Addiction — is it a disease or idolatry? What is the best counseling solution? Mark Shaw, executive director of Vision of Hope, addresses these questions in this provocative article, which first appeared here on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website. It is used with permission.
There is a stark contrast between the underlying messages of the different approaches used by addiction counselors.
For the biblical counselor, there is a message of hope found in the Bible – both in this life and the next. We understand addictive choices to be idolatrous and sinful, requiring the forgiveness and subsequent power of the Holy Spirit to progressively change the attitudes and behaviors of anyone who struggles with addiction.
We think of addiction as a problem of the heart called idolatry and know the gospel addresses this issue with clarity.
There is hope in our message.
With a purpose that compels us to share our hope in Christ with others for the glory of God, biblical counselors serve enslaved addicts in a counseling with an approach similar to the Apostle Paul’s. He describes this approach in Colossians 1:24-29:
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
A Message of Cope Not Hope
Other counselors (many of whom are also Christians) embrace a disease model for addiction that promotes cope not hope. The addict is indoctrinated with a “disease model” that says addictions are “incurable, progressive, and fatal.” Therefore, the alcoholic/addict will never find a cure to his or her disease. It will only worsen throughout an entire lifetime, until the day of death.
Where is the hope in that approach?
Just typing that sentence and re-reading it almost made me depressed myself, except that I don’t believe it to be true! In fact, there is not a shred of factual evidence supporting the theory that addiction is a disease even though it is commonly accepted as absolute truth.
Therefore, those counselors who embrace this theory are operating on a basis of faith, not evidence-based facts, though they might try to tell you otherwise. Both the biblical-counseling approach and the disease-model approach require faith in their respective messages.
A Real Case of Euthanasia
Recently, I learned about a Dutch doctor who euthanized a man who had struggled with his “disease” of addiction for eight years. This man logically came to the conclusion that he would never overcome it. With the message that alcoholism/addiction is a fatal disease and the misery that accompanies it, he came to a hopeless conclusion. Here’s the link to the article in the Catholic Herald: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/11/30/dutch-doctor-performs-euthanasia-on-struggling-alcoholic/
A 41-year-old father of two was given a lethal injection by his doctor in what is considered to be the first documented case of euthanasia for alcoholism. And it makes sense, if you believe in the world’s idea that alcoholism is a disease coupled with a belief that there is no God in Heaven to whom we must give an account.
After a failed marriage, a fight with a fellow alcoholic, and 21 unsuccessful treatment attempts in programs likely promoting a disease-model of alcoholism, Mark Langedijk decided his life was too full of “pain, drink, loneliness and suffering.” He asked his doctor to give him a lethal injection on July 14, 2016. He had no hope; neither did he hear a hope-filled message from the disease model of alcoholism.
He was told he could cope with his incurable, progressive, and fatal disease of alcoholism for the remainder of his life. He chose to end his life as quickly as possible. To him, it was a logical conclusion to the hopelessness he was given by the addiction experts.
I don’t know what to be most sad about – his lack of hope, the lack of hope in the counseling he received, the doctor who decided he was right to be hopeless, the children who no longer have a father, or the fact that I know there is abundant hope for guys like Mark who surrender to Christ. Mark could have heard a different message. He could possibly have experienced the power and hope in Christ to be transformed from his “addiction” by the Holy Spirit and the Word of truth.
A Superior Counseling Method
If you are a biblical counselor or a pastor who genuinely stands upon the Word of God that idolatry/drunkenness is a sin issue of the heart, then do not ever believe you are inferior to those who offer counsel devoid of God’s Word. Though government leaders like the Surgeon General Vivek Murthy or Senator Hillary Clinton proclaim that addiction is a disease, the truth of God’s Word tells you differently.
In your counsel, if you proclaim the gospel of Christ as real hope and God’s Word of truth as practical instruction for patterns of repentance for an addicted person, then your methodology is far superior to what the world has to offer. And your methodology provides hope if and when an addicted person is ready to listen to what the Spirit is saying by believing and obeying the words of Christ.
We live in an urgent time! A lost and dying world needs to hear your message of hope in Jesus Christ before it comes to the logical, though fatally flawed conclusion, that there is no hope – only cope.
While they are right in that there is no hope apart from Christ, they do not know the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God for those who are born again, having trusted in Christ alone for eternal life for the forgiveness of sins like drunkenness. This is the truth that transforms people by His grace and that offers addicts a new purpose, a new power source, a new identity, and a new hope.
Join the Conversation
Has your local body of believers recently decided to reach out to those struggling with “addictions” of all kinds?
If your local church has been involved with those struggling with addictions for a while, how would you encourage those just starting out? What lessons have you learned along the way that might edify other biblical counselors?
If you at one time struggled with an addiction, did you hear the truth in love spoken to you by a local church outreach? We would love to hear your stories.
 https://biblicalcounseling.com/2017/01/addiction-moral-problem-not-disease/ is a blog written on January 24, 2017 by Dr. Heath Lambert.
How do you help then? Your message is the hopeless one. I am a Christian. My addiction is not one that is typically seen as “sinful” so I don’t really have any avenues to get help. I have begged the Lord to take it. What is your message beyond “You’re a horrible sinner and you should just stop.” That is not a message of hope.
Thanks for sharing. Addiction is a sad reality for many folks including Christians like yourself. The solution is a heart transformation available through the gospel. In a few words — and folks who are addicted need someone to come alongside them and not just a few words — to overcome addiction, one must come to love the Lord and forsake their god (the object of the addiction). This is possible because of God’s grace. For people who also have physical dependence (such as in the case of alcohol or drug addiction), it is wise for a medical professional to also provide care.
I hope this helps, Michelle. Feel free to reach out to us at and we’ll help you get in contact with a biblical counselor in your area (or you could Skype with one of our counselors). God bless you.
I don’t think that any counseling that just says “stop doing it” will ever help someone who is truly addicted. I pray that your eyes will be opened to the damage that you are doing.
This article along with those that point out the heresy of Alcoholics Anonymous mostly serve as PREVENTION rather than the restoration of those “given over to a reprobate mind..to do things that are unseemly”. (Romans 1) Indeed “handed over to Satan” (1 Corinthians) sounds final, Satan plays for keeps.
As i read this article, it is straight forward and truth. It does not say just stop. It says put off in steps and put something better in place. There are very definitely principles within God’s word that provide hope and freedom from bondage of addictions. I personally see it happen. Sadly, i also see those who struggle…yet truly don’t want freedom…just feel better from guilt and consequences.