This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step One: ADMIT I have a struggle I cannot overcome without God.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

Of the things that people love to debate, “What is an addiction? Is it disease or a choice? Does it reveal a character deficit or a pitiable condition?” is likely near the top of the list; at least in counseling circles. If we frame the question in this binary, either-or fashion, we are unlikely to reach a fruitful conclusion.

Hopefully, you can already pick up that this study will draw some from both schools of thought. Every addict makes choices and addiction radically changes how we choose. The path out of addiction is lined with the stepping stones of meaningful choices and we are all predisposed (by our fallen, sinful nature) to resist these choices.

Caution: If you are struggling with an active addiction, do not get bogged down in this section. This material will make more sense in retrospect with a bit more sobriety under your belt. But the debates surrounding this subject are too prevalent to leave unaddressed until later.

Nine definitions of addiction are provided below from the resources frequently referenced in this study. Each is believed to offer a valuable perspective on the experience of addiction. This is not the time to try to write the perfect definition of addiction or deconstruct the philosophical assumptions behind each.

  1. “Addiction is bondage to the rule of a substance, activity, or state of mind, which then becomes the center of life, defending itself from the truth so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God (p. 35).” Ed Welch in Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave
  2. “The critical dimensions for an addiction are (1) the development of a solidly established, problematic pattern of an appetitive – that is, pleasurably reinforcing—behavior, (2) the presence of physiological and psychological components of the behavior pattern that create dependence, and (3) the interaction of these components in the life of the individual that make behavior resistant to change (p. 4).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change
  3. “Addiction is any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire (p. 24)… When we can see our freedom impaired, we should consider the presence of addiction (p. 33).” Gerald May in Addiction & Grace
  4. “Addiction is a pathological love and trust relationship with an object or event (p. 10).” Craig Nakken in The Addictive Personality
  5. “Addiction is an impulse-control disorder (p. 113).” Craig Nakken in The Addictive Personality
  6. “The language of sin that A.A. rejected was not the orthodox doctrine of sin as propounded by thinkers like Augustine. Rather, A.A. rejected a certain understanding of sin [Pelagianism] that had long been found theologically wanting. The church proclaims that sin is not fundamentally about human acts but about the human situation. The acts that we call sins are derivative of a deeper malaise called sin (p. 129).” Kent Dunnington in Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice
  7. “They become conscious of the fact that they have been merely fighting the symptoms of some deep-seated malady, and that they are confronted, not merely with the problem of sins, that is, of separate sinful deeds, but with the much greater and deeper problem of sin, of an evil that is inherent in human nature (p. 227, emphasis added)… Sin does not reside in any one faculty of the soul, but in the heart, which in Scriptural psychology is the central organ of the soul, out of which are the issues of life.  And from this center its influence and operations spread to the intellect, the will, the affections, in short, to the entire man, including his body (p. 233).” Louis Berkhoff in Systematic Theology
  8. “The thematic has thus come full circle. What was originally understood as the universal condition of sin, then reduced to the pathology of a particular group, and then expanded into a proliferation of addictive diagnoses has simply become another name for a universal human condition (p. 110).” Linda Mercandante in Victims and Sinners
  9. Addiction is present whenever continued self-destructive behavior seems easier and more appealing than healthy living.

What are the most important take-aways for you from these definitions?

What important misconceptions are challenged in these definitions?

That is enough reflection on this question for now. Continue with the rest of the study.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.