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. 

Identity and Hope in Addiction Recovery

I

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

Director of Recovery Ministries

Grace Fellowship International

Anyone who has struggled with addiction in any form knows the assault of hopelessness waged upon the heart. Shame abounds. Self-esteem gets mired in the muck of compulsion. Hope seems elusive amid the struggle. Both Christians and non-believers struggling with addiction often believe there is something drastically wrong with them. Experience tells us that broken things don’t usually produce good results. God offers a startling solution. He specializes in fixing broken things. God’s answer is vastly more effective than we can imagine.  God offers everyone a new identity and an unassailable hope as a birthright of that new identity. 1 Peter 1:3 (NASB), “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”

What is the new identity God gifts to His children by grace through faith? According to Scripture, you have been given the gift of righteousness. Romans 5:17 (NASB), “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Christ Jesus.” This gifted righteousness is indeed a real gift. It is not just God through Jesus playing make-believe about who you really are. It is God giving you the most substantial gift He could – His life – through His son Jesus.” Romans 5:18 (NASB, explanation added), “So then through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness (Jesus’ death) there resulted justification of life to all men.” Righteousness comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit uniting with the spirit of the believer (1 Corinthians 6:17).

 You might be thinking, “How could I be righteous? I know that I make some sinful choices in life.” If we are honest, we know that we also have, or, have had strong sinful habits. Sometimes we, as children of God, confuse what we do with who we are. God never does! He clearly knows the difference between a son or daughter and a choice!

Sometimes we make sin choices fueled by the deception that we do not have life (2 Peter 1:3). Sin is described by Scripture as missing the mark. What mark are we missing when we sin? The mark of the fullness of God’s life. Sin is an effort to produce something we already have -His life. His life in us has made us right before God. We are right before Him even when we make choices that are not. We are accountable for sin and its consequences.  However, sin does not define who we are in Christ and does not hinder the right to draw upon the resources of His life. 

Shame attempts to tell us that we are broken, at least to some degree. Shame attacks identity by attempting to devalue us by citing dysfunctional choices. Although we sometimes make sinful, dysfunctional choices, we do so only through being deceived. God’s children are not dysfunctional beings. God the Father established through Christ’s blood a clear distinction between what we do and who we are.  Believers are made the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

To walk in freedom, we must accept our gifted identity by faith. It is faith that unlocks the experience of wh we already are as children of God. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Romans 15:13 also states, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy-Spirit.”

Because hope is, Biblically speaking, a function of the believer’s new identity shame must be dealt with by placing faith in whom God says we are. Without exception, this is done in the face of shame’s deceitful attempts to get us to buy into an identity as someone who is “messed up,” broken,” or an “addict.”  The believer’s new identity complete with unassailable hope strikes a fatal blow to addiction. Our birthright hope is the greatest of all hopes – a right to and faith possession of – the infinite grandeur and glory of the life of God. When a child of God realizes his (or her) identity, infinite hope captivates the heart. Lesser loves, which elicit deficit thinking and the compulsive desire to fill what is missing, find no place in the light of His glory.

Any addictive choice is a function of someone setting their desire on something they feel they must obtain. We often place our hope compulsively on a person, place, or thing. The choice to pursue that which we perceive we don’t have always results in hopelessness. This is true even if we realize the objective of our pursuit. We still experience hopelessness because we are too wonderfully made and the heart of man is far too dynamic to be satisfied with lesser things. Blaise Pascal expressed this truth so aptly in his book Pensees, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Addiction thrives on hopelessness. A sense of deficit related to one’s sense of being drives compulsive behavior of any sort. This deficit perception can manifest itself in one’s thought life ranging from severe self-abasement to subtle, yet substantial, deficit agreements such as, “I need to get high, or I need life to be different.” Remove the sense of self-deficit, whether real or imagined, and you remove the primary cause of addiction.  God has eliminated the deficit in His children by granting them His life. What we call brokenness, weakness, failure cannot diminish His life in His children. Sin, because of the work of Christ alone, cannot decrease His life in His children. Sin can only lessen the experience of his life by tempting us to operate in an alternate reality – one that is based on a perceived sense of need. This sinful reality substitute always includes some sense of the absence of His life such as love, acceptance, worth, security, or adequacy. All genuine human needs are descriptive of God’s life. The absence of His life leaves humans with raging, compulsive needs (Hebrews 2:15). Believers possess God’s life. Children of God who choose to place their faith in the fullness of God’s life within do not suffer from compulsion. Needs are met. Therefore, they are no longer needy. Hope replaces hopelessness because hope is set on God.

Believers do not have to internalize sin by allowing it to label us. We don’t have to conclude that our broken choices, weakness, failures, and sins constitute who we are. When we accept our new, blood-bought identity by faith, we remove the sense of deficit and thus the fuel of addiction.

The world, the flesh, and the devil continuously attempt to challenge a believer’s identity and the glory of Christ’s life within. All they can do is offer lie-based deception in an attempt to cover up the truth! Victory, like hope, is a birthright reality that can be experienced at any moment by faith.

Many well-meaning, Christian, recovery programs teach a false path to recovery. A person struggling with addiction is instructed to identify themselves as an “addict.” Such teaching, done in sincerity and for the welfare of the one struggling, is an attempt to foster humility. The hope is that humility produces a realization of the problem and fosters dependence on God as a means of recovery. True humility does not come from self-abasement – even sincere self-abasement. True humility is a function of God-dependence. Humility is letting God be God. He has the right to define you. If you are His child, God already defined you. He gave you the gift of His life and declared your righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Seeing one’s self as an “addict” opens the door to shame. It gives the enemy a point of leverage to deceive believers into thinking that the cross hasn’t fixed them. No! The cross worked! It is our belief system, beginning with identity (resulting only from the cross) and consequently, our choices that need fixing (John 8:31&32, Romans 12:1&2).

Seeing oneself as an addict fosters relating to one’s recovery in an idolatrous way. Individuals set their hope on being clean instead of the life of God. Such a misplaced hope is exceptionally shaky ground! Even if an individual manages to live in sobriety, their heart will not be free. Sobriety will define their experience not the life of God. Daily faith gets placed in whatever helps maintain sobriety instead of God. Abstinence is worshiped, instead of the life of God. Abstinence is terrific and genuinely desirable. However, it is no match for the glory of God.

Idols foster hopelessness. To remove a sense of deficit in our lives, we must voluntarily cooperate with the Holy Spirit and choose to replace our trust in idols with trust in God as the sum and substance of our life.  What is an idol? Anything we are looking to improve the quality of our life instead of God is an idol. Idolatry includes a belief that another person, another thing, or another self-achieved state can enhance the fullness of my life. If Christ is our life and Scripture clearly states that He is (Col. 3:4), then nothing can add to what He already is! Fostering idolatrous choices is a primary strategy that Satan uses to spread hopelessness. Hopelessness affirms a sense of not measuring up – of being less than. This deficit thinking leads to addiction. The deficit thinker is compelled to deal with the perception of emptiness.

God is self-proclaimed through Scripture as the God of Hope! He is willing and able to give Himself to all! A child of God has already received all that He is through His indwelling life. His life has given believers a new identity that includes eternal, unassailable hope. The truth is that all believers, even those experiencing the assault of hopelessness through addiction, have hope and are hope-filled! Only through deception can a believer be mired in despair. No substance – no addiction, no compulsion can touch the one true hope of a child of God – God! Let’s live in His fullness, celebrating His life with explicit faith and let’s lead others out of addiction by the hope of His life.

The Medical Model of Addiction and the Life of Christ in a Believer

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

Director of Recovery Ministries, Grace Fellowship International

Proponents of the medical model of addiction view, broadly speaking, addiction as a disease that has biological, neurological, genetic, and environmental sources of origin. Recently much focus has been given to the neurological components of addiction as foundational to understanding addiction. Science has found that the brain literally rewires itself to produce neurological desire for the object of the addictive behavior. The driving force of the addictive pattern is thus assumed to be the neurologically altered brain.

There are at least two errant assumptions in this view.

The first is that the brain is the foundation of (or the center of) human motivation. This would be a logical conclusion for those who only accept material realities. However, human beings are not simply the composite of their physiological components. Man is body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12). Biblically speaking the foundational part of man is the human spirit. It is the condition of the human spirit with respect to the life of God that is most relevant to human wholeness and healing. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:3-8). Jesus, the consummate Healer, refuses to simply treat symptoms. In order to set the captives free Jesus’ finished work had to include an eternal, comprehensive, spirit fix for those willing to receive it by faith. Christ gives new life (His very life), through the union of the Holy Spirit with our human spirit to the believer the moment faith is exercised in His redemptive work (John 3:36). He changes us from spirit beings completely void of His life to spirit beings possessing of all of His life (Eph. 2:4&5).

I am not implying that every problem is a spiritual one. We live in a mortal body affected by sin and death. There are physiological reasons for some psychological issues. However, science naturally tends to evaluate every psychological dysfunction on the basis of that which is known about the physical realm discounting what are often spiritual roots.

Human motivation is far more than a neurological phenomenon. Human motivation is ultimately determined by one’s faith response to the love of God. In his book Effective Biblical Counseling Dr. Larry Crabb stated that human motivation falls into one of two categories expression motivation or deficit motivation. Dr. Crabb, while not explicitly Exchanged Life in his counseling model, biblically articulates two basic foundations of human motivation – expression motivation and deficit motivation. Expression motivation corresponds to receiving the love and life of God by faith and manifesting that love and life out of Christ’s fullness in the believer. Deficit motivation corresponds to walking in the flesh which is an attempt to meet one’s own needs or produce a sensation of fullness of life. The two are mutually exclusive (Gal. 5:16&17). Addiction, in any form, could be correctly described as a symptom of deficit motivation. In a believer, we know that deficit motivation is fueled by deception. Why? Because believers are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10).

The second assumption is that the neurologically rewired brain represents a diseased state. The fact that the brain rewires itself to support one’s choices is the way God made the brain to work. We are created to track with divine love – to relationally, intimately know the living God. The root problem is not neurological even when the neurological conditioning of the brain supports destructive choices. Neurology, in this case, is simply reinforcing a preexistent choice.

Biblically based, Exchanged Life counseling allows for every neuro-reality that science uncovers. However, a Christ focused counselor would never exalt the power of the brain and its neuro-chemical motivators above that of the Spirit of God in the life of a believer. The power of the life of Christ in a believer is easily able to deal with the suggestive power of a brain wired to support addictive behavior and substance usage. In fact, the brain and the spirit of man as part of a God created triune being are designed to complement each other. Romans 8:28 states unequivocally, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose.” The self-proclaimed purpose of Jesus can be found in Luke 4:18. Jesus came to bring freedom, healing, and true perception. A brain rewired to strongly suggest addictive patterns is not a good thing. But Scripture says that God can use it for good! How could that be? For a believer who understands the dynamic, resurrection power of the indwelling life of God the shouts of a brain wired to complement and suggest addictive choices can serve as a stark reminder to trust in God’s indwelling life. Dependent faith exercised in Christ within (Col. 1:27) is the doorway to experiencing freedom, to healing, and to truth-based perception. Truth-based perception comes from the Spirit of God registering truth in the spirit of man even before that truth registers in the brain (See Romans 8:16). The brain then becomes engaged in the renewing (rewiring) process being led by the Spirit’s witness within the human spirit (Romans 12;2).

Specific memories of addiction, which is at its core are choices made to try to produce life apart from God, may present themselves in opposition to the Spirit of God as they register in the mind and emotions. But, in a Spirit-led believer, the neurology of memory brain function and the new human spirit do not work in opposition to each other. Such an opposing internal state only occurs when a believer chooses to walk in the flesh (Gal. 5:16&17).

Diseased neurological brain function can lead to psychological and emotional impairment. However, addiction is not the result of diseased neurological dysfunction. Some forms of addiction, such as alcoholism, are actually a cause of neurological dysfunction.

As Spirit-led Biblically based counselors and helpers we can avoid the errant, impractical, helping strategies that result when we draw conclusions about human dysfunction and suffering that are not consistent with Scripture. By recognizing the infallible authority of the Bible, we can readily accept scientific truth and also sort out assumptions that sometimes masquerade as science. With God given Biblical perception we can avoid helping strategies that diminish the power of the Life of Christ. Such errant assumptions and misinformed strategies are becoming common. One prominent Christian ministry to men struggling with sexual addiction went so far as to state that the choice to use pornography was a sin when the first choice was made. But, after that first choice it is not a sin because the brain quickly rewires itself to provide the motivation to make like continual choices. This error comes from assuming that the brain is the center of human motivation, exalting the power of neurology above the life of God, and exalting the ability of science to describe reality above that of God’s word.

Jesus, the ultimate healer, uses every reality He created as a catalyst to bring healing by the power of His life. Living by His life is the birthright of every believer! So is God-given perception, freedom and healing. Let us minister healing grace with His love, by His life, with His power!