Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Addiction and Agency

Last week I posted a rather negative response to a Family Home Evening on addiction presented by LDS Living. In an effort to add something positive to the conversation, I offer the following:

This is a guest post of sorts. My wife is a member of our stake Relief Society presidency and gave a brief presentation based on the following notes to the sisters at our stake’s ward conferences earlier this year. This is Part I. Part II will follow on Friday. I’ve edited the notes for reading.

I have been asked to talk about a topic that is serious in nature and much more common around us than we would like to believe. It has been called the number one health problem in the United States today and many of you have had either personal experience with or someone you love has had to deal with the pain of this disease. This disease is so vile and pernicious that it not only does it affect one’s physical health but will also seriously damage one’s emotional and spiritual health and some of that damage can spread to family members. The name of the disease is addiction.

While the damage and pain experienced by those caught in its snare can be massive, there is hope for healing. I will leave the physical healing to medical doctors but today I want to discuss how those who suffer emotionally and spiritually from addiction can find healing from the One who can heal all wounds –our Savior, Jesus Christ.

What is addiction?

To try understand this disease let’s begin by looking at a story that Elder Ballard told in last October’s General Conference :

The goal of the fly fisherman is to catch trout through skillful deception...He will often craft by hand the lures he uses. He knows these artificial insects embedded with tiny hooks need to be a perfect deception because the trout will identify even the slightest flaw and reject the fly.

The use of artificial lures to fool and catch a fish is an example of the way Lucifer often tempts, deceives, and tries to ensnare us.

Lucifer knows our … weaknesses, and tempts us with counterfeit lures which, if taken, can cause us to be yanked from the stream of life into his unmerciful influence.
Satan is the father of lies and will try to make evil seem good to ensnare us.

One of our greatest gifts from God is our free agency. It was part of the plan of salvation and is required to show obedience to our Father in Heaven. In His plan He could give us mortal bodies but we have to choose to follow His commandments to be able to be blessed by Him in this life and return to Him after we die.

Our free will is the only thing we truly have to give to the Lord.

One of the chief ways Satan lures us to give away our agency is through addictions.

Elder Ballard said:

The battle over man’s God-given agency continues today. Satan and his minions have their lures all around us, hoping that we will falter and take his flies so he can reel us in with counterfeit means. He uses addiction to steal away agency. According to the dictionary, addiction of any kind means to surrender to something, thus relinquishing agency and becoming dependent on some life-destroying substance or behavior.
How does this work? Elder Ballard continued:

Researchers tell us there is a mechanism in our brain called the pleasure center. When activated by certain drugs or behaviors, it overpowers the part of our brain that governs our willpower, judgment, logic, and morality. This leads the addict to abandon what he or she knows is right. And when that happens, the hook is set and Lucifer takes control. Satan knows how to exploit and ensnare us with artificial substances and behaviors of temporary pleasure.

This process has been likened to an allergic reaction. Once the brain is exposed to the chemical reaction it changes. Engaging in the addiction literally changes the brain’s chemical function.

Elder Russell M Nelson summarized this affects one’s free agency: “Addiction surrenders…freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will” (“Addiction or Freedom”, Ensign November 1988, 6).

Addiction can take many forms. Drugs (including prescription abuse), alcohol, tobacco, eating disorders, gambling and pornography are a few examples. People who are inclined to addiction may suffer from a number of different addictions.

Once the addiction sets in it is a bondage that entraps the person. Addiction is not just a bad habit to be conquered by willpower alone. Caught in this bondage the person can become so dependent on a behavior or substance that they no longer see how to abstain from it.

Telling a person in addiction that if they really cared they would stop destroying their lives is like telling a person who is sick with pneumonia not to cough. Until they get the appropriate treatment the problems will persist.

Elder Ballard counsels, “Medical research describes addiction as “a disease of the brain.” This is true, but I believe that once Satan has someone in his grasp, it also becomes a disease of the spirit.”

Coming in Part II – Addition is a Family Disease; How to Find Help


  1. The quote you wrote sums it up very nicely:
    "Telling a person in addiction that if they really cared they would stop destroying their lives is like telling a person who is sick with pneumonia not to cough. Until they get the appropriate treatment the problems will persist."

    For years I struggled with a certain addiction that I didn't realize I had. I struggled with anxiety and depression as a result of the addiction...which stemmed from early childhood trauma.

    I know personally how challenging it is to overcome, but I also know it is possible to overcome. God will lead us and help us and we also have to put forth serious mental and physical efforts, but it is totally achievable.

    I wrote an article a few years ago called 10 steps in overcoming anxiety and depression that briefly summarizes my experiences and how I overcame them. I am also writing a book about my experience as well.

    Feel free to visit my blog article on this subject:

  2. Grace, thanks for your comment and your link. I found your 10 steps to be quite interesting and helpful.

    I know at least one of my family members who struggles with depression has moved from help in the form of medication to other ways to deal with it. That seems to be working for him for now.

    To be sure, telling someone to "get over it" or "it will be all right" is not the best approach.

  3. I think this site is very helpful, and a great resource for individuals who are looking for help with their addictions. I have also found the following sites to be very helpful as well. - Addiction Counseling based in SLC, UT. Many of the affiliates are LDS. - LDS man in recovery that provides wonderful insights into addiction. - LDS couple in recovery who started a foundation to educate those that struggle with this addiction. - Media driven, effort to assist women in the fight against pornography. Many if not all of the site contributors are LDS. - LDS churches site on Pornography. - Online Counseling for LDS members to recieve qualified Pornography / Sexual Addiction counseling.

  4. I've allowed Rhyll's comment to be published. I do not endorse the sites she has listed, nor have I personally checked them.

  5. The first link is incorrect. It should be