There’s a long standing debate in Christian Counseling circles as to whether addiction is a sin or a disease. I have addressed this issue in a previous article. What I want to say here is simply, any rescue mission, Salvation Army ARC or other Christian organization working with alcoholics and drug addicts must establish an official philosophy of addiction. This is best done at the level of the board of directors. How we approach addicts from a philosophical and theological perspective will ultimately guide everything we do. Certainly, it will serve as the framework for our counseling approach. But it will also influence whom we hire, the curriculum we develop, and the expectations we have for the people in our programs.
For potential use with your program, and to serve as a framework for developing your philosophy, I offer the Philosophy of Addiction and Recovery I developed for New Creation Center, the residential treatment program I led in Atlantic Mine, Michigan for over ten years. Feel free to use as much of it as you wish.
We accept the American Medical Association’s definition of alcoholism:
Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.
The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.
We recognize alcohol as a powerful and addictive drug. We further believe that alcoholism has a genetic basis in many individuals. In others, it is the result of repeated heavy drinking, even in the absence of a genetic predisposition.
Concerning the spiritual implications of alcoholism; we believe it has its roots in alienation from God and the violation of conscience. We accept the Biblical definition of “drunkenness” as a sin which prohibits those who practice it from entrance into the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21) Romans 7:21)
We believe that God’s power is able to deliver individuals from the compulsion to drink, and to set them free from the emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, and physical consequences of an alcoholic lifestyle.
Although an individual may be delivered from the compulsion to drink (and is no longer a “drunkard” in the spiritual sense), we recognize that he is still an alcoholic in the therapeutic sense. We believe the continued abuse of alcohol results in changes in the emotions, mind, and body that do not disappear upon an alcoholic’s salvation. On a physiological level, he will always be “sensitized” to alcohol. Total abstinence, therefore, is a must; any use of alcohol can “activate” the chemical mechanisms of addiction leading to compulsive drinking and behavior.
We believe this physical aspect of the disease of alcoholism will remain with the recovering alcoholic until he is glorified and receives his new body from the Lord. With the acknowledgement of this fact, the Christian alcoholic will be all the more diligent to abstain from drinking, recognizing the dire consequences of alcohol use. We further believe that, if he never drinks again, this physical aspect of the illness will have no other actual effect on his life and Christian walk.
We believe that professional counseling and therapy is usually necessary to help individuals to overcome the consequences of alcoholism. Also, we recognize that alcoholism is a “family illness,” and believe that all of the members of the alcoholic’s family need to be a part of the recovery process by receiving specialized help themselves. We accept the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as a reliable and orderly approach to recovery from alcoholism. We also believe that are some very specific scriptural principles that must be applied to such an individual to assist him in a victorious and fruitful Christian walk.
Many of the attitudes, temptations, feelings, and patterns of thought resulting from the alcoholic lifestyle are not immediately removed upon an alcoholic’s spiritual rebirth. We believe these things constitute elements of this “sinful nature,” or “flesh,” that he will struggle with as long as he remains in this world. Therefore, through a process of discipleship, he must “transformed by the renewing of his mind” (Romans 12:2) and must learn to “walk in the Spirit that he might not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
See also Theology of Christian Recovery