Among the common ideas I run into about Addiction, the one I wish I could change the most is that being addicted is a sin. I consider it my life’s mission to fight oppression in all of its forms. The worst form of oppression, and the most insidiously dangerous in my opinion, is religious oppression. Nothing pisses me off worse than when someone thinks that their religious beliefs give them the moral high ground over another person. More specifically, I can’t stand to listen to messaging that labels Addiction and substance abuse as “sins.” There is no greater impediment to treatment than those types of religious labels.
At its core, Addiction is an Anxiety Disorder. There is a clear pattern of behavior within Addiction that expresses anxiety relief; at the root of anxiety however is shame. There is really no more dangerous emotional filter than shame; it is at the heart of all Addiction. Shame is a deeply held belief within a person that there is something inherently bad about him or her self. That is, shame tells people that they are bad. Therefore, when some judgemental prick uses his religion as a means through which he can label an addict as a “sinner,” all I see is the addict’s reservoir of shame getting deeper. When that happens, the climb towards health is even more difficult.
Using drugs and alcohol is neither good nor bad, any more than eating McDonald’s is either good or bad. The reality is that using drugs and alcohol to the point of addiction, AND eating too much McDonald’s will lead to a very unhealthy life. By superimposing a “morality” on top of an unhealthy situation will ONLY make it more unhealthy. NO ONE wants to think of themselves as a bad person; yet religious extremists do exactly that: make people feel badly about who they are.
Rather, we should look at Addiction as neutrally as possible such that we can learn and redirect its mechanics. Calling it a sin, or even saying its sinful is both counterproductive and stupid.