Addiction to any number of substances or behaviors is common in today’s modern society. According to the Addiction Center, almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction.
Some addictions are easy to spot because they have some kind of negative effect on a person’s life. If you’re an alcoholic, you may have received DUIs, lost a job, or damaged relationships. The gambling addict may lose his fortune. The food addict may gain 300 pounds. Other addictions, such as to pornagraphy, may be private yet still have negative external consequences on relationships and overall mental health. The bottom line is that addictions destroy lives.
Scientists continue to study addictive behavior, and many factors play a role in why some people are more susceptible than others to addictions. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.”
The American Psychology Association adds to this idea of addiction as a disease by stating that “addiction is a chronic disorder with biological, psychological, social and environmental factors influencing its development and maintenance. About half the risk for addiction is genetic.”
According to a diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals, telltale signs of addictions include:
As Catholics, we believe that we’re born with free will to make our way through life, either moving toward or away from God. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be 'left in the hand of his own counsel,' so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” (CCC 1730)
The idea of free will is reinforced throughout scripture. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life, that both you and your seed may live”. (Deuteronomy 30:19) “When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice.” (Sirach 15:14)
So, what role does free will play in addictions? Although there are certainly many factors involved in starting and maintaining addictive behavior, we all have the free will to make a choice to get help, find resources, and step onto a healing path.
In fact, Thomas Aquinas states that the will has “a natural inclination toward the good as it is conceived by intellect… The process whereby intellect judges that some object or course of action is good is deliberation.’
We are then called to use our intellect to think about our addiction and its consequences and move our will to the good.
Sometimes we believe, however, that we can use our will alone to overcome addiction. In recovery from addiction, we learn that we must surrender our will to God and allow Him to love, heal, and transform our hearts, minds, and bodies.
In order to overcome an addiction, then, an individual must have an actionable plan, driven by free will and supported by loved ones and, possibly, professional help. Here’s where to start: