We’re an addicted generation. We don’t think of ourselves as addicted, but we are. That’s a tough blanket to spread, isn’t it? Mention the word addicted and the tone in a room instantly changes. Our minds connect the word to the “big” addictions only, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, or porn. We think of addicts only as the poor souls who go to rehab. But this generation is addicted to all manner of things. Some stuff little, some stuff big. We always need to have something going on. We’ve always got to be filling our minds with something to distract and entertain us. A family of five can’t spend an hour at the dinner table without the eyes of each person being glued to a different screen. And entertainment is certainly not the only addiction we struggle with today.
Now, I’m certainly not demeaning the process of dealing with big addictions. Recently a friend recounted the scene as a mom walked into a circle of desperation she thought was a meeting with a real-estate broker at their home. The meeting was a setup — an intervention. Seated in the circle were her parents, her husband of twenty-four years, her two closest friends, her sister, and three of her children, ages 19, 16, and 14.
The mom was addicted to alcohol and prescription meds. The most gripping moment came when the sixteen-year-old emptied a plastic trash bag filled with empty beer cans and pill bottles she had been scavenging from the waste bin in the garage. “Mom,” she asked, “why do you love these more than me?”
In reality, it’s likely the mom did not love the meds and the drinks more than her daughter. She was just being squashed by the giant called addiction and it was on the verge of destroying everything and everyone she loved.
The big addictions are real. Our family has been through some huge ones, and if this is your story, I’m right there with you. I’m not taking them lightly. Yet I don’t want any of us to sit back and say, “Well, since I’m not struggling with this big addiction, and since I’m not struggling with that big addiction, then I really don’t have any addictions in my life.”
When it comes to addictions we need to cast a wider net.
An addiction is anything we can’t live without.
We’re enslaved to this thing. It’s a habit we can’t break. It’s a person we can’t separate from. A pattern we can’t change. And it’s ultimately harmful. If left unchecked, the addiction devastates our lives and everything around us.
That’s the giant of addiction at work. It robs us of our very best. It leads us down a never-ending path to a never-fulfilled promise. And in the end, the giant of addiction stands over us, ridiculing us and dimming the fame and glory of God in our lives.
That’s why the giant of addiction must fall.
The Biggest Addiction
Addictions are powerful, and addictions are typically illogical — it makes little sense to choose harmful paths, but we do so anyway. The fight against an addiction can go on not just for months but for years. Within this fight it’s easy to sink to a place where we say, “Okay, this practice or habit or substance or relationship isn’t going to go any further than this. Surely this is the bottom. It can’t get any worse.” Maybe there’s a little glimmer of hope for a season. We battle back against the addiction. Everybody who’s cheering for us breathes a sigh of relief. But then we relapse. Or we sink to a new level. If you have been down that roller-coaster road, you know how difficult and frustrating and confusing and scary it can be.
The substance might be different, but the pattern is eerily similar. For some people, their drug of choice is alcohol. For some it’s meth, a completely ruinous drug. For others it’s coke. Some think their drug is harmless; it’s just a party drug that keeps the fun going all night. The drug of choice could be painkillers, like my friend’s sister mentioned above. Oxy gets a lot of news these days. And heroin is leaving carnage everywhere.
Some people are addicted to money. You just can’t get enough of it. No matter how much money you have, you need to have more. Other people are addicted to sex. Plenty of people are addicted to porn. We’ve all seen the statistics. Porn is this huge giant standing up in the middle of the room, shouting its taunt: “You’re never going to be free of this.” But that’s a lie.
Plenty of people are addicted to buying things and getting more stuff. When you can’t cope with life, you go to a store. You can’t stop yourself, and it doesn’t matter if you have money to spend or not. This addiction runs all up and down the socio-economic chain. Some people are addicted to Nordstrom. Others get their fix at Walmart. There’s a reason plenty of stores are open twenty-four hours a day. When people can’t deal with life, they just need to get a shopping cart in front of them. This addiction is laughably called “retail therapy.” But make no mistake, it’s a drug.
Accomplishments can be a drug. You seek a new level of achievement at work. A promotion. An award. A commendation. You were the regional sales manager and now you’re moving up the ladder even higher. You were recognized by the panel of judges. You bring home all As and your GPA is 4.0. You take Advanced Placement classes so your GPA can be 4.1 or 4.2. You always need to come in first. You’re always striving to achieve, and you can’t handle it if you don’t. It all sounds good, but down deep you know that achievement is your drug of choice.
Adrenaline can be a drug for a lot of people. You can’t be at rest. You need to be hyped up all the time. You wake up and drink Red Bull for breakfast. You drink a 5-Hour Energy Boost for lunch. A triple shot of espresso for dinner. You don’t want your motor to stop and will do anything to avoid the silence.
Some people are addicted to pain. You’re caught in a lie. You cut yourself or burn yourself or deliberately put yourself in dangerous or painful situations because that’s how you deal with life. A normal day makes you feel numb, so you believe the only way you can cope is by feeling something — anything — and physical pain makes the endorphins flow.
Some people are addicted to people. You need a certain person, and if you don’t see this person or hear from this person, then you get out of sorts. You know who you are. You’re reading this book right now and glancing at your phone every two minutes and thinking, Why isn’t he texting me? He still hasn’t texted me. I don’t know why he hasn’t texted me. Oh, I sure wish he’d text me!
Do you know what the most widespread addiction out there is today? It’s this: the approval of others.
If you just whispered, “Well, I’m not addicted to this,” then you actually are. Because why did you want to justify yourself against this claim? Why did you feel compelled to let yourself or anyone around you know that you’re not addicted to people’s opinions? People who say, “I don’t care what you think,” are actually saying, “It matters a lot to me what you think — and that’s why I’m telling you so strongly that I don’t care. Because I do care — and I want you to know it!” Hey — we all want to be liked by other people. We all want to be accepted. We all want to know we’re not alone in this world.
Social media has figured this out. Social media sticks a knife into the addiction of approval and twists the handle in a big way. It’s difficult to mention any specific sites these days because the cool ones change so fast, but as I’m writing this, Instagram and Facebook lead the pack. Soon they will become tomorrow’s Myspace, and in their places other social media sites will emerge. But the addiction of approval will still be around.
We Are All Vulnerable
Underneath any addiction (and our foundational need for approval) is a larger question. It’s this: What problem is occurring in my life that I need to mask the pain or emptiness with an addiction?
The root cause of most addictions is pain. The cause is sin. Somebody has rejected us. Somebody has inflicted pain on us — emotional pain, physical pain, relational pain, economic pain. This person has made us feel like we’re not good enough. We’re convinced we don’t have what it takes. A sense of inadequacy has been branded on our lives. Our security and sense of significance have been ripped away. Our world was turned upside down, and nothing makes sense or looks clear or feels right. We are lonely or angry or tired or annoyed or frustrated or fearful or betrayed or lost or disgusted or grieving or knocked off kilter. That’s the cause.
The symptom is whatever addiction shows up and promises to make us feel better. See, when we feel chaotic inside, we run to something that promises relief. We feel we need to cope somehow, so we turn to the thing we think will make us feel bet- ter. Maybe that addiction actually does deliver relief for a short time. The addiction gives a buzz. A high. A thrill. A rush. But then the addiction lets us down big-time, and we go even lower than before. If you’re ravenously hungry and there’s pain in your life and food is your addiction, then you might eat a big bagful of Oreos. You might actually feel full afterward.
We need to look past the symptom and examine the cause. What’s the source of the chaos in our lives? Why do we feel so inadequate? Why do we fear being known? Where is the pain coming from? Unless we’re willing to look underneath the drug and figure out what’s causing the problems in the first place, then the giant of addiction is not going to fall.
It’s quite likely that the cause at the bottom of it all is not a thing, but a person. We don’t form our feelings in a vacuum. We are shaped by the expectations or rejection of others. We are made to feel inadequate and afraid, and we don’t want anyone to know just how weak and isolated we feel.
All this makes us feel vulnerable inside. I’m not talking about the good sort of vulnerability, where vulnerability can be beautiful — like when a person takes an important risk, or steps out in faith, or becomes vulnerable before God. I’m talking about the negative sort of vulnerability. Being vulnerable in this negative sense means we’re open to attack. We’re interfacing with the chaotic. We’re in a car with bald tires on a wet road. We’re a normal man facing up to a giant and about to be slaughtered.
Danger is upon us and it feels like danger will win. Our pattern is this: vulnerability makes us feel weak; and weakness makes us try to cover up and cope; and when we try to cover up and cope, we run to an addiction.
Fortunately, there is a solution: Christ.
Excerpted with permission from Goliath Must Fall by Louie Giglio, copyright Louie Giglio.
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