Everyday addictions, however, are not innocuous problems. Though they are everyday, they bring serious trouble. They are addictions, whether large or small, accepted or treated with contempt. The excuse that “the rest of society is doing it” doesn’t make a behavior less harmful. 

This is serious stuff that affects each of us. It may not be pleasant to talk about, but the truth will set us free.

No Longer Choosing

Addictions are particularly debilitating because they undermine our power to choose. Although we certainly make the decision to take the first drag on a cigarette and perhaps even the second or third, we quickly become hooked.
We choose to pull the first lever of the slot machine, but very quickly those “one-arm bandits” are choosing us. Our choice becomes a compulsion, and we can’t say no.

For years we’ve considered the addict weak willed, as though he belongs to some lower class. Meanwhile, those from the upper class who succumb to an addiction have been whisked away to some posh, private facility for rehab. We still maintain a similar view of addictions. We believe we cannot become addicted if we are spiritual enough, powerful enough, strong enough, or smart enough. With enough willpower, we will be safe.

Wrong. It’s not a matter of willpower. You have willpower to not take the first drink, the first puff on a cigarette, or your first peek at pornography. But once you take that first step, choice quickly begins to disappear.

Because we believe that only the weak become addicted, we naively think we can dabble with substances and other activities without getting hooked. Listen to the words of one man who shared his situation with me recently.

“I couldn’t believe how quickly I got hooked on pornography. One day an image popped up on my computer. No one was home, and I looked at it for a while. Once I viewed it, I was aroused and hit on some links to other sites. I’m not even sure how it happened, but within weeks I was racing home in the middle of the day to spend time on pornographic websites. I’d still be doing it today if my wife hadn’t caught me. I feel humiliated and embarrassed, not to mention the fact that my productivity at work began to decline.”

Not surprisingly, his wife was furious with him. She accused him of being sick, weak willed, and twisted. But he was actually none of the above. He was addicted, that’s all. Not weak willed, not twisted, not sick. Addicted.

Some people will surely accuse me of letting this man off the hook. But I’m not letting him off the hook—he’s clearly on it. He’s hooked all right, by his addiction. Some people will continue to label him, but he and I know he is a good man with morals, values, and strong convictions. He simply gave in to temptation and then, because of his makeup, became addicted.

The Pleasure Principle

Sigmund Freud discovered another important principle that is absolutely apropos to our discussion on addictions. Freud said that we are all inclined to seek immediate gratification through pleasure and to avoid pain. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, talks about avoiding problems:

Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain. We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is nothing new. Solomon wrote about the meaninglessness of pleasures:

And what does pleasure accomplish? I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives…I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun  (Ecclesiastes 2:2-3,10-11).