The Greatest Addiction of All

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"I can't get in trouble. I'm a celebrity," boasted Lindsay Lohan on the night she was arrested for driving under the influence with a suspended license and carrying cocaine (Los Angeles Daily News, Aug. 5, 2007, p. 1).

The newspaper article cited here is a sad commentary on the imperious actions of some famous personalities who sometimes do what they want simply because they can.

Interestingly, the article's headline asks, "Have We Lost Our Way?" It assumes that we once knew the right way to live and have merely strayed from it. But it assumes wrong. Drugs and alcohol impair good judgment. Yet a greater addiction, more widespread than any other, distorts true values—and most don't realize that they have it.

Research into addiction

In the introduction to their book Addiction (2007), John Hoffman and Susan Froemke write of their first encounter with various addictions and attitudes toward them. As laypersons, they were researching and preparing to produce a series on addictions for a major cable TV channel. "Neither of us had an in-depth knowledge of the subject," they say (p. 14).

"Addiction, as it turns out, is a problem that is messy—riddled with misconceptions, profoundly lacking in nationally recognized treatment standards, and highly stigmatized. Conversely, we also came to realize that although the science of addiction is relatively new, tremendous shifts in attitudes are occurring," they write.

The authors note that addiction is a chronic (ongoing) brain disease. "A vivid contributor to this change in attitude is the fact that science now gives us the ability to see inside the brains of addicted people. We can see that the addicted brain is different; that it is altered. With brain research has come great advances in the medical treatment of addiction and the promise of even more effective treatments on the horizon."

Hoffman and Froemke attended the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in New York City in 2004, which included a comprehensive seminar on addiction. They learned how medications can help control the cravings of alcoholic addiction.

"But the turning point in our education occurred at the standing-room-only lecture of Nora Volkow, MD, on 'The Addicted Brain.' We learned how drugs erode the voluntary acts of an individual. Volkow's vivid explanation of how the brain's ancient reward pathways are hijacked due to the spikes of the brain chemical dopamine through repeated drug use was eye-opening" (p. 15).

The "Go!" system

In chapter 2 of Hoffman and Froemke's book they address how addiction is a brain disease. One fact is clear: "Drugs and alcohol change the brain—they change its structure and how it works" (p. 55).

The authors show how the brain works emotionally and logically through the dopamine pleasure pathway, the go system, and the prefrontal cortex, the stop system, respectively.

Under the subheading, "'Go!': The Dopamine Pleasure Pathway," they write: "Research has shown that all drugs of abuse directly or indirectly activate the brain's pleasure pathway, the intricate network that controls and regulates our ability to feel pleasure.

"When we experience something good—lovemaking, a good meal, a beautiful sunset—our brain experiences a surge in the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine. We feel warm, calm, and happy. After awhile, dopamine returns to a baseline level, and we go about our lives, looking forward to the next pleasurable experience.

"We look forward to the next time because the experience is logged into the brain's limbic system, which, in addition to being the center for pleasure and emotion, houses key memory and motivation circuits. This is what the brain's dopamine pathway does; it records both the actual experience of pleasure and ensures that the behaviors that led to it are remembered and repeated. In between pleasurable events, there is a quiet period when the neurotransmitters return to their baseline levels" (pp. 58-59).

The "Stop!" system

Hoffman and Froemke then address the "Stop" system. Under the subheading "'Stop!': The Brain's Brakes," they write: "In addition to the 'Go!' system, the brain also has a built-in 'Stop!' system: the prefrontal cortex sometimes referred to as the seat of sober second thought.

"With this system, we pull all the information together, weigh it, examine the risks and consequences, and strategize the next move. Is this a good idea? Is this illegal or immoral, or will it make me sick? Will I be able to drive safely, will I be too hung over to get to my job in the morning?

"'When things are working right, the "Go!" circuitry and the "Stop!" circuitry really are interconnected and are talking to each other to help you weigh the consequences of a decision and decide when to go or not to go,' says Childress [Anna Rose Childress, a research associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine]. 'It's not that they're separable. They're interactive. They're interlinked at all times.'

"With addicts, however, 'it is as though [the systems] have become functionally disconnected. It is as though the "Go!" system is sort of running off on its own, is a rogue system now and is not interacting in a regular, seamless, integrated way with the "Stop!" system,' Childress says.

"Drugs of abuse directly activate the pleasure pathway, but recent research shows that addiction also involves the same pathways that manage memory and learning; that is, the addictive process moves in, undoes or weakens what the brain knew before, and then teaches it something else entirely" (pp. 60-62).

It certainly appears that there's more to common addictions than we once assumed and that the discoveries of how thinking pathways can be altered might also correlate with the greatest addiction of all.

The Bible on the greatest addiction

Human willpower is weak of itself, but it's made much weaker because of human nature. God says that even at our best we human beings are "altogether vanity"—empty (without fulfillment) or transitory (Psalms 39:5 Psalms 39:5Behold, you have made my days as an handbreadth; and my age is as nothing before you: truly every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
American King James Version×
, King James Version).

Human nature is simply our tendency to do what comes naturally, what we think is best. In practice this usually means "looking out for number one," following the path of least resistance and doing whatever feels good.

What most people don't know is that this can be the greatest addiction of all, as well as the most dangerous. It is most dangerous because at the end of human life, with an unchanged, unrepentant attitude toward human nature, there is nothing left but death (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×
; Hebrews 6:4-8 Hebrews 6:4-8 [4] For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, [5] And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, [6] If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. [7] For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes oft on it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God: [8] But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is near to cursing; whose end is to be burned.
American King James Version×
).

Human nature is at the root of humanity's problems—from jealousy, to lying, to deception, to hatred, to violence, to seeking power over others and to war, just to name a few of our ignoble traits. Human nature, being selfish and self-serving, often blindly repeats itself in evil acts that are harmful to self and others.

Notice how your Bible describes human nature: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9 Jeremiah 17:9The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
American King James Version×
, New International Version). God uses the term heart for the motivation, attitude, logic and emotion of the human mind. And as He says here, the heart is incurable of itself; it cannot be cured or set right of itself.

God knew the limitations of human beings. He lamented in Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×
, "Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" They didn't have the right heart, and neither do we without His help.

The apostle James, half-brother of Jesus Christ, elaborated on the motivations of the human heart and the results: "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:1-5 James 4:1-5 [1] From where come wars and fights among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? [2] You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. [3] You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your lusts. [4] You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. [5] Do you think that the scripture said in vain, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy?
American King James Version×
).

War comes from human nature, not God's nature. The Bible tells us that Cain was the first human murderer; he killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8 Genesis 4:8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
American King James Version×
). Since then, human beings have been killing one another by the thousands and millions.

Like other common addictions, the selfish way of human beings that is a part of our nature is highly and dangerously addictive.

How does human nature work in us?

Human nature, because it is highly motivated to please the self, often leads us to sin. Human nature first surfaced in Adam and Eve, both of whom sinned in the Garden of Eden—Eve through Satan's deception and Adam without deception (Genesis 3:6 Genesis 3:6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her; and he did eat.
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; 2 Corinthians 11:3 2 Corinthians 11:3But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
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; 1 Timothy 2:14 1 Timothy 2:14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
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).

Human beings have been sinning ever since. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12 Romans 5:12Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned:
American King James Version×
). The impulses and drives of our human nature are a powerful, underlying and pervasive force. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×
).

Sin can become an addictive, destructive force. Paul told Christians of their former way of life: "Because of your human weakness, I am speaking as a man: You once gave the members of your body to be slaves to moral impurity, and to more and more sin . . ." (Romans 6:19 Romans 6:19I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity to iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness to holiness.
American King James Version×
; Simple English Translation).

Those who function by way of their human nature alone cannot understand or obey God. Often deceived by their own nature and by sin, they ignorantly assume there is no other way to act.

As Paul explains: "For those whose lives are according to the flesh [human nature] think about the things of the flesh, but those whose lives are according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God's law, for it is unable to do so" (Romans 8:5-7 Romans 8:5-7 [5] For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. [6] For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. [7] Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
American King James Version×
, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Influences on human nature

The biggest influence on human nature comes from Satan, the great enemy of God and all of humanity. He is "the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 2:2 Ephesians 2:2Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience:
American King James Version×
, NIV), the one who presents himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14 2 Corinthians 11:14And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
American King James Version×
) while in reality he is the source of spiritual darkness and blindness.

Another powerful influence on our nature is the world around us. That, too, is largely shaped according to Satan's influence. He is "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
American King James Version×
), a powerful being who "deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
American King James Version×
).

Certainly Jesus knew the root of human nature, saying: "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44 John 8:44You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
American King James Version×
).

God wants us to change

The big question that most people would want answered is, If God knows how bad human nature is, why would He allow us to have it?

As the Creator, God is ultimately responsible for all things, good and bad, though He does no evil and did not create evil. Satan is the instigator of the evil that dominates human nature, not God, and he will ultimately be held accountable for deceiving human beings and holding humanity captive to his corruption and confusion (2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 20:1-3 Revelation 20:1-3 [1] And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. [2] And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, [3] And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 14:12-15 Isaiah 14:12-15 [12] How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! [13] For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also on the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: [14] I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. [15] Yet you shall be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
American King James Version×
).

As mentioned, human willpower is weak and human nature weakens us even more. Jesus knew this, saying, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41 Matthew 26:41Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
American King James Version×
).

God wants us to overcome our human nature by Christ living in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot reach our ultimate destiny of being part of the family of God without this process.

This process includes believing faith as demonstrated by godly works (James 2:17-26 James 2:17-26 [17] Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. [18] Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. [19] You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble. [20] But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? [22] See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? [23] And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. [24] You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. [25] Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? [26] For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
American King James Version×
). God gives eternal life to those who are forgiven of sin through Christ and, with His help, overcome their sinful nature (John 3:16-17 John 3:16-17 [16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [17] For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 2:26 Revelation 2:26And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
American King James Version×
).

God is transforming imperfect human beings who have human nature into His perfect immortal sons and daughters (1 Corinthians 15:42-53 1 Corinthians 15:42-53 [42] So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: [43] It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: [44] It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. [45] And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. [46] However, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. [47] The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. [48] As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. [49] And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. [50] Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. [51] Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, [52] In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. [53] For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
American King James Version×
). Human beings who repent and submit to this change from the addictiveness of their human nature prove to God that they want His way of life forever.

They overcome their selfish nature through the power of God's Spirit enabling them to live by His Word. Having done this throughout the remainder of their physical lives, these human beings are changed into spirit beings, actual divine children of God (Hebrews 2:10 Hebrews 2:10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
American King James Version×
).

God knows that when people come to fully understand the wicked depths of their human nature and its terrible effects, they can choose to turn to Him for His help to overcome the unceasing downward pulls of human nature. God is pleased to give to such people His gift of eternal life. For when we honor Him in our weakened human condition, He knows that we will remain faithful later in a divine condition.

Overcoming with God's help

The first thing we can do to overcome this greatest addiction of all—being led by our self-centered human nature—is to recognize and admit that we have this nature and that we cannot save ourselves from what it leads to—death (1 John 1:5-10 1 John 1:5-10 [5] This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6] If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: [7] But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin. [8] If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
American King James Version×
).

However, we cannot fully overcome our human nature until God the Father draws or calls us (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
American King James Version×
) and gives us His help. When we respond to the Father's call, we have an opportunity to repent of our sins, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
).

Beyond this initial change, we must always seek help from above. God has provided the necessary help for us to overcome our sins, this world and Satan the devil. If we remain faithful and endure to the end, we can live in God's world to come as part of His everlasting Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15 Mark 1:14-15 [14] Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, [15] And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
American King James Version×
).

We can win against the greatest addiction

Humankind is readily susceptible to all kinds of addictions, such as those to drugs and alcohol, because of the weaknesses of the flesh and rebellious human nature. God gave us freedom of choice (Deuteronomy 30:19 Deuteronomy 30:19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
American King James Version×
). But we must prove to Him that we want His way above our way so He can give us eternal life, all made possible through Jesus Christ's death and resurrected life (Romans 5:10 Romans 5:10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
American King James Version×
).

Reading and studying God's Word, with His Holy Spirit, helps to wash our minds from wrong and sinful habits (Ephesians 5:26 Ephesians 5:26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
American King James Version×
). Additionally, the knowledge and acceptance of Christ's shed blood covering our sins help cleanse our consciences from past dead works (Hebrews 9:14 Hebrews 9:14How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
American King James Version×
).

The greatest addiction can indeed be overcome—in fact, it must be. The apostle Paul strove to control his entire mind and body for fear that, after he preached to others, he could lose the battle against his own human nature (1 Corinthians 9:27 1 Corinthians 9:27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
American King James Version×
).

The headline mentioned at the beginning of this article asked, "Have We Lost Our Way?" As pointed out, this assumes that we once knew our way, that our way was right and that we have now strayed from it. God would not agree.

The greatest addiction affects all humanity. Sin is the pleasurable root of it (Hebrews 11:25 Hebrews 11:25Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
American King James Version×
). Human nature can be overcome. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1 Romans 8:1There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
American King James Version×
).

Take great courage. You can overcome the pulls of your human nature, the greatest addiction of all, with the help of Almighty God in Christ (Hebrews 4:15-16 Hebrews 4:15-16 [15] For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
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; Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
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, 31, 37-39). GN

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