdrawal symptoms” when they were drying out from drugs.

Sometimes we work with people who claim that they “just can’t quit,” and we try to be patient with them. The truth is, however, they haven’t wanted to bad enough to make an effort to do so. Americans are so caught up with being able to do everything they want to and have everything that they desire, that many people can’t bring themselves to put their bodies and minds under subjection to Christ. In repentance, God doesn’t do all the work for us. He certainly provides the motivation and the inner strength to do whatever we need to do—“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me…He hath given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (Philippians 4:13; II Peter 1:3)—but He allows us to exercise our free will in the matter of “coming out from among them” and severing ourselves from an ungodly lifestyle (II Corinthians 6:17).

Truth versus Myth

Let me shock you with a statement from Dr. Schaler: “There is no such thing as an ad-dicting substance!” He boldly states that we are lying to ourselves when we say that we can’t stop drinking, or smoking, or taking drugs, or gambling, and it has been proved over and over again. Terminology is important. To say, “I won’t” instead of “I can’t” is a different experience. If we call it a “disease” rather than a choice, we can get reimbursed for it. Calling it a “choice” will suggest that one can stop.

I urge those who are reading this to see the rationale behind the “choice” approach. If we say an addiction is a choice, then we can quit, but if we call it a disease, then the rest of society must accommodate us, as though we were physically disabled and handicapped. Society must pay our bills in the form of taxes and higher insurance premiums, overlook our peccadilloes, excuse our habits, and provide moral support and recovery facilities. That is fine for the truly handicapped, but inexcusable for those who choose to drink, take drugs, and behave as if they were robots controlled by evil manipulators.

Dr. Stanton Peele quotes therapists as saying, “We tell people that you can never get over an addiction on your own. You must come to the professionals.” In other words, buy some product or service. “We are selling patches, or selling Betty Ford Clinics, or ABC Spas.” What this does, Peele says, is “deter people from trying to quit on their own.”26 It should be said that some people may require additional support and encour-agement to make the right choices. However, it is obvious that when people are told that they are totally controlled by an outside force, it can contribute to discouragement and depression which, in turn, leads to more job security for psychotherapists.

Dr. Tim LaHaye once made this statement:

One of the biggest misconceptions in the Christian world is that the changed life of the believer is automatic—as though a person who “called upon the name of the Lord” would instantaneously undergo a metamorphosis. When we sincerely call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, He comes into our lives, cleanses us from all sin, and provides us with the potential for change—but only the potential. From then on we must pursue a lifetime of cooperation with the Holy Spirit, who resides within us to fulfill God’s revolutionary blueprint. Have you ever considered the abundant provisions which God has afforded every believer? First we receive salvation and cleansing; then we are indwelt by the Spirit of God, who “abides with us forever.” In addition, God has given us His Word, which can have a powerful effect on our spiritual life if we use it. The Bible is likened to food: It does us no good unless we ingest it. The Christian who regularly takes time to read, hear, study, memorize, and meditate on the Word of God will “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” The Christian who neglects God’s Word will be weak—so weak that his change of behavior will be minimal, and so minimal that many people will wonder whether he ever became a Christian.27

Sue Silverman, the sex addict mentioned earlier, said she went to see eleven therapists with her problem. The first ten told her that she could not stop, that she was addicted and could not help herself. But the eleventh said, “You can stop! You have a choice!” She did, and said she wished that the first therapist she saw had told her that.28

James Frey said that he went into a rehab center to dry out but did not buy into the philosophy that they tried to push on him. “I have my own 12-Step program: the first eleven don’t amount to anything and the twelfth is “Just don’t do it! So I don’t do it!” He exclaimed, “You can’t tell these people that it is not their fault! You can rebuild your life if you really want to!” He evidently has changed his own lifestyle for the better.29

Christian friend, it is time to say, “I can do it! God has given me the power to choose and I exercise it in the name of Jesus, my Lord!” If you are reading this but have not yet been born again, now is the time to declare your faith in God and in His Word. If you want to be free, the truth will set you free (John 8:32). Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and you will be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 5:32). Then you will have the power of the Holy Spirit and a strong inner motivation to help you make the right choices. God is able to keep that which has been committed to Him (II Timothy 1:12). The Bible prophesied that the last days would be marked by “incontinence” (II Timothy 3:3). The Greek term used there is akrates, from kratos (power) with the Alpha prefix rendering it “without power,” thus without power over one’s self, or simply, a lack of self-control.

Calling addictions a choice means that Spirit-filled people have the power to do what we should. We are not helpless victims. We are in control of our own behavior and will give an account for the deeds done in the body (Romans 14:12; II Corinthians 5:10). We are empowered by choice, by free will, by the right motivation, and by the Holy Spirit—the Paraclete, the One called alongside to help in times of need. By exercising that knowledge we are on the road to a better life and better relationships, and—the best part of all—pleasing our Lord!


1. Dr. Marvin Treece, The Literal Word—First Corinthians; Shippingsburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1995; p. 124
2. Quoted on “Help me! I can’t help myself!”; ABC News special program aired 4/21/03; hosted by John Stossel; from the transcript
3. Dr. Stanton Peele, Diseasing of America (San Francisco: Lexington Book, 1995)
4. Quoted on “Help me!…”; Stossel
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Sue William Silverman, Love Sick (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2001)
8. Jeffrey Schaler, Addiction Is A Choice (Chicago: Carus Publishing Company, 2000)
9. Quoted in “Help me!…”; Stossel
10. Schaler, Addiction Is…; xiv
11. Ibid., xv
12. Dr. Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky, The Truth About Addiction and Recovery (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991); 42
13. Quoted in “Help me!…”; Stossel
14. Ibid.; Schaler, Addiction Is…; 3
15. Ibid
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Peele, Diseasing of…; cover
20. Quoted in “Help me!…”; Stossel
21. Ibid.
22. Edward T. Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001); preface
23. “Help me!…”; Stossel
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. Tim LaHaye, I Love You, But Why Are You So Different? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991); 76,77
28. Quoted in “Help me!…”; Stossel
29. Ibid.

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