Biblical Mental and Emotional Health
A friend of mine visited Bracknell, Berkshire, England, and since the day was unusually warm, he ate his lunch while setting on a public bench beside one of the city street. The bench was located just outside of an establishment filled with electronic games. As he ate his sandwich, my friend could see a slot machine near the entrance. He watched as a man in his twenties began to put in coins, British half-pound, one-pound and eventually two-pound coins. This was not just small change. Suddenly, the sound of the bells and whistles filled the air, and lots of coins poured out of the machine. I thought the man had gotten what he wanted, but instead of leaving with the loot, he put the coins back into the machine one by one, as if the machine had lost them, and he wanted to return them. Of course, the one-armed bandit accepted every single piece of precious metal that was fed into it. The man finally checked all his pockets to confirm that he had no more coins, and then he left. My friend did not know whether he was hooked on gambling. If so, he would no doubt soon return with a new bag of coins to repeat the scene all over again.
Why this illogical behavior? The young man probably wanted to win the jackpot. But even if he were to win it, he’d already have put in more money than it would have paid him.
Addictions of any kind form serious barriers to freedom. When they control people’s behavior, then people have lost their freedom. No wonder happiness has been defined as freedom from addictions.
The best-known addictions are the chemical addictions to drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin; and to these substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, sleeping pills, and painkillers that are considered acceptable because they have been legalized and regulated. All these substances, to a greater or lesser extent, cause the following.
- Dependence. This means that when people have taken the substance a few times, they find it difficult to stop using it. This is partly because of habit and partly because of chemical processes that made them feel uncomfortable until they take the substance again.
- Withdrawal. This refers to the severe symptoms people experience when they quit using a substance.
- Reinforcement. This is the psychological mechanism created when people experience a reward or a feeling of pleasure from an activity or substance, which causes them to use it again and again.
- Tolerance. This results from the body’s adaption to a substance, which necessitates increasing the dose to obtain the same level of results that addict has previously experienced.
- Intoxication. This is the dulling of sensory and mental faculties by substances.
These responses explain why people have such difficulty giving up addictive substances. More often than not, they must have the support of their families, close friends, therapeutic groups, and professionals. And above all, they need the strength God will give them.
The overwhelming majority of Seventh-day Adventist around the world are free from substances I’ve listed above. However, there are many nonchemical habits that can become powerful addictions; sex, pornography, gambling, risky investments, the accumulation of money or goods, video gaming, testing, and care of one’s image. Furthermore, people abuse and become addicted to common necessities such as food, medicine, shopping and exercise. Legal or illicit, chemical or nonchemical, socially approved or rejected, health hazard or innocuous. All additions limit freedom, and some take it away completely. It is immoral for those who understand that they are created in God’s image and created free (Genesis 1:27; 2:16) to make decisions that might cause them to become enslaved by a chemical or a habit.
There are many substances that can produce addiction. Stimulants – such as cocaine, amphetamines, nicotine, and caffeine – provide extra motivation and energy. Depressants – such as barbiturates, benzodiazepines, alcohol, and opiates, including heroin – can calm people or cheer up a depressive mood. Hallucinogens – such as LSD, marijuana, and hashish – produce hallucinations, marked changes of perception that sometimes are pleasant, sometime horrific. Inhalants – such as glue, toluene, and ether – sometimes act as depressants and sometimes as hallucinogens. Steroids – such as doping agents and bodybuilders -cause a growth in muscular mass and enables people to increase their strength and improve their physical performance. Let’s look at a few addictions, beginning with the drug that poses the most problems.
Alcohol. Of all addictive substances, alcohol and tobacco place the greatest burdens upon health, societies, economies, families, communities, and nations. According to the World Health Organization, there are 2 billion alcohol users and 1.3 billion smokers. Contrast those numbers with the mere 185 million users of all illicit drugs combined.
Alcohol is the chief culprit among chemical addictions, affecting he greatest number of people. Complicating matters, it has an attractive image: wineries are delightful places to visit, wine is used for toasting people during special occasions and celebrations, alcoholic drinks are associated with intellectual activities, and they are a favorite among the upper middle classes. In addition, there is now some evidence that when used in moderation alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Is this the last word? Probably not, if the history of tobacco is any indication. Just a few generations ago, science said that smoking was good for one’s health. For decades, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, and other Hollywood stars were made to look more attractive with ever-present cigarettes. Nowadays, tobacco is associated with terrible health hazards and has been discredited – it thrives primarily among the working classes and in developing countries.
The Bible strongly warns us about alcohol, showing not only its attractive face, but also its ugly side:
Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it goes down smoothly!
In the end it bites like a snake
And poisons like a viper (Proverbs 23:31, 32).
The same chapter names a few consequences of alcohol consumption: woe, sorrow, strife, complaints, needless bruises, bloodshot eyes, strange sights, and wild imaginings. It closes with a reminder of the mentality addiction produces, “When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” (verse 35).
Consumption of alcohol has long-term effects: malnutrition, cirrhosis of the liver, peripheral nerve damage, cardiac disorders, pancreatitis, gastritis, gastroduodenal ulcers, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, early mortality, and in the case of pregnant women, premature birth, fetal alcohol syndrome, and certain congenital abnormalities. There are also behavior and emotional complications. For example, Janet C. Greenblatt, from the Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration, examined data about fifteen to twenty-year-olds across the United States, Here are some of the results.
- Twenty-one percent of the fifteen- to twenty-year-olds involved in car accidents had been drinking.
- People who begin drinking before fifteen years of age are four times more likely to become alcoholics than are those who start drinking at the age of twenty-one or older.
- College drinkers were 2.3 times more likely than nondrinkers to force sexual touching or sexual intercourse upon an unwilling partner.
- Eighty percent of all high school seniors and dropout said they had gotten drunk and had driven under the influence.
- Fifty percent of high school seniors and dropouts reported that alcohol caused them to have sickness, absenteeism, and problems with the law.
- Fifty percent of heavy drinkers reported that they had used an illicit drug (marijuana, hallucinogens, and/or inhalants) in the past thirty days.
- Half of the drinkers reported poor school work, compared with 27 percent of nondrinkers.
- In comparison with nondrinkers, those who were drinkers were three times more likely to say that they had tried to hurt or kill themselves.
- Drinkers were three to five times more likely to say they had runaway from home.
- Drinkers were three or four times more likely to say that they had stolen or shoplifted.
- Drinkers were two or three times more likely to say that they had destroyed things, threatened people, and/or physically attacked people.
- Heavy drinkers were three ties more likely to have been involved in a physical fight.
- Drinkers were twice as likely to have disobeyed school authorities, to have cut classes, and or to have skipped school.
Some Adventists are ignoring the church’s historic position of abstemiousness by drinking “in moderation.” That seems a pity when we have been entrusted with a health message that has proven itself for more than one hundred years – one that excluded the use of alcoholic beverages.
I wont be drinking alcohol in moderation. My father told me some really interesting and scary stories about his youth that involved drinking, even in moderation that got him in trouble.
Other chemical addictions. There are other chemicals that may lead to less obvious and destructive addictions: among them, sugar and caffeine. Psychologist from Princeton University have presented the evidence of Sugar addiction cycles in rats, including steps such as bingeing, withdrawal, and craving. The experience of many people suggests that human beings are subject to becoming addicted to sugar too.
Caffeine, a mild stimulant contained in coffee, tea, and various soft drinks, has been found to cause dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorder (DSM-IV) classifies the consumption of 250 mg of caffeine per day as caffeine intoxication. The effects are nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, diuresis, an excess of blood in one’s cheeks, muscle twitching, digestive problems, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia, and psychomotor agitation.
There are addictive practices that are based on behavior and habit rather than on ingesting physical substances. Although the causes of these addictions may differ, the psychological processes are remarkably similar to those cause by chemical addictions. That’s why the original twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous work equally well for any of the other group therapies: Gamblers Anonymous. Workaholics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Shoplifters Anonymous, overeaters anonymous, smokers anonymous and so on. Let’s examine a few common non-chemical addictions.
Sex Addiction: The bible presents sexuality as a source of enjoyment for both marriage partners and as a way for them to strengthen their relationship. Solomon, in the context of his warnings against adultery, presents a very clear statement of the benefits of love for husband and wife:
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love (Psalm 5:18, 19).
This gift from God to humanity was granted not only for procreation but also as a source of joy, closeness, and unity in marriage (Genesis 1:27, 28; I Corinthians 7:2).
However, when sex is taken away from its original framework and purpose, it becomes a source of trouble. Adultery produces the following consequences: infidelity to God because it is a transgression of the seventh commandment and dishonors Him (I Corinthians 7:2); unfaithfulness to the spouse who is wronged: damage to the stability of the marriage; injury to the adulterer, because, as Paul says, “all other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (I Corinthians 6:18); and serious risk of falling into an addiction.
Adultery inclines people to sexual addiction when the sexual interaction is satisfying, and no one finds out. The pleasure obtained will draw the adulterer to repeat the behavior, which then becomes addictive. Having worked briefly with a couple of cases of adultery. The lead pastor addressed the congregation most of whom were married and had children. – about this topic and gave a very serious warning: “If you think that you can cheat on your wife and nobody will find out, you are wrong. Satan will make sure your wife will uncover your act, so that you and your church get discredited.” He warned the congregation to reflect on the consequences before they rushed into an illicit relationship.
Jesus definition of adultery includes more than the physical act. He said, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). That definition has direct implication for contemporary temptations: pornographic magazines and movies, strip bars, and cybersex. The latter, an online erotic/romantic conversation frequently accompanied by masturbation, has grown phenomenally over the past few years. And now, as many women as men are participating. It is estimated that 9 percent of those who try cybersex become addicts. Indicators of addiction include personality changes, demands for privacy, ignoring household chores, lack of interest in sex with one’s spouse, lies about credit card charges, and lack of interaction with family members.
The impact of cybersex addiction on marriage and family life is significant. Marital and family therapists as well as divorce lawyers are reporting an increase in the number of couples seeking divorce due to online infidelity. Jennifer P. Schneider is a physician certified in internal medicine, addiction medicine, and pain management who works with the Arizona Community Physicians group. She surveyed a sample of individuals whose spouses were involved in Internet sex. Respondents felt hurt, betrayed, rejected, abandoned, devastated, lonely, ashamed, isolated, humiliated, jealousy, and angry, and suffered low self-esteem. In 68 percent of the couples, one or both partners had lost interest in sex with their spouse. This virtual infidelity had begun to take its toll: 22 percent of the respondents were separated or divorced, and several others were thinking about leaving their relationship. Practically all felt that cyberaffairs were as emotionally painful as were live affairs. As far as the children were concerned, they were exposed to cyberporn and neglected by their addictive parent, and many of them had to suffer the consequences of marital conflict and separation as well.
In addition to the profound family problems caused by virtual affairs, those who participate in them suffer consequences to themselves. Andreas Philaretou and his associates examined the effects of cybersex on extensive interviews with male participants addicted to Internet sex. Guilt, depressive symptoms, symptoms of anxiety, and an inability to experience intimacy with real-life partners were some of the consequences of online sex addiction that they observed.
We need to avoid taking even one step in the wrong direction. “Keep to a path far from (an adulterer), do not go near the door of her house (Proverbs 5:8). A youth pastor of my day used to give us good advice. He said, “imagine that you notice that you like a certain young woman, but you find out that she is married. You have two options: either you discard the idea completely, or you start fantasizing and imagining times and places in which you would be in her company, ignoring the fact that she is married. You better follow the first path, while you can easily do so because the second will open the door to trouble.” His point was that we should say No before things become too complicated. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Gambling: This activity is one of the pastimes most likely to cause addiction. People start making a few innocent bets, and the occasional payoffs make them try again and again in the hope that soon they’ll have a big payoff that will compensate for all they’ve lost. Evidences of addiction include an obsessive preoccupation with gambling, lies, loss of all available money, and then borrowing and even stealing so they can continue to gamble.
Bingo, poker, slot machines, roulette, sports betting, and the lottery are some of the forms of gambling that may lead to addiction. The Bible doesn’t speak directly of gambling or betting, but we can obtain its guidance by noting what it says about related matters. For example, it says that those who don’t work aren’t entitled to eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). The tenth commandment forbids coveting (Exodus 20:17), which is the emotion gamblers experience when they think of the top prize. And Paul warns against the love of money, which he calls the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10). We can infer that gamblers and betters are money lovers, for they wouldn’t incur such heavy debts in time, money, and energy just to win a little cash.
Today, national lotteries include a million participants – or more. What are the odds of winning a secondary prize, and what are the chances of wining the tops prize? The probability is so remote that it doesn’t justify invest a single penny. But this logical analysis doesn’t convince the many people who patronize these forms of gambling. Why? Not because they’re simply greedy or desire to make big money quickly. Self-esteem appears to be a principal factor. Many people find satisfaction in fantasizing about winning because of what they imagine it will do for their egos. When they don’t win, they shift their hopes to winning the next time – so they gamble again and again. We can counteract that hope by contrasting the many sure blessings we receive from out God through Jesus Christ with the remote probability of winning the lottery.
Possessions: Wealth, in and of itself, doesn’t have to be evil. In fact, Job, a very rich man, was God’s favorite man of his generation. The Bible, however, does warn against the wrong attitude toward money and assets. For example, as we have noted above, Paul tells his pupil Timothy that “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” and he explains its danger by saying that some have lost their faith due to such love> and Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15).
The rich young ruler was a good Jew in faith and practice. But he valued his possessions more than the kingdom of God. That is why, when Jesus asked him to sell them and follow Him, he couldn’t bear the pain of losing what he considered most important. Therefore, “the man’s face fell” and “he went away sad” (Mark 10:22). His faulty priorities probably cost him eternal life.
People’s love of material things becomes especially dangerous when they focus their lives on accumulating them. Some may dedicate a disproportionate amount of time to monitoring their investments, thus neglecting god, relationships, and recreation. The internet has made it possible for us to navigate from bank account to bank account. We can make all the transfers we want to – even internationally. And we can invest in the stock exchange without leaving our homes. The constant change of indexes and rates may bind us to our computers for endless hours in order to make an extra five or ten dollars. This is a sign of addiction.
We need to honestly and openly asked the Lord for our necessities: “Give me neither poverty nor riches: feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Proverb 30:8, 9).
Personal Image: Years ago, I had a friend who commented to me that his wife was having problems with her weight. She would tell him, “Dear, every time I look at myself in the mirror, I get depressed.” And he would reply to her, “Then don’t look at yourself in the mirror!: He loved her the same with or without those extra ten pounds. He accepted her as she was.
Why did she get depressed? For one thing, society has placed an excessive value on personal image, creating frustration and depression in those who differ from the norm. This creates business. The worldwide cosmetics industry generate returns equivalent to more than half of the global food retail market. In addition to buy cosmetics, many people spend their resources on body building, face lifting, Botox injections, hair transplants, plastic surgery, special diets, and so on, in order to improve their appearance.
The issue here, again is a matter of one’s values. In a recent Travel Channel program, five South Pacific islanders from a primitive culture were brought to America wo witness the way Americans live. Among the many things they experienced was a beauty treatment in Southern California. The beautician asked, “would you like to look ten years younger?” The Pacific Islander she asked replied, “No, I would prefer to live ten years longer!” In his culture, age and even looking old were highly valued. In the beautician’s culture looking young is of supreme value.
The apostle Peter indicated what Christians should value: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment . . . . Instead, it should be that of you inner self, and unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (I Peter 3:3, 4). It isn’t outward beauty that counts but the gentleness of a Christlike character.
There are still other forms of addiction that we haven’t discussed – food, exercise, work, TV, video gaming, surfing the Web, text messaging, shopping, pursuing hobbies, even Facebook. Counselors report in an increasing number of individual who say they’re having problem with their use of social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpeace. Some spend ninety minutes a day on these sites, searching for newly poste pictures and messages. If you’re at risk of falling into an addiction or if you’re suffering under one, consider seriously turning to Jesus for the freedom He can help you find. “If the Son set you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).