Are you an addict? If you don’t do drugs or alcohol, you probably think not, but think again. Most of my readers are non-substance addicts, and it is harming your life, your children, and the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul described addiction in Romans 7: 19,20,23,24 “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Addiction is the state of being enslaved to a substance or habit, the cessation of which causes emotional distress or bodily trauma. It takes away from ordinary life responsibilities such as work, relationships, or health, and consumes a disproportionate amount of time and energy. You can locate your addiction by identifying that sacred cow that, when kicked by a family member or friend, you defend most forcefully. You have had your doubts about it, if not downright guilt and shame, and you have tried to lay it down, but you are compelled to return again and again on a regular basis, trying to deceive others as you deceive yourself. The mark of an addict is the denial of addiction. Addictions can be substance based, like drugs or alcohol, or non-substance based, like video games, social media, gossip, exercise, gambling, shopping, overeating, abusing one’s self, and pornography. Addiction comes through frequent and continual reliance upon the action as a source of pleasure. Any source of pleasure can become an addiction. All addictions begin with pleasure and turn to dependency. When an initially pleasurable experience becomes a fix, you have lost control of your behavior. You can overcome your addictions, even the ones you have not yet identified as such. I am going to tell you how. But first you must understand the nature of addiction and the brain…your brain, how it has been altered by addiction, and how you can rewire it in 50 days.
The Bible (Traditional Text) has always been clear on this subject, but not always clearly understood. We have believed it, but many have failed to appreciate the scientific accuracy with which it speaks. That is, until now, in this generation, because scientific tools have opened up the text like an archeological excavation lying there for 2,000 years waiting to reveal its truth.
Exciting discovers were made in the spring of 1977. Raymond Vahan Damadian invented The Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine, enabling researchers and medical doctors to see the inner workings of the human body, right down to single nerve cells. As its accuracy increased, scientists were able to measure and then map the innermost activity of brain. We now know that the brain is divided into functional units with particular tasks, like processing visual information, thinking logically, or experiencing various emotions. For every category of sensory and intellectual stimulation there is a unique region of the brain to process that information.
Researchers can place you in a functional MRI (fMRI) machine and show you a series of pictures, noting the part of your brain that has activity, and how intense that activity is compared to the average subject. They will learn more about you than you know about yourself. How do you respond to the picture of a lawnmower, a sink full of dishes, a slice of pie, a motorcycle, a pair of new shoes, a pretty girl dressed modestly, a sexy girl dressed immodestly, a pretty boy, a darling child, a male model, or two babes in an erotic pose? They will know your sexual preferences, your fantasies, what disgusts you, and what attracts you. They will not know what you have done. Only God knows that, but they will know what you want to do. If you are angered or displeased, one region of your brain is active; if you experience lust, another region is active. They tell us that the brain of a pornographer comes to resemble that of a lesbian.
I remember about fifteen years ago the news was abuzz with the then-recent revelation that the brain of homosexuals was different from that of “straight” men. The sodomites hailed it as medical proof that they were born differently. “God made them the way they are,” or so they said. But even as the propaganda was being circulated by the leftist media, there were a few scientists who were quietly dissenting, saying that the differences seen in the brain of homosexuals was not the cause of their divergence from nature but rather the result. In time, with additional observation it became obvious that the brains of children are all the same; it is only after they are induced to certain experiences that the brain changes to reflect their actions.
In a German study published in JANA Psychiatry, Simone Kühn says, “Basically everything that people do very frequently can shape their brain structure and function.” Kühn said other behaviors, such as driving a taxi, are linked to changes in brain size and function.
I have spoken publicly thousands of times and shaken the hands of tens of thousands of men, often asking them what they do for a living. A brief handshake reveals the kind of labor a man does. I can tell the difference between a welder and a brick layer. A welder is thicker on the ends of his fingers, whereas a brick layer has strong thumb and index finger muscle. I can tell if a man is a carpenter and whether or not he is frame carpenter or a trim carpenter. Farmers are obvious by their longer fingers and the development of the fingers as a whole, but not the thumb. Computer geeks, clerks, and accountants are obvious for their lack of muscle and calluses on the tips of their fingers. Mechanics have strong hands without any particular part being distinct. The strongest hands of all are block layers and stone masons. A man who acquired his muscles through work will be the strongest in his hands, then his wrist, then his forearms, and finally his biceps, whereas a man who acquires his muscles by working out with weights will be strongest in his shoulders and biceps and weakest in his hands.
As I can examine your hand and know how you have used it, the researcher can examine your brain and know how you have used it, but with more accuracy. The different regions of the brain communicate with each other by two means: electrical and chemical. This communication can be tracked and documented. When a part of the brain is used it grows larger and more responsive. When a part of the brain is neglected it diminishes.
Neuro pathways are the brain’s “fiber optic” communication conduits. When you do a thing repeatedly, as in golfing or playing a video game, your brain develops strong neuro pathways. These more developed regions and pathways of communication become the default position, the easiest to access and initiate. Muscle memory is a fact, as is habit memory, and pleasure memory.
The brain is wired to steer you to repeat that which is pleasurable and avoid that which is not. I will oversimplify it by saying that the brain, like a computer, communicates digital information by means of electrical impulses, and stores that information in negative and positive charges to be retrieved as needed. But it also communicates happiness or sadness by means of chemicals. You have heard the term “dopamine rush” to express sudden surges of pleasure. There are four happy chemicals—dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphin—that are released in the brain in various amounts to mark moments and events that are pleasurable. But life is not all pleasurable. There are reasons to be cautious, concerned, afraid, and to feel unhappy with circumstances. Unhappy chemicals, like cortisol and epinephrine, stir us to action, creating emotions which drive us to take steps that secure our safety or happiness.
Your brain not only stores the facts of events, it also stores the emotions associated with those events. So the next time a drug addict sees a needle, or a drunk sees a bar, his brain releases pleasure chemicals that prompt him to repeat the former pleasure. If he does not give in to the chemical prompting, unhappy chemicals are released that make him feel miserable. The only way to get relief is to repeat the addiction. He is locked into a war of chemicals centered in his addicted brain. His brain compels him to get back to the source of extreme pleasure and avoid the discomfort of a release of unhappy chemicals.
Substance addiction is an artificial stimulation of the brain’s natural release of dopamine and other pleasure chemicals. It hijacks the system and accelerates an otherwise natural process. As a base line, intercourse releases about 100% dopamine—the highest natural release. Happy, normal, non-addictive living releases dopamine in the 10% range. Alcohol releases 100-200%. Meth releases 1250%, and lasts for eight to twelve hours, whereas a cocaine high lasts only about one or two hours.
Dopamine released by wholesome feelings of success or pleasure quickly abates in a matter of seconds or minutes. When one overstimulates his body and brain with excessive pleasure, as in drugs or pornography, the brain reacts by shutting down the brain’s production and release of pleasure chemicals and increases the release of unhappy chemicals so as to maintain a balance. It is similar to losing your hearing by listening to loud music. Over time the brain is altered so that it takes more of the same, higher doses, to induce the brain to pleasure. The drug addict needs more drugs more often. The shopper needs more and more shopping until it becomes a compulsion, and the pornographer needs darker and more deviant content to get the same high out of the experience.
Simone Kühn, in a German study reported in JAMA Psychiatry, says, “Men who report watching a lot of pornography tend to have less volume and activity in regions of the brain linked to rewards and motivation.” The report concludes that the more pornography a person consumes the less responsive they are to sexual stimuli. In time the addict increases his compulsion while his pleasure diminishes. He becomes a bigger hole that needs filling and continually suffers with the inability to find satisfaction. He becomes an itch for which there is no scratch. And the downward spiral has no bottom.
The pornography industry stands ready to feed the dissatisfied straight guy with lesbian sex. When that gets old, they can take the elevator a few stories down and find stimulation with violence and blood mixed with the sex. When that loses its ability to get them off, a few stories lower they offer child pornography to feed the induced hunger. The industry takes you where you never thought you would go and keeps you longer than you wanted to stay, and they close the door behind you, offering a one-way trip to lower levels of perversion, creating appetites that never existed in nature. The shame diminishes and the conscience seems to lose contact with divine promptings. The addict ends up in a signal-free zone where heaven gives up on them and turns them over to a reprobate mind to do those things that are now “inconvenient.” But they remain possessed with an unsatisfying and ever-growing compulsion (Romans 1:24–28).
Simone Kühn, a secular researcher, says, “We found that the volume of the so-called striatum, a brain region that is active when people see sexual stimuli, was smaller the more pornography consumption the participants reported. Moreover, the connection between the striatum and prefrontal cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain associated with behavior and decision-making, learning, and reasoning, worsened with increased porn watching.” In other words, the part of the brain that is stimulated with pornography begins to lose connection with the part of the brain that makes moral judgments and decisions. The brain itself is altered so that one’s ability to think rationally and morally is diminished. The addict takes on self-destructive, self-sabotaging behavior that to the outsiders seems totally irrational and idiotic, for the lust part of the brain has developed while the moral centers have diminished. This is not just theology. The secular researchers can see this transformation take place through an fMRI scan of the brain.
The Apostle Paul described it this way: “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:24–28). Note the underlined portions. For 2,000 years this passage has been waiting for the explanation that science has now given us. The sexual perversion of heterosexual fornication and homosexual acts resulted in the perpetrators receiving inside their own bodies (minds) a consequence that was tailored (meet) to the sin. The degenerative change is meet (suited) to the sin. They are altered within. This is not a punishment from God. It is the natural fruit of their lifestyles, but it moves them away from God until they become unreachable—reprobate.
A thing done often is a thing done easily. Pornography today is reflected in actions tomorrow. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one” (Job 14:4).
Some things are harmful (wrong) only when done in excess, like eating, shopping, use of electronic media, etc. But other things are harmful (wrong) from the very first experience, like drunkenness, getting high on drugs, or viewing pornography. It takes repeated experience over a period of time to develop an addiction for alcohol or drugs. It takes longer to develop addictions to social media, gambling, gossip, and overeating. But the day a boy goes through puberty he is already addicted to pornography, for he is created to crave the female form in all of its beauty and lust. It just takes one glimpse at the naked form on a cell phone for a young boy to be fully addicted, like the former alcoholic who takes a single drink and finds himself entirely in the grip of the addiction he laid down ten years earlier. All young men are recovering pornography addicts and will remain so the rest of their lives, even if they have never seen the first image.
I promised to tell you how to be free from your addiction. The thing that has prevented you from ceasing your disgusting behavior is the misery you feel when you cease partaking. The term “comfort food” says it all. All addicts are seeking comfort. The brain has become wired in its neuro pathways and will punish any attempt to withdraw by releasing misery chemicals. Science tells us that it takes about 45 days to wean the brain off of an addiction and rewire it so that it does not punish your attempt at abstinence. They sum it up in two words, “Reject and Replace.” Reject the old habit no matter the emotional cost, and, just as importantly, replace the old pleasure source with a new pleasure that is wholesome. Stop drinking and start exercising, or learning to play a musical instrument, or learn a new language, or take up that hobby you always dreamed of. Stop viewing pornography and start running or swimming or studying something interesting. Plant and tend a garden. Maybe commence a building project. Build a rock fence all the way around your back yard. That should take about six months. I am passing on the completely secular approach to addiction recovery. One need not be a Christian for this to work.
But the big problem is human flesh. Paul said, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:15, 24). If indeed you can lift yourself out of addiction by your own boot straps, then do so. Some have exercised their wills and overcome. Most do not. They want to but feel they are powerless.
Enter the gospel of Jesus Christ where “…it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). It is not just religious rhetoric when Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). The most pitiful, weak-willed slave to addictions can be freed by the power of Jesus Christ through crucifixion with Him and resurrection to a new creature as the Holy Spirit recreates us in the image of God and replaces our old man with the new mind of Christ. This biblical message of deliverance is far more efficient and certain than the secular message of “Get a strong will.”
But science has provided us with some powerful insight into the process. Whether by will-power or God-power, it will still take about six to seven weeks to purge your brain of the old habits and create new neuro pathways, making normal behavior seem normal. God will not deliver your from withdrawal symptoms, but he will give you the power to endure the pain. You can overcome, but you cannot avoid the cost of changing your behavior.
Your New Realities, Christian or otherwise:
The very first step in overcoming an addiction is to hate it. Then you must be honest with yourself and others, admitting your weakness and asking for help. The next step is ceasing your addictive behavior and making yourself accountable to others.
The Christian has the winning edge, for he can “…put…on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
Now, fill your life with prayer and praise, sprinkled with thanksgiving.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
Hang in there for 50 days until the brain creates new pathways to normal wholesome pleasure. This was an excerpt from a book I hope to finish by the spring of 2015, Lord willing. This article is a severely edited version and is incomplete. Many people have told me that they were freed from their addiction upon listening to my Bible teaching series called Sin No More. It will help flesh out this message, explaining God’s method to freedom from all sin and addiction. I spoke on this subject to 2,200 people at the recent Shindig. It is in the form of a beautiful animated presentation with about 185 frames. It should be ready for distribution about the time you receive this magazine. It could change your life forever.