Addiction, Co-Occurring Disorder, and the Great Physician

Rev. Don Steve M.A.B.C.

Director of Recovery Ministries

Grace Fellowship International

Many theories of addiction and many addiction treatment models recognize that addiction often occurs in conjunction with other disorders. The technical term for this is comorbid disorders. Comorbid disorders occur when two or more disorders are present in an individual, and each one increases the effects of the other. Because one disorder effects the other, treatment approaches are developed comprehensively in hopes of providing more effective treatment.

A comprehensive approach to treatment is suitable. However, a holistic approach must include discerning symptoms from causes. How frustrating it is to misunderstand a problem and end up just treating symptoms. Symptomatic treatment alone can allow degeneration and even destruction in those suffering. If we are to help those struggling with addiction, we must understand the root dysfunction that drives addictive behavior and how symptomatic disorders follow that dysfunction.  Otherwise, we end like a farmer who doesn’t know whether the chicken or the egg comes first. When dealing with egg problems, he will spend too much time focusing on the eggs and ignore the chicken.

When the core cause of addiction is addressed, co-occurring dysfunction can also be dealt with in a way that produces genuine, comprehensive, Spirit-led transformation. God, the ultimate healer, will always, eventually bring comprehensive healing to those willing to receive it. This is true even though healing is often not experienced according to our desired timing or expectations. Because God always eradicates core causes and addresses resulting symptoms, Spirit-led counselors can avoid developing models that miss the root of the problem.  We can avoid creating confusion and setting the hurting up for disappointment by incorrectly addressing a symptom as a cause. Spirit-led counselors know that God heals comprehensively. The Great Physician will heal the wound after dealing with root causes that led to the wounding.

Genuine Biblical counselors know that addiction involves sin. However, the root cause of the bondage to addiction involves more than sin. The Bible informs us of the fundamental aspects of addiction much like a doctor would look at diseased tissue under a microscope to precisely know what the problem is. Hebrews 2:14&15 addresses the cause of bondage with microscopic precision, “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (NASB).” There are two primary Biblical truths evident in this passage that inform understanding of addiction:

  1. Christ became flesh and blood to deliver those who were of flesh and blood from the power of death.
  2. Fear of death subjects one to continual bondage.

We will look at each truth in reverse order of their appearance in the passage. This will allow Scripture to reveal the root cause of bondage and highlight God’s cure. Armed with a Spirit-led understanding of the root cause and primary cure we can naturally follow God through His comprehensive healing process.

Fear of Death Subjects One to Continual Bondage

Death is commonly understood as the end of life or the end of our current life. Biblically speaking, death is not the end of something. Death is the absence of someone. Jesus announced Himself as life in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Death is the absence of God or the absence of who God is – life. The absence, or perceived absence, of God’s life, produces compulsion. Why? Because we are individuals created to be in relationship with all that God is – His life. We are human beings made in God’s image that passionately desire life. Even an individual contemplating suicide passionately desires life. A suicidal person, through deception, is looking to death as a door to escape a perceived deficit in the quality of life they are experiencing. By God’s design every individual hopes for life! Because of Adam’s sin, every human being is born separated from the life of God (Romans 3:23, 5:18&19). Our desire for life can only be satiated in God! Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Without a faith-based realization of God’s life, we compulsively seek fulfillment through lesser sources that tantalize with false promises.

Compulsion in our search for life is universal. Even those who feel that their earthly life is working pretty well apart from God live with compulsive fear lying just under the surface of their experience.

Consider the fact that every human being has specific core needs. Some primary ones are listed below:

  1. Love
  2. Acceptance
  3. Worth or Value
  4. Security
  5. Adequacy

Every person has experienced or is experiencing to some degree, the absence of core needs. When core needs are examined in the light of Biblical truth, we discover that every need is actually a description of God’s life. God is love. God is always acceptable. God is all worth. He is the sum of all value and is entirely secure and adequate as a result of who He is. We are made to find life and fullness through a relationship with God! Fear of death is fear of the absence of God’s life. It is most often experienced in mind and the emotions as fear of being without love, acceptance, worth or value, security, and (or) adequacy.

The person for whom earthly life seems to be working well has garnered some sense of those needs being meet through self-endeavors or relationship with another. Remove the object or relationship that is producing some sensation of those needs being met, and you uncover the compulsion that universally exists. Without explicit faith in Christ as our life, we are like a climber on a cliff who has lost traction desperately hanging on to any small crevice that might stabilize us in our fear of death. 

Fear of death is the root cause of addiction (Hebrews 2:15). Lies in many forms fan the flame of this fear and increase compulsion in addiction. Experiences of rejection amplify and provide experiential reality associated with the fear of the absence of God’s life. The neurochemical complexion of our brain changes during this desperate quest. Sometimes neurochemical change is greatly facilitated by the effect of chemical substances introduced into the bloodstream. However, lies, the rejection that registers as emotional woundedness in our memory, and even chemical induced neurological changes in the brain are not the root cause (or causes) of addiction. According to God’s word, it is fear of death that keeps one subject to bondage!

Christ Became Flesh and Blood to Deliver Those who were of Flesh and Blood from the Power of Death.

Christ, The Great Physician, put to death separation from God through the cross and His redemptive work. Jesus did this by establishing an unbreakable union with His children. 1 Peter 2:24 states, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” There is no way to live outside of being placed in union with the One who is life. God’s life is not a commodity that He doles out by grace through faith. God’s life only exists in Himself. To destroy the fear of death God gave Himself, all of Himself, to those in bondage to fear of death. God united with every individual in their sin and in their death to establish them in union with Himself. Romans 6:8-11, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives He lives to God. Even though consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Christ has set us free through both His death and His life. Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

God’s life is available to all who realize that they are spiritually dead (separated from God’s life by their own sin) and who receive the gift Christ’s life by faith. This gift, made possible by His shed blood, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and seating at the Father’s right-hand, strips death of all it’s power. Those who realize their need for salvation from sin and death and who receive God’s life by faith are freed from the fear of death! We can exclaim by faith, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting (1 Cor. 15:55)?” God’s children have been freed from being unloved, unacceptable, unworthy, insecure, and inadequate. Believers have life in its highest form. 1 John 5:12, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

Believers struggling with addiction can only do so as they are deceived into thinking that death still has power over them. Most commonly, this includes some perception that they are not loved, not accepted, not valued, not secure, and not adequate. These beliefs, through deception, attempt to shortchange what God accomplished for His children on the cross. Hebrews 2:9, “But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” God united with His own in their death. What does this mean? It means that in our worst experience of being unloved we are now divinely loved through union with Him. In our worst fear of being unacceptable, He has granted us divine acceptance by His acceptable life. Believer, you are as acceptable as Jesus Christ! In our worst fear of unworthiness, Christ has bestowed in you all the worth of His life! He has tasted our most intense insecurity by uniting with us in it and granting unassailable security through His life. In our biggest failure – in our most glaring inadequacy His implanted life gives us His adequacy as our own! Death has been mocked by God through Jesus. The compulsion that comes through fear of death is utterly destroyed by the cross.

In Spirit birthed believers addiction can only exist in deception. A child of God who struggles with addiction is not resting by faith in what Christ accomplished on the cross. They believe lies concerning their completeness in Christ. Often these lies are experientially reinforced by historical rejection. Never-the-less, they are lies. The Spirit of God will lead the struggling one to the truth if we are willing to trust that we have been set free from death and the fear of it. 1 John 4:17&18 (Emphasis added), “By this love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is so also are, we in this world (Fully alive, fully loved, with all love, acceptance, worth, value, security, and adequacy). There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. He who fears has not been made perfect in love.” He or she who is born again and experiencing bondage from fear of death operates in a reality that doesn’t exist! Thus, a believer can act as if death still has a sting and consequently find compulsion and addiction operative in their life.

As we journey into a more excellent experience of the deathless life that Christ gives, let’s not be distracted and deceived into struggling with circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that masquerade as death. As we help others live in the freedom that is their birthright, let’s follow the Spirit who reveals the glory of the Master’s finished healing work on the cross. From this foundation symptoms resolve, wounds heal, strongholds are broken, and freedom is experienced because He who became flesh and blood delivered His children from the fear of death.