So, tell us, which is it? Having recently posted on addictions and read the ensuing comments, I am reminded that there is a great divide among good-hearted, well-intentioned people who work in this field. The role of chemical “hooks” with substance abuse is akin to the question: “Which came first the chicken or the egg?” That will stump you!
In the case of the medical community the question can be phrased: Does biology control destiny or does the inner life of the spirit? Are we controlled by our chemicals, or are we controlled by our choices and by the deeply held beliefs that they spring from?
On the former side there is chemical determinism. You are whatever the physical and chemical structures of your body declare you to be: You are bound to genetics. You are controlled by the chemicals in your brain. You are fated to live overruled by elements of the material world that you can do nothing about. Nature triumphs over nurture every time. On the other side is free will and a God who can lead you out of any bondage into freedom.
Now watch how this plays out in the specifics of addiction. The addict is someone, so they say, who has a biological destiny to fulfill. It’s in his genetic inheritance. It’s in her brain chemistry. This creates chemical hooks to the substance which cannot be removed. Hence the addict is trapped in a lifelong struggle against their own biology.
That’s not the way our God sees it or says it. His teaching in Deuteronomy 30:19 and Isaiah 5:20 clearly show that the deep root of any addictive behavior goes back to the “woe” of choosing to believe (mistakenly) that some evil thing is good. OK, that’s religion. But it is also science! Because on the other side of the medical-scientific divide are groups of scientists who are studying how the thoughts of the mind (and deeply held beliefs are thoughts) create structures in the brain. In this view it is the mind which creates its own brain structure. You believe something long enough and it becomes structured in your brain.
This makes perfect sense. We are 100% chemical, 100% electrical and 100% spiritual. You and I cannot have a thought, conscious or unconscious, without a corresponding electrical and chemical response taking place in the body. But which one is on top? That’s the real question! Jesus says that if you continue with Him and intimately learn and believe what truth is, then anyone on earth can be set free by learning to believe truth. That’s the power of revelation combined with active faith.
As a revelation comes into the heart and mind of a person their brain structures change. This is because the spiritual life comes first—not the other way around. So what went wrong? The brain chemistry that was created around the addiction had everything to do with what the person believed prior to encountering the substance, and which he/she believed during the experience of initial euphoria created by contact with the substance. The addict-to-be declared on the inside, “This is great, I need it, I want it, I’ve got to have it, This will fix me.”
Such believing strong-arms everything else out of the way: Conscience is silenced; the voice of wisdom is silenced; the opinion of others is silenced; even one’s own prior beliefs are silenced. A greater truth has now supplanted everything else he or she had formerly believed. Naturally enough the body takes note and records the new truths in the chemical structure of the brain. The body is the servant of the mind and the deep heart. If you put the right believing in, the body works just fine. Put the wrong believing in and the body will be enslaved. The real problem is not the body, but the false believing.
Those who see it the other way around, believe that the body chemistry got there first. They have no explanation for this other than a (supposed) genetic pre-disposition. But which came first, the chicken or the egg? If there is a genetic predisposition, wasn’t it there because previous family members in the generational line also had a similar belief structure which restructured their body chemistry and which eventually compromised the genetic code.
However, we don’t need to look to the genetic code to see that the origin of the belief structure of the child has more to do with the home environment than with the body chemistry they inherited. Almost always the future addict is grown in an environment where there are addicts to begin with, or trauma, or a bad dad, or no dad—things that deeply damage the interior belief structure of any child. (Please see the Three Lies of Addiction.)
This debate is called “nature versus nurture” and it is a variation on the original chicken and egg problem I brought up. Does the predisposition come out of the home environment or derive from genetic inheritance? It hardly matters in practical terms, since what is needed is freedom not determinism. God and Jesus promise freedom to anyone who will attach themselves whole-heartedly to Their version of the truth and go after Them 90 to nothing. Where the spirit of bondage is there is a mess of lies filling an unbelieving heart with untruth. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, because there is truth being believed with active faith.
In summary where does passion for the wrong thing (the substance) spring from? Deeply held false beliefs. What restructures the brains chemistry? Deeply held false beliefs. Biology is not destiny; faith in God is. With a sufficiently activated and rightly attached faith, the Lord can free anyone and then lead them into His predestined plans for them. But believing untruth or barely believing revealed truth is a life wrecker.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” is a truth more everlasting than the (sometimes) inconstant pronouncements of our still embryonic science. See “The Power of Believing” for more on how to activate your faith.