Definition of addiction and what does the bible say

There are different descriptions of addiction. Some cannot really be called definitions but more of a list of symptoms as a result of an addiction. First we are introduced to the view from medical science and then we see that the Bible certainly has something to say about addiction.

Definition from the World Health Organization (WHO)

You are addicted if you:

  • used more than you want or intended.
  • want to reduce but can’t.
  • use and recovery (hangover) takes a lot of time.
  • is affected by school/work/hobbies and friends.
  • used even though you know it will cause damage.
  • need more to feel the effect (tolerance).
  • have withdrawal symptoms (becoming ill when cutting back or stopping).

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

There is also a handbook in which all mental illnesses are described. This manual is called the DSM. (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and is the Bible in psychiatry. The DSM distinguishes Dependence and Abuse of a substance. The DSM has developed a Measuring Instrument for establishing a correct diagnosis. This Measuring Instrument is used by doctors worldwide. This Measuring Instrument is a kind of step-by-step plan to determine problematic use or dependence on a substance. According to the DSM, you are dependent on a substance if you have three or more of the following symptoms: see slide. Symptoms

of addiction

  • Use more than you want. Despite the knowledge that the drug causes problems.
  • Feelings of guilt or regret about use, wanting to cut back but not being able to, complaints or concerns from others.
  • Use causes increased blood pressure, confusion, anxiety, sleep disorders, depressed mood, etc.
  • Mental and social dysfunction related to use (conflict in the family)
  • Recovery (hangover) takes more and more time.
  • Tolerance (needing more to feel the effect).
  • Withdrawal symptoms (becoming ill when cutting back or stopping).

Description of symptoms but no vision for underlying cause

So you can see that there are many similarities with the description of the WHO and that of the DSM. If all goes well, you will get an idea of what addiction is and when it is problematic use. But there is a comment to be made, namely that the various descriptions largely only describe the symptoms. Those descriptions do not take into account the underlying causes. In most cases, substance dependence is the result of stress or trauma and not sufficient mental resilience. From birth, an individual determines how his physical and mental health develops. There may be domestic violence, sexual abuse, abandonment, bullying, pressure to perform, loss of a loved one, war violence, etc. The cause of addiction is largely due to emotional or psychological aspects. Secondly, there is the environment that enables the use of addictive substances. Consider the availability of alcohol.

Mental health and burn out
In all cases it concerns mental health. No one can be 100% mentally healthy. Every individual person is exposed to external influences that we have to learn to deal with. That process has an irrevocable effect on the psyche. External influences create high social pressure that not everyone can deal with well. When there was no social pressure, there were fewer burnouts. At the beginning of 2017, Dutch general practitioners and psychiatrists in mental health care noted that more and more young people were suffering from burnout. They noted more than in previous years. We should not hide the cause, but it is certainly due to increased social pressure and performance pressure.

Ban social media

In the first months of 2017, various media reported the growing problem among young people and young adults. The question is whether politicians will do anything about it, but healthcare should probably not wait for that. The question is also what can we do ourselves in the meantime? Simply making more money available to combat the symptoms is not enough. Something needs to be done up front. It may be going too far to say that the use of social media should be prohibited up to a certain age. That will cause a lot of resistance, but it is a very essential preventive measure. Since the increased use of social media and the link with burnouts among young people, there is a greater risk of using narcotics. There is still a lot of work to be done to implement a decisive preventive approach. This approach will certainly meet resistance because social media benefits from young people becoming dependent on it.

Description from the Bible

For people with a psychiatric and medical background, all those descriptions sound very interesting, but what if you are just a layman? What does the Bible actually say about addiction and psychological complaints? The Bible certainly has something to say about it. This can determine the attitude towards current science. Psychiatry uses the DSM as a measuring instrument. As a good alternative, there is the Bible as a reliable measuring instrument.

Basic text

  • The word ‘addiction’ does not appear in the original Hebrew or Greek text of the Bible.
  • The word ‘slave’ appears dozens of times, but not in combination with substance use, such as alcohol.
  • The word ‘addicted’ does occur in the Bible in combination with alcohol consumption.

Titus 1:7
For an overseer must be blameless, as a guardian of God, not self-willed, not given to wrath, not given to wine, not a pusher, not a seeker of filthy lucre;

Titus 2 verse 2
‘Let the old men be sober, in good spirits, prudent, sound in faith, in love, in patience’

Titus 2 verse 3
‘Also the old women, let them be in their dress as becometh saints that they are not slanderers, nor given to much wine, but teachers of what is good.

The Source
For a description of addiction from the Bible we must ‘return’ to the Source, the Greek original text. The Greek original text of Titus 2 verse 2 contains the word ‘Nephalos’. This is translated in the Statenvertaling as ‘being sober’. In Greek it has two meanings: ‘ to be in moderation or to abstain completely from wine ‘ and a second meaning is literally: ‘ to keep a cool head ‘. Now it may be that this meaning was misinterpreted in ancient times because it is taken very literally by alcoholics. What can be concluded from both texts is that men and women should be good examples.

Becoming addicted
In the original text of Titus 2 verse 3, there is the word dedoulōmenas. The Statenvertaling translates it as ‘not to indulge in much wine’. The verb dedoulōmenas should be translated as become addicted. However, the Greek goes one step further, which is not translated in our Dutch translations. But that is very important for our vision and attitude regarding addiction! The Greek dictionary translates it as: a slave is someone who belongs to another’ .
As a slave you submit to something or ‘someone’ above you, with more authority or power than yourself.

Logical consequence?
Finally, the Greek verb in our example emphasizes the result of the action. The concept of slave can of course be interpreted positively or negatively. It’s about the result. After all, there are plenty of examples in the Bible in which being a slave in a normal situation is simply part of the culture. In this case, drinking alcohol or using social media is an action that results in becoming addicted. The verb to become a slave specifically points to the logical consequence of the action. One last example to sharpen the Biblical view of addiction.

Titus 3:3
For we also were once unwise, disobedient, erring, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hateful, and hating one another. Titus 3:3 KJV

Serving lusts and lusts , In the Greek it says ‘Hédoné. Which literally means ‘the desire for pleasure’. This is what Hedonism owes its name to. Today we talk about Modern Hedonism. Hedonism is a doctrine that strives for a lifestyle with the highest pleasure. This is interesting because it makes the desire for pleasure selfish and individualistic. The danger is that social structures and networks collapse. This allows addiction to become increasingly prevalent. So Paul already realized that ‘addiction’ is a ‘spiritual dependence’ that also has a decisive influence on culture! Use of hard drugs and excessive alcohol consumption inevitably leads to problems and a sinful life, in other words, a sinful society!

Handle and mirror
Paul’s letter to Titus can be a handle but also a mirror for church workers, care providers, etc.

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