GreatestObstacles and Issues Surrounding Addictive Behaviors: Why areNegative Triggers and Relapses So Great?
Addictionis a nationwide problem that exerts significant personal, economic,and social burden on the society. The term addictiondelineates excessive, problematic, or repetitive behaviors or habits.In religious terms, addiction is conceptualized as a collapse ofmorality or the loss of willpower. The doctrine of sin paintsaddiction as an extension of man’s rebelliousness. However, inrecent years, there has been a significant shift towards delineatingaddiction as a medical problem. The shift mirrors the scientificunderstanding of addiction as a disease. The paper posits that thetheological, faith-based approach to addiction can coexist with thescientific understanding of addiction. Althoughthe issues and impediments surrounding addiction run wide and deep,addictivebehaviorsshould be view as a disease rather than a disgrace. In light of this,pastoral care for people struggling with addictive behaviors shouldstress self efficacy and affirm that relapse does not connotefailure.
PsychologicalElements of Addictive Behavior
Addictionto substances or behaviors is a common reality all over the world. Aperson is considered addicted to asubstance, practice, routine, or habit if its cessation provokeswithdrawal symptoms.1Whereas addiction has conventionally been viewed as a phenomenon thatis exclusively caused by psychoactive substances, recent research hasconfirmed that people can also be addicted to behaviors, activities,or habits. An addictive behavior, in this case, representsactivities, behaviors, or objects that become a significant focus ofan individual’s life to the extent that its omission hurts theindividual mentally, physically, or socially. Excessive gambling,eating, shopping, Internet use, steroid use, and sex can compulsivelycause dependence that is analogous to the addiction triggered bypsychoactive substances such as cocaine, heroin, or alcohol.
Psychologicaltheories diverge in their explanation of addiction. For some,individuals turn to addiction as a defense mechanism.2Hence, therapies such as psychotherapy are structured to aid peopleconfront uncomfortable feelings and sources of distress in theirlives. Behaviorist models, on the other hand, posit that addictiondevelop as an outcome of learned behavior that become reinforced overtime generating urges and cravings.3Lastly, learning theories posit that addictive behaviors can beunderstood by focusing on the rewards and punishment that accompanysuch behaviors. Hence, addictive behaviors can be unlearned. To thisend, the level to which an alcoholic or smoker feels efficacious toeither quit drinking or smoking is shaped by many factors includingsuccess in previous attempts and experience or knowledge of thesuccess of other addicts in doing so.
Characteristicsof Addictive Behaviors
Scientistshave long explored what makes some behaviors addictive. Researchstudies have highlighted some commonalities between the neurochemicalreactions that addictive behaviors cause and the effects thatpsychoactive drugs have on the CNS. Overall, behavioraladdiction is analogous to drug addiction except in the fact that inthe former, the person is addicted to a behavior or the feeling thataccompanies a relevant action rather than a substance. Generally,addiction to behaviors and substances share three attributes, namely:
Erosion of control: Addicts typically are unable to restrain or tame their urges. The inability to resist the impulse to take addictive substances or engage in addictive behaviors drives people further into addiction. Even when there is a desire to quit, the craving that accompanies indulgence in the behavior or substance drowns the addicts’ willpower.
Compulsive use: Addicts harbor an overpowering impulse to either use addictive substances or participate in the addictive behavior, which explains the repetitive or ritualized patterns of behavior and substance use. A person suffering from an addiction is obsessed with the behavior and repeatedly thinks of the activity, object, or substance.
Continued use even in the face of negative consequences: Although the continued use of addictive substances or engagement in addictive behaviors may generate adverse outcomes such as legal troubles, financial problems, shame, and destruction of family relationships and friendships, addicts struggle or unable to quit the habit.
ThePotency of Negative Triggers and Relapses
Addictionis a habit that is often hard to break, especially because withdrawalproblems are involved. Psychoactive drugs affect how people feel byaltering the normal functioning of the central nervous system (CNS).Psychoactive drugs act by chemically stimulating or limiting theproduction, reception, or release of neurotransmitters in thereward/reinforcement pathway. A substance’s or drug’spsychoactive effects hinge on its chemical actions on certainneurotransmitters for example, a substance that heightens theproduction of a neurotransmitter that conveys feelings of pleasurewill improve the user’s sense of wellbeing. Other drugs work bydelaying the metabolism of neurotransmitters, or changing theneuron’s capacity to store them, therefore creating either ashortage or saturation of neurotransmitters. For example, individualsusing a hard drug such as cocaine initially experience feelings oflethargy and depression. In order to ease these feelings and recoverthe lost artificial high, cocaine users consumer more of the drugleading to dependency as a result, they become trapped in a cycle ofhighs and lows and it is at this stage cocaine use becomes a habit.Depending on the individual and the type of drug, the cycle can leadto the development of a tolerance to the drug, which sets the stageto the emergence of psychological and physical dependence oraddiction.4Since psychoactive substances act on the neurotransmitters in thereward/reinforcement center, they can easily elicit feelings ofpleasure that the brain is wired to crave.
Manypeople fail to recognize why and how people fall into addiction. Somepeople mistakenly think that addicts lack willpower or moralprinciples to resist addiction and that they could quit if they wishto do so. However, in reality, addiction is an intricate disease, andquitting requires more than a strong will or good intentions. Drugsalter the brain in ways that render quitting difficult and relapselikely. Addictivebehaviors, just like addiction to psychoactive substances, aredifficult to break and those who attempt to cease indulgence in theaddictive behaviors are prone to relapse, a challenge that becomesprogressively worse with time.
Recoveryfrom addiction is never a straight line. To begin with, people mayrelapse owing to stress. Although negative emotions form part ofdaily life, addicts regularly cite anger, frustration, loneliness,and anxiety as triggers for relapse.5Hence, the treatment or counseling of addicts should include ways ofmanaging negative feelings. As drug usage or addictive activityincreases, the engagement of diverse brain regions linked toemotional state also increases. The memory of engaging in theaddiction is stored with a pleasant emotional state. Hence, thepleasing memories can yield to repetition of addictive behaviors andhabit forms. This explains why places and people associated with theaddictive behavior may push a person to relapse. Cue anticipation,which delineates environmental cues that can set off or heightencraving, fuels relapse. In light of this, an effective recovery planmust feature a strategy for tackling cues (relapse triggers). Addictsshould strive to avoid places or people that may tempt them torelapse.
TheologicalBasis of Pastoral Care for People Struggling with Addiction
Humanhistory is rife with examples in which disease has beenconceptualized in both spiritual and physical terms.6Although science has played a pivotal role in dispelling the mythicalbeliefs concerning spirits “causing” disorders, people stillallude to spiritual components of disease.7Taking this into account, it is pertinent to explore the theologicalunderstanding of addiction, as well as how spiritual and scientificapproaches converge or diverge. The term spiritual,in this case, represents belief in, or awareness of a supernaturalbeing that transcends the real, discernable, historical world. Allspiritual traditions or religions do not approach addiction the sameway. In the United States, the dominant religious perspective drawsfrom the Judeo-Christian perspective, which contends that a majorityof the behaviors that are characterized as addictions would fallunder the general notion of sin against God.8In contrast, Eastern religions perceive sin more as a contraventionof moral order or deviation from a balanced life.
Oneof the core tenets of Christian thinking that touches on addictioncenters on the concept of a sentient or the morally capable self.Man, as Genesis 6 attests, is prone to evil since given a man’sheart thinks of “evil all the time.”9The phrase evilall the timecan be interpreted as unrestrained, unlimited, perpetual evil, whichimplies that man can be addicted to something, including sin. Sinceman’s wicked actions and thoughts can be addictive, pastoral carefor an addict should take into account the depravity of man and thenecessity for salvation through Jesus Christ.
Pastoralcare for individuals struggling with addictive behaviors should alsobe premised on a deep insight into the revelation of God’s laws.10The concepts of self consciousness and individual consciousness playa central role in explaining addiction. People have a responsibilityover the choices they make or actions they undertake. Recovery fromaddiction can only be obtained if one surrenders to a higher powerand declare his or her own powerlessness.11
Pastoralis at the heart of the prevention and treatment of addictive habitsand behaviors. To begin with, church ministers can help to bringaddicts and their families out of hiding and to embrace help.Although treatment resources are widely available, the bulk ofaddicts are unable to access treatment because of the failure toacknowledge their need for help. Church ministers can convey anenlightened understanding of addiction and the hope for recoverythrough public statements or sermons. In addition, congregation-basededucation programs can help to acquaint people with the early signsof addiction and offer those affected an opportunity to tell theirstories, especially inspiring recovery stories.
Therole of the church also hinges on the pastoral counseling withaddicts. The counseling of alcoholics encompasses the use of basicprinciples of counseling that incorporates relevant informationconcerning addiction, the recovery process, and the use of self-helpgroups. Pastoral care may encompass outreach in the community such byinviting self-help groups to utilize church facilities. Addictioncounseling and education can aid to establish positive socialattitudes and controls. The key to counseling with parents andspouses hinges on the principle of “release,” which relates toeliminating the unhelpful sense of responsibility for keeping orgetting the addict clean, and of their incessant, and oftencounterproductive, attempt to control addiction by exercisingoverprotective behaviors. Other than helping to shore up the addicts’moral inventory, church ministers have a role in facilitatingspiritual growth and healing.12Indeed, pastors can be of unique help to addicts and their familiesin working through spiritual conflicts and enriching the criticalspiritual dimensions of recovery.13
Pastoralcare involves the recognition of the nature of the environment, aswell as the worldview of the addicts. Indeed, any counseling thatfails to take into the environment that triggered or fueled theaddiction is bound to fail. The latter require a solution that issensitive to the addict’s worldview. In some instances, the natureof care may necessitate more than counseling. Therapy withindividuals suffering from addiction should pursue four goals: (a)motivating addicts to accept their need for help (b) obtainingmedical treatment and detoxification (c) empowering addicts tointerrupt the addictive cycle and, (d) helping addicts to rebuildtheir relationships without the addictive behavior or substance.14
Anyaddiction recovery program should be competent to address the variouselements of addiction among clients who seek help. According toChiauzzi, SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is arelevant and highly essential approach to obtaining sobriety andabstinence from chemical dependence and addictive behaviors.15SMART Recovery represents an abstinence-centric program that providesfree self-help to individual seeking recovery from addictivebehavior.16The approach employs modern, credible, efficacious, behavioral,motivational, and cognitive approaches to treat individualsstruggling with addiction. SMART Recovery program stresses four coreareas, namely: motivation building, problem solving, coping withurges, and lifestyle balance. Affiliation with self help groups suchas Alcoholic Anonymous entrenches a radical transformation of theaddict by supplying an overarching world view with which therecovering addict can and ought to reinterpret his or her pastexperience.
Addictionis something that the church and the society at large are living withglobally. Addiction to a drug or behavior can be regarded as achronic disease, which is essentially compulsive, difficult tocontrol, even in the face of damaging consequences. Addictionis not restricted to biochemical substances and may encompassbehaviors and activities such as eating, shopping, video gamesplaying, gambling, and pornography. Religioussystems have conventionally approached addictive behaviors via amoral lens. The scientific world, on the other hand, paints addictionas a disease. Irrespective of which approach one adopts, relapseshould never connote failure. Pastoral care should draw from a clearunderstanding of the reasons for entering into substance abuse oraddictive behaviors. Indeed, various factors explain the onset ofaddiction including early exposure to harmful materials andsubstances and manifestation of traumatic experiences at childhoodsuch as sexual and physical abuse, emotional trauma and abandonment.Most importantly, pastoral care should highlight the unconditionallove of Christ to all people, including addicts, and offer them areassurance of their acceptability irrespective of how “dirty”they feel. In order to build a bridge between the religious andscientific perspectives, it is essential to disengage from theconventional idea of addiction as sin in the judgmental or accusatorysense. Although people struggling with addiction may show what seemsto be acts of will to perpetuate their dependence, it is pertinent torecognize that the will-forming parts of the brain are adverselyaffected by behavior or substance use. Hence, even when individualssuffering the ills of addiction are restored to health, they stillhave anatomical and sometimes neurochemical challenges to overcome.
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1 Seyyed S. Alavi et al., “Behavior addiction versus substance addiction: Correspondence of psychiatric and psychological views,” Intentional Journal of Prevention Medicine 3, no. 4 (April 2012): 290-294.
2 Chaplain Farris and Ruth Robertson, Recovery for the Christian Family: Surviving Alcoholism (Bloomington: Booktango, 2013), 4.
3 Alavi et al., “Behavior addiction versus substance addiction,” 290-294.
4 Dennis Thombs, L. and Cynthia J. Osborn, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors (New York: The Guilford Press, 2013), 33.
5 Farris and Robertson, Recovery for the Christian Family, 6.
6 Harold Ellens, J., Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances: Chemical Paths to Spirituality and to God (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2014), 12.
7 Rodney J. Hunter et al., Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 18.
8 Hunter et al., Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, 19.
9 Wesley Shortridge, F., “Toward a Biblical View of Addiction.” Encounter: Journal for Pentecostal Ministry 13, no. 1 (September 2016): 1-8.
10 Tony Evans, 30 Days to Overcoming Addictive Behavior (Eugene: Harvest House, 2017), 7.
11 Robin Casarjian , Houses of Healing: A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom (Lionheart Foundation, 1995), 41.
12 Casarjian, Houses of Healing, 41.
13 Hunter et al., Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, 1173
14 Srđan Sremac, Addiction and Spiritual Transformation: An Empirical Study on Narratives of Recovering Addict`s Conversion Testimonies in Dutch and Serbian Contexts (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2013), 36.
15 Emil Chiauzzi, Preventing Relapse in the Addictions: A Biopsychosocial Approach (Elmsford: Pergamon Press, 1991), 6.
16 Emil Chiauzzi and Gammon Jennifer, Recovery 2.0: Substance Abuse Treatment in a Technological World (Newton: Inflexxion, 2012), 4.