Addiction Continuum

ADDICTION AS A CONTINUUM (it is not distinct from normal desires except by degree)

Like most human conditions, one can accurately think of addiction in terms of degrees of severity. Identifying where a person falls on a continuum of severity can help you identify what interventions he needs. This continuum may be described as ranging from psychological addictions (sometimes called process or behavioral addictions) to chemical addictions. However, this distinction is not always accurate since all addictions eventually affect the physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual parts of man. Each level has a continuum of severity in irrational thinking or lack of control. For example, the level of obsession ranges from mild (an obsession to eat because it is noon or because food is present), all the way to severe (anorexia).


Level of dysfunction: The level of dysfunction caused by an addiction can range from very mild to very severe. For example, to exercise is not dysfunctional unless it harms our body, vocation, personal relationships, relationship with God, or it causes indulgence in sin. Sometimes the dysfunction caused by addiction is clearly observable (e.g., marriage or legal problems, etc.). Other times, the dysfunction can be minor, socially acceptable, or hidden. For example, someone who is single and is without many other demands may be addicted to work with little consequence. Likewise, someone with high metabolism and good medical levels may be addicted to food or some type of food and have little consequence. We don’t generally describe something as an addiction until it causes harm.

Levels of irrationality and loss of control: As the level of addiction increases, so does irrational thinking and loss of control. Interestingly, addicts often vehemently maintain they are fully in control and not irrational.

Proverbs 23:29-35 describes the irrational thinking and loss of control that comes with drunkenness: “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.”

Levels of denial and awareness: Denial keeps people from acknowledging the truth about their lives. Unfortunately, this may mean that they don’t fully realize they are approaching the addictive agent (e.g., gambling, pornography, drugs). OR they know they are approaching it but insist they are not going into truly dangerous territory and then end up involved in pornography, alcohol, gambling, etc.


Because of the scriptural instruction to keep our bodies under subjection, all addiction leads to some level of sin. Romans 6:16, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”

Certain addictions lead to clearly sinful behavior. For example, getting drunk, gambling, taking illegal drugs, or doing sexually immoral things violate scripture and are clearly Colossians 3:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Refusal to get help may also be a sin even in cases where the behavior itself is not a sin (e.g., workaholism) because we are not bringing ourselves under subjection. 1 Corinthians 6:12b, “I will not be brought under the power of any.”

When an addict’s behavior affects the lives of others and he refuses help, this attitude is clearly Proverbs 28: 13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”

An addict is responsible for finding some way to not sin (e.g., treatment, environmental control, accountability). Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Overcoming addiction involves a spiritual battle. “Ephesians 6:12-13, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

While Paul’s writings in Romans 7:14-25 certainly apply to sin of all kinds, people struggling with addiction can particularly relate well to his description of the battle with Romans 7:14-25, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 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. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 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? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”