By Dr. Mark E. Shaw, with assistance from TAC TEAM
“Is Addiction a Disease?” is one of the most commonly asked questions.
In Part 1, Cassie was told that her son has a brain disease that caused him to stay in his addictive lifestyle. At first it made her feel some relief that she was not the cause of her son’s behavior. After all, she could not control what he did no matter what she said or did. She has tried everything! With these new answers from her support group, she is wondering how she should interact with her son in a way that is positive.
Cassie is lying awake at night wondering: What should I do when my addicted son shows up at my house again?
In the previous post (part 1), several practical suggestions on speaking the truth in love to your addicted loved one were given. Insight from God’s Word must lead you as you learn to relate with him or her in wisdom.
Now, let’s look more carefullly at the proposed science behind the idea of addiction as a physical, biological disease process.
I have seen MRI’s of addicted brains: That Proves It’s a Disease
Did you know that many psychological and psychiatric medical personnel are also rejecting this disease theory of addiction? Rejection of the disease model is not just coming from addictions biblical counselors but also from many physicians and psychiatrists actively working within the field of addictions medicine. So what are the facts about it? What objections do many addictions experts have about the brain disease approach to “treating” addiction?
The brain disease model of addiction (BDMA) is a theory that lacks research. It’s just an idea—a worldly physical explanation that seeks to answer the questions everyone is having about addiction while avoiding what God has to say about the issue.
Oh, it sounds very scientific because of the descriptive word choices. The media, government agencies, and even groups like the American Medical Association (AMA) use disease terminology for addiction. Again, the word choice is interesting. Let’s take another look. Analyze one key word in their recent description for BDMA: Brain Disease Model of Addiction.
Normal Physiology: Not Pathology
Notice the key word “model.” Model is the key word that reveals the truth. This is simply a construct, or an idea. It is theory at best because no gold standard, scientific, observable, repeatable research exists to demonstrate any pathological problem with brain functioning.
In fact, tolerance and dependence prove that the brain and body are doing exactly what our bodies have been created to do. Adaptation of the body to toxins, medications, and all kinds of external environmental factors has been observed for centuries. What a wonderfully designed physical body our God has given us! Because of divine design, cells and systems in the human body can assess conditions, and then learn, develop, recreate cells, and adapt to toxins either by eliminating them or returning the systems to homeostasis in another way. Creator God’s design is magnificent.
Listen to what Dr. Lewis has to say:
“To understand addiction, we need to see it as the outcome of a normally functioning brain, not a diseased brain. Still, we must acknowledge that it’s an extreme outcome, and that’s what has to be explained.” ~Dr. Marc Lewis, Ph.D. – The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.
Did you catch it? Dr. Lewis promotes that the brain of one who is addicted has a “normally functioning brain, not a diseased brain.” The BDMA theory, highly promoted by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested financial interest, is the only way insurance companies can be billed for payments to providers of addiction care. Shrouding the outcomes of addiction with scientific language, they want to demonstrate a biological cause for addiction.
Hopeless, Circular, Faulty Reasoning
Their faulty line of thinking is this:
- You are addicted. Your brain is disordered now. It is a biological change, and it is not your fault. Your brain changed when you experimented with a substance. Your ability to make a good choice after that was hindered, and you suffer from a disordered brain circuitry. Now you must choose to treat your brain disease so you can return to normal functioning and make better choices.
What hopeless language. Do you hear the double-speak? It goes something like: You lost your ability to make right choices because of drug use, but now you must take these other drugs that will help you choose to make right choices. This lie is what is offered as an explanation for relapse, too. Brain disease language for addiction confuses the addicted person with an underlying lie that they cannot change, while serving to make them dependent upon a medically based plan of treatment.
Is there evidence of a diseased brain in addiction? Disease implies “not working properly.” In what way is the body not working properly in someone who is addicted to alcohol for example? Brain scans that “light up” when a person is stimulated by substances or the anticipation of that substance do not demonstrate a diseased brain. Those same areas “light up” during any normal life pleasures such as deep friendship and ice cream sundaes.
Observations Do Not Give the Cause of Addiction
Brain causality has not been demonstrated. And the brain is not preventing someone from being well. BDMA is believed by faith—but not the faith of knowing the One True God and the certainty of His Word. Instead, it is faith in oneself when someone chooses to trust his own ideas and constructed explanations for human behavior, rather than God’s wisdom. It is an erroneous path that doesn’t lead to freedom.
But All the Treatment Centers I Have Ever Been to Have Insisted that Addiction is not just “like a disease,” but that it is a disease!
We have yet to find the double-blind, placebo controlled, crossover, longitudinal, human, gold standard research that points to addiction being a disease of brain pathology or brain circuitry. In fact, there are many expert voices in the medical and addictions field who actually disagree with these “treatment” centers.
In his book, The Sober Truth, Dr. Lance Dodes analyzes the addiction research that does exist. He says it is lacking reliability and validity. This Harvard psychiatrist reveals truth about the fallacies in the disease model.
Developmental Model to Explain Choices
Others (like Dr. Stanton Peele) promote a developmental model as a theory for addiction:
“Addiction results… from the motivated repetition of the same thoughts and behaviors until they become habitual.” (p.x) –The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease, Marc Lewis, Ph.D.,
“Medical researchers are correct that the brain changes with addiction. But the way it changes has to do with learning and development—not disease.” (page xi) – The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease, Marc Lewis, Ph.D.
“The first thing [alcoholics] must do is recognize just how clever, persistent, and seductive their minds can be at providing them with justification to drink.”
(p.94) Understanding the Alcoholic’s Mind: The Nature of Craving and How to Control It -Dr. Arnold M. Ludwig, M.D., Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University School of Medicine, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Psychiatry, University of Kentucky Medical School.
Their “New” Answers Still Have the Same Old Recommendations
Still, the majority of the treatment and rehab centers believe addiction is a disease and believe there is no other way to be free from addiction. Their only answer is to blindly accept the disease of addiction language and send people to A.A for support and self-help. To accept this notion, is to accept it by blind faith without critical thinking. Typically, those wanting to believe these theories by blind faith also do not want to believe and promote the One True God and His Word.
God’s answers for addiction and the world’s disease of addiction theories are competing beliefs: they cannot both be right.
So What is the Spiritual Component of Addiction?
We are body and we are spirit. All of us have desired something apart from God’s good intentions. We all try to solve our problems and pain in this life. “All have sinned,” (Rom. 3:23) so the biblical view of why and how people change behaviors of addiction starts with the spiritual needs for redemption and transformation. This spiritual world view of addiction removes stigma and shows us our real problem, and points us to our One spiritual answer which is this:
The same forgiveness that Jesus Christ offers as we trust in Him completely for salvation, is the same forgiveness that we talk about with those who are involved in the sins associated with addiction.
Regardless of the type of addiction, medical help is needed for the bodily manifestations of addiction, withdrawal, and real medical issues surrounding harmful substances taken into the body. But the renewal of the mind by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God must happen or the person will relapse or switch addictions. Furthermore, mind renewal is a part of every Christian’s walk of faith. The Christian message of hope for addiction is that:
“one cannot rely upon self-help, will power, or strength from within oneself, alone. Instead, Christians are totally dependent upon the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to successfully implement this plan for change. A person must be “born again” of the Holy Spirit. Jesus put it this way in John 3:5-8: ‘Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit….’ There is no way around it. You must be “born again” and you cannot save yourself. Only the Lord can save you from your sins and fill you with the Holy Spirit. I do not have a secret formula, magic potion, or special words to say to invoke the Holy Spirit because He is like the “wind” that “blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” You are totally dependent upon God the Father to save you and your addicted loved one… and to fill you with the Holy Spirit.” (~Mark E. Shaw, Divine Intervention: Hope and Help for Families of Addicts. Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing 2007, 2010, pp. 49-50.)
Rejecting the biblical truth that addiction issues are sinful heart issues is an attempt to avoid the reality that God is a divine judge and creator of all human beings. It is to God we must all give an account. Some may evade consequences here and now, but there is no avoiding God in the next life.
The Bible is so Old: There is Nothing Current About Addiction in God’s Word
Faith is what compels everyone on the planet. What a person believes determines what she thinks, talks, and acts upon. What is now called science can be helpful at times if current observations and clusters of behaviors are described accurately. But they are not infallible because each observers has a worldview lens.
Imagine this scenario:
Three individuals from three different countries witness an event (such as a car crash) caught on camera in real time. Each will re-tell what they saw from a different perspective and may even come to different conclusions about the cause of the event (which side of the road the car was driving, which laws were being broken) even though they all saw the same event because they are from three different cultures and countries with different systems in place. Their view of the way the world works matters.
Likewise in addiction, your view of the world matters. Starting with God’s view of the world is the wise place to begin to analyze our own heart and behaviors. As you begin seeking Him, trusting Him, obeying Him and His Word, you will find Him faithful to give deep insight into the heart matters of addiction even though the word addiction itself is not in there. Look for associated words and sins that are found in the bible such as drunkenness, drunkard, idolatry, selfish ambition, sexual immorality, strong drink, wine, foolishness, glutton, stubborn, and rebellious.
God Describes the Human Heart Accurately
In the professional, secular field of addiction medicine, science is severely lacking (read Dr. Dodes’ book, The Sober Truth, for clarity!) but God’s Word is not lacking anything good. God has described the human heart accurately, and He offers the one way to please Him and change behavior for His glory and our good. The Scriptures are God’s infallible wisdom and instruction to us.
We can apply God’s truth to addictions as a heart issue! And when you do, expect God to work in the heart by His Spirit to bring transformation that glorifies Him and sets souls free.
NOTE: Thank you to Dr. Jim Berg for his extensive research on the dissenting secular voices on addiction as a brain disease. You can watch his full video entitled “Unmasking Addiction” at
 Cassie is a completely fictional character illustration.
Read Part 1 of this blog series
Mark E. Shaw, D.Min., CABC, ACBC, IABC, CADAC II, is a biblical counselor, ordained minister, speaker, and author of over 26 books and booklets of hope and help. Dr. Shaw has been involved in counseling since the early 90’s. He served in residential care and medication assisted treatment centers (methadone), but Biblical Counseling became his passion in 2001. Dr. Shaw’s resources (including Fentanyl– the first release in The Transformation series) are found at Focus Publishing for discounted purchase in bulk quantities, or at amazon.com/author/markeshaw
The Addiction Connection is Here for You!
The Addiction Connection is a network of ministries who offer hope in Jesus for those struggling with addiction of any kind. Our network of encouraging resources, ministries, and biblical programs that stretch across America and the world will always point people to truth in Jesus Christ for answers.
- Need a Biblical Residential Program? Here are some we recommend.
- Need a Biblical Non-Residential Program? Here are the ones we’d recommend.
- Here is a list of people we have trained in biblical addiction counseling through our Commissioning Program who you can reach out to for hope and help.
- Looking for biblical addiction counseling training? Find out about our Commissioning Program HERE.
- Are you a leader who wants to help those who are addicted? Check out this disciple-making curriculum we created just for you entitled Next Steps: Be TRANSFORMED.
- Want to reach out to families of those struggling with addiction? Family Help for Addiction: A Care Group Study can be used by your church or ministry.
- Looking for addiction resources, courses, curriculum? Find out more HERE.
- Are you more of a podcast-listener-while-you-get-things-done? The Addiction Connection Podcast is just for you! Watch on YouTube @TACPOD!