A person who has practiced addictive behaviors for a good portion of his life once told me an insight he had been given. Though it came from a secular source, this observation rings true. He was told that one of the side effects of addiction to drugs and alcohol is immaturity. In fact, the counselor told the class my friend was attending that at the age you began to use intoxicating substances to get drunk or high in an ongoing way is the basic maturity level you currently have. For instance, if someone began to use drugs heavily at age sixteen and was now twenty-four, such areas as his mental, relational, and work maturity levels would roughly still be that of a teenager. You simply stop maturing very much when you do drugs.
This rule of thumb makes sense under closer observation. When someone begins to abuse substances repeatedly, they are often exchanging responsibility for pleasure. Many addicts enter this lifestyle to escape hard circumstances, trials, or truths about themselves they do not want to face. Consequently, the lessons they would have learned in meeting these situations, dealing with them constructively, and growing in maturity through them are lost opportunities. If you ever wonder why a thirty year old drug user makes a really dumb choice even when he is not high, it is not just the effect of the drugs on his reasoning abilities. He simply has never learned any better.
The other sad component of this phenomenon is that the sin of addiction blinds the drunkard or the druggie to his maturity level despite what his counselor may tell him. I do not know how many addicts have tried to assure me they can handle matters or had things under control when that clearly was not the case. If I had put a nickel in the bank for every guy or gal who has told me they were going to become an addictions counselor after a few months of being sober, only to see them fall right back into their addictive behavior, I would have a nicely padded savings account. Indeed, a certain individual or two who have told me this repeatedly as they cycle through periods of sobriety and abuse would have funded it well. So very sadly, several of these people, after years of the church ministering to them, are now dead because of their actions.
As the Christian counselor and author Ed Welch reminds us, one of the chief qualities of being made in the image of God – of being human – is the responsibility to say no to temptation. Adam and Eve, freshly created and placed in a beautiful garden paradise, were assigned many positive tasks to do and then given one responsibility not to do something. They were not to eat from a tree with an interesting name. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Many theologians believe that had Adam and Eve obeyed God, they would have matured, learning more and more just how good God is and how evil then it would be to disobey him. Instead, they listened to the serpent and, by so doing, cast this world not just into the sin of addiction, but into the addiction of sin. They and everyone else who sin give in to addictive behavior of one variety or another and are, in essence, killing their own humanity.
Dr. Welch goes on to tell us in Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave that the hopelessness of the “sickness, recovery, relapse” cycle needs to be replaced with the biblical view of sin, salvation, and sanctification. The addict must face the fact that what and who he worships will control his life. Everyone needs to ask himself, “Will I worship my own desires or will I worship the true God?” If the latter, we must worship the true God by trusting His Son, who died on the cross to crucify addictive behaviors and who was raised to give us power to resist the temptations that would destroy our souls.
If we willingly participate in this daily dying of self and living to righteousness in Christ, facing the hard truths about life and even ourselves head on with the grace that Jesus gives, a remarkable thing occurs. Not only will we mature naturally, growing in the abilities to do such things as support a family, face struggles, or respond properly in social situations. The incredible truth is that our true humanity is restored by the Son of Man, and we become more like Jesus, being transformed from one glory to the next (II Cor. 3:18). Desiring that his Spirit fill you with Christ’s presence, love, and joy is not only better than the passing pleasure of drunkenness or a buzz (Eph. 5:17-18). It is a sign that you are growing up as you were created to do.