Addictions… Disease or Choice?

Macleans magazine (June 1, 2009) recently hosted a Q & A with Harvard psychologist, Gene Heyman, on why drug addiction is not a disease, but a matter of personal choice. This Q & A follows Dr. Heyman’s release of his current book, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice (Harvard University Press, 2009). At one point he writes,

At the heart of the notion of behavioural disease is the idea of compulsivity, by which people men it’s beyond the influence of reward, punishment, expectation, cultural values, personal values. Alan Leshner (the former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse) says drug use starts off as voluntary and becomes involuntary. But the epidemiological evidence suggests otherwise. When you read the biographical information, you see individual drug addicts (who’ve quit) saying, “Well, it was a question of getting high on cocaine or putting food on the table for my kinds.” Or, “My life was getting out of control.” Or, in the case of William S. Burroughs, “The cheques from my parent stopped coming” (p. 19).

He goes on to answer other questions as to the viability of recovery programs that treat addiction as a disease, government involvment in treatment, free needle sites, etc. He advocates punishment against illicit drug use (as a deterrent and punishment) and other interesting conclusions for a secular psychologist. I found the Q & A very interesting and would seek out the book with interest. Another interesting answer is to a question involving choice in addictive behaviour. Heyman answers,

My analysis is based on the fact that there are always two “best” ways to make choices. We can take into consideration the value it has at the moment–the immediate rewards. Or we can consider this kind of circle of expanding consequences that each of our choices has. Your pattern of choices can be much different depending on whether you take into consideration this broader circle. A workaholic, for example, starts out taking into account only the immediate demands of working, dropping every other consideration. But he ends up, according to himself and everybody around him, working too much. The model just tries to formalize that idea, and it’s really just common sense.

So when people are choosing the drug, they’re thinking that moment, or that particular day, would be better if they did. A chronic smoker will think that the next tree minutes would be better with a cigarette than without. But after year of smoking 20 cigarettes per day, adding up to 60 minutes each day, you might think, “I’d rather have the 60 minutes of not smoking each day.” Unfortunately, you don’t choose 60 minutes at a time. You decide one cigarette–or three minutes–at a time, and that’s what makes this so difficult (p. 20).

While Heyman is right that addiction is a choice and not a disease he is mistaken as to the reason one ultimately chooses addiction. He chooses addiction because of sin and a desire to fulfill his sinful desires with that which is not Jesus Christ. So the problem is a failure to adaquately worship Jesus Christ and the solution is Jesus Christ. Obviously, this is a broad generalization and there are many steps in between, but this is the problem and the solution.

On this note, I would check out the best book on this subject from a biblical perspective, Edward Welch’s, Addictions–A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. From the book description:

A worship disorder – will we worship ourselves and our own desires, or will we worship the true God? Scripture reveals addicts’ true condition: like guests at a banquet thrown by ‘the woman Folly,’ they are already in the grave. (Proverbs 9:13-18) Can we not escape our addictions? Following Jesus, we have ‘immense hope that God can give power so that we are no longer mastered by the addiction.’

2 Responses to Addictions… Disease or Choice?

  1. charles says:

    Read the article concerning the transformation of John Macarthur’s church at the link following this excerpt:
    Of interest, Grace Community Church elder and executive director of Grace to You, Phil Johnson, is a Baptistic Calvinist. This statement appears on his website: “Theologically, Phil is a committed Calvinist—with a decidedly Baptistic bent.” (Who is Phillip R. Johnson?) Even more interesting is this statement: “He…is a member of the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals (FIRE).” The slogan of FIRE is “In essentials Unity, In non-essentials Liberty, in all things Charity.” (FIRE) Why is this interesting? FIRE’s slogan is nearly identical to the slogan of Phoenix Freemasonry! “It is the glory of Masonry to teach Unity in essentials, Liberty in details, Charity in all things; and by this sign its spirit must at last prevail.”

  2. allenmickle says:

    This is the biggest bunch of hooey I’ve ever read. And Phil Johnson a Freemason? Ridiculous… Al Mohler for the “New World Order”… a joke.

    Just because Phoenix Freemasonry stole a noted phrase originating as a 17th century German Lutheran/Reformed statement doesn’t mean that Phil Johnson is a heretic.

    This is as ridiculous as the “Rapture Plot” and all that.

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