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What is the root cause of the spiritual illness called addiction?

The real problem behind addiction is a spiritual problem

The only way an addict can ever have a real choice to stop self-medicating the symptoms of addiction is if he or she can understand and treat the real problem that gives rise to the symptoms to begin with. But what is the real problem the addict is attempting to treat by using?

The real problem behind addiction is a spiritual problem, as evidenced by the fact that the real solution is a spiritual solution. Let us now ask, what is the exact nature of the spiritual problem? What does it mean to be spiritually sick? In other words, what is the root cause of the spiritual illness called addiction?

Addicts are sick for God

The addict is sick with a yearning for God and can only become well by having some contact with God.

It sounds grandiose, I know. What are we saying? That all addicts are really super sensitive, spiritually passionate seekers?

Not exactly.

More aptly stated: All human beings have a deep-seated need for spiritual contact. But most people can also live their lives without it. Addicts are people who, for whatever reason, are unsettled to the core and cannot handle the business of life without maintaining a continual and acute awareness of the Divine. Absent such higher consciousness, they are miserable and sick. What makes their dilemma fatal is that their drug of choice will actually produce in them short-term affects that simulate the release and relief that can only really be had through spiritual consciousness. Consequently, the only real treatment for their condition is to make sure that they get the “real thing” instead of self-medicating with the fake stuff, for if they do not get the real thing, they have no choice but to take the fake stuff.

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In other words, for most people, spirituality is a luxury, something to be sought after more “basic” needs are met. Addicts are somehow different in this respect in that for them, there can be nothing resembling a normal life if their spiritual needs are not met first.

Why addicts use a drug of choice

Of course, we don’t mean to say that only addicts are capable of truly yearning for God. In Song of Songs (2:5), King Solomon describes the feeling of being “lovesick” for God. That is not the point anyway. It is not the longing for spiritual wholeness that causes addiction. What makes an addict an addict is the combination of two factors: (1) they are profoundly disturbed and unsettled with their own existence as an entity apart from God; and (2) for reasons unknown, they can somehow briefly simulate relief from this condition by taking their drug of choice.

This is the trap of addiction, and it is the real problem we have been trying to define. The real problem that lies at the core of addiction is that addicts are people who are in dire need of a relationship with God but are able to substitute fulfilling this need with a behavior that is essentially self-destructive.

Really, the drug of choice becomes the addict’s God. This is not meant as mere rhetoric. Addiction is idol worship in the most fundamental sense of the term—turning to something other than God to do for you what only God can do.

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9 Responses to “What is the root cause of the spiritual illness called addiction?
Judy
4:27 am February 4th, 2011

Although I am a Christian “believer” now, the “reason” I became addicted to alcohol was because I liked the way it made me feel and it was FUN — plain and simple. No longing for anything but feeling good and having a good time. After years of use, I found that my body physically needed it. No abuse, no void, no anger. It can happen to anyone.

Tony
6:53 pm February 6th, 2011

When someone you know becomes a drug addict, it can get really hard at times to deal with that person; you will often get angry with him. This is something normal; everyone would get mad since a person when on drugs is someone else at that time. A drug addict would get irritated very easily from little things and would let it all out on you.

James
10:36 pm June 28th, 2011

Great advice and great definition.

I have never heard that, “Addicts are people who, for whatever reason, are unsettled to the core and cannot handle the business of life without maintaining a continual and acute awareness of the Divine. Absent such higher consciousness, they are miserable and sick.”

So true and thank you for your insight in this area.

Another kid, who should be an adult, who grew up in the church, and has every argument in his head, with nothing hitting his heart.

Thank you,

James

Matthew
9:52 pm June 20th, 2012

I’m not sure I agree with you on this topic. I do agree that some individuals who meet criteria for substance dependence seem to benefit greatly from cultivating spirituality in their lives; however, the majority of individuals who meet criteria for substance dependence tend to mature out of their dependence on substances and remit using alcohol and/or drugs without a spiritual awakening. Furthermore, many of these individuals live contented lives without alcohol/drug, or a Higher Power.

Lou
4:22 pm September 10th, 2012

Great article. Yes drugs were my solution to the “ism”, the internal spiritual malady which is described in the bb p52 as

“we were having trouble with personal relationships,
we couldnt control our emotional natures,
we were a prey to misery & depression,
we couldnt make a living,
we had a feeling of uselessness,
we were full of fear,
we were unhappy,
we couldnt seem to be of real help to other people.”

That is what was wrong with me & until I found a spiritual solution through the 12 steps i was in danger of picking up again.

Damian amamoo
11:04 pm July 11th, 2014

Test message – I’m not sure if I can post without being signed up so this is just a test

8:45 am July 14th, 2014

Hi Damian. Yes, you can comment without signing up. Still, all the comments are first checked and edited, and then we approve them on the page.

Damian
3:41 am January 5th, 2015

I think this article very well written. Addiction is a complex problem.

I agree with Rabbi that some people need to have an active daily ‘spiritual dimension’ to their lives. For example, to run the whole day without taking drugs some sort of ‘Program’ is required for that day. For most of us a ‘Program’ can mean get up, walk the dog, have brekky, shower go to work etc, come home make dinner – the day is already full. A ‘Program’ tells you what you need to do at each point of the day. Some people like to have a very fixed program while others like to have a more self directed or dynamic one. The ‘Program’ must be underlied or empowered by self-belief or an over-arching spiritual or motivational reason about why the program is important and needs to continue. Some people have a lot of difficulty in coming up with such a reason, and in these cases religion can provide a very useful dual role by not only giving people a reason for running the program but also by suggesting what people should be including in their daily ‘Program’. Some people do not have the personal skills to develop their own program or even if they do, perhaps someone else has convinced them their program is not worth running. Such people will then take up a program that is supplied by someone else that may include drug taking. The side effects from the drug use may cause some pain but overall at least drug takers feel ‘busy’ and ‘engaged’ whether they are on the up with the drugs or crashing through pain in recovery. What everyone including drug takers is running from is the emotional pain that is involved with an unengaged or confused free will. This decision making paralysis or place of ‘nothing’, ‘no action’ and confusion can by extremely emotionally painful, frustrating and debilitating for people.

Drugs are just an instant program for people who don’t have one. Albeit with some pretty negative side effects. If people want to cure people from drug addiction they will need to provide a competing program, point out the benefits and transition the addict across to it. But it will be important to remember that the addict may need a program with a lot of regular human support so coming up with a self directed / self supporting program isn’t likely to work. What’s really required is to create new communities.

Darlene
12:53 am August 8th, 2015

My name is Darla and I used to be a drug addict I probably still am a drug addicts I just don’t use I choose not to use honestly I really don’t think it had anything to do with spirituality. problem going way back to my childhood so I don’t know how you equate that with spirituality let me know

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About Rabbi Shais Taub

Rabbi Shais Taub is one of today's most respected young scholars of Jewish spirituality and practice. National Public Radio called him "an expert in Jewish mysticism and the Twelve Steps." He is the author of God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction.

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