Chocolate, alcohol, social media, cigarettes, video games, pornography, shopping, gambling, drugs and food are all things that many of us enjoy, devote time to, or obsess over. Some of these pursuits are worthwhile, some are fun, and some are dangerous and unhealthy. All are common addictions.
A great irony is the thought, “I can make my own decisions. I don’t have to follow stupid laws. It’s my body and my life.” Teens often think this way as they yearn to assert independence.
True, we all have the agency to make our own choices and follow our own paths – which is a great thing. It’s how we learn, stretch and grow. But this mentality often leads to experimentation with unhealthy substances and behaviors. It leads to broken families and broken laws — whether God’s laws, laws of our land or codes of conduct for healthy living.
For example, we can teach our kids that going to a party and using the drugs offered may seem like a thrilling display of freedom. Spending hours and hours each day with a video game may be your choice of “down time” or “me time.” But once you’re ensnared in the web of addiction, your freedom to act is suddenly very limited.
“God intended that men and women would be free to make choices between good and evil. When evil choices become the dominant characteristic of a culture or nation, there are serious consequences … People can become enslaved or put themselves in bondage not only to harmful, addictive substances but also to harmful, addictive philosophies that detract from righteous living,” says attorney and religious leader Quentin L. Cook.
Cook reminds us of God’s words in Jeremiah 2: 11-13. “My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit … They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed … out … broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (KJV)
God lamented the behavior that led to the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jews transgressed God’s laws and turned aside from him. They began worshipping idols, and “that which doth not profit.”
When we turn aside from worthwhile endeavors or relationships with family and devote our hours and days to worthless or dangerous behaviors, we become captive to those pursuits. Video games, online shopping or drinking may be rationalized as fun, innocent pastimes, so they may not feel like bondage. But, “Bondage, subjugation, addictions and servitude come in many forms. They can be literal physical enslavement but can also be loss or impairment of moral agency that can impede our progress,” warns Cook.
Our kids often model our behavior. When we get caught in an addiction, our kids may imitate our actions or turn to other risky behaviors. In an article entitled “Recognizing an addiction problem,” Mara Tyler outlines the signs and warnings of addiction.
“If a person is particularly drawn to an activity or substance, seeks out situations where he or she can experiment or experiences episodes of bingeing or loss of control, an early addiction problem may be indicated,” says Tyler.
Tyler points out that addicts tend to associate with those who encourage and mirror their addictive behavior. Alienation progresses over time as addicts try to hide their addictions from loved ones. Eventually, they often cut off contact with their families and friends.
Changes in health
“Whether the addiction is substance-based or behavioral, the addict will almost always experience a decrease in quality of health,” says Tyler. This can include physical conditions and mental or emotional health.
Poor grades at school, injuries or hospitalizations, a tarnished reputation, or the loss of a job or parenting rights are some of the consequences of an addiction, says Tyler.
Tyler says addicts commonly make excuses to “deny the severity or seriousness of the addictive behavior … While a non-addicted person can usually recognize a negative behavior and choose to eliminate it, this is typically not the case with an addict. Rather than admit the presence of a problem, an addict must convince himself and others why it’s acceptable to continue the behavior.”
The freedom to make our own choices is a great blessing. But it’s important to choose wisely so that we can enjoy life to its fullest. If we do become entrapped by our vices, we can turn to God for help. We can teach our kids to do the same.
Cook says, “We must always remember that we do not save ourselves. We are liberated by the love, grace and atoning sacrifice of the Savior … If we are true to his light, follow his commandments, and rely on his merits, we will avoid … bondage as well as the lamentation of wandering in our own wilderness, for he is mighty to save.”