Is excessive drinking an addiction?

Question
Is it correct for a Christian to label continuous excessive drinking, as an addiction, or besetting sin? Is drunkenness a proper label? - (drug and internet porn as addictions). Should it be called sin? What about counseling?
Answer
Thanks for your question(s).

Addictions?

Some addictions are good having positive consequences; being addicted to God, His Word, prayer, and covenant faithfulness, etc. However, other addictions or besetting sins may not be so good - utterly evil in fact. While I wouldn't agree with many of the psychological definitions of "addiction," I refer to substance addictions as ongoing depravity sin disorders. While the terms ongoing, depravity, and sin are rather self-explanatory, I refer to disorders because one's life is not ordered to the pattern God originally intended them - that is His perfection (Matt. 5:48; cf. Gen. 1:31). So, it depends upon one's definition of terms.

The Bible refers to excessive drinking as drunkenness (Rom. 13:13; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:3, etc.). So, this is a proper label. From my perspective/definition, alcoholism itself is an addiction.

Drugs are linguistically associated with witchcraft (Greek, pharmakeia - where we obtain our word pharmacy, see 1 Sam. 15:23; Gal. 5:19-21). Again, for those enslaved to illegal or prescribed drugs I consider it an addiction.

Viewing internet pornography may be referred to as a sexual addiction as well. It's linguistically associated with fornication, immorality, and idolatry (Greek porneia - where we obtain our word pornography from, see Rom. 1:29; Jude 1:7).

Many deal with these addictions on a daily basis. They can each be conquered.

Illicit Addictions are Sins

However, while these may be proper labeled as addictions allowing us to better communicate within our culture, one should also recognize and acknowledge the absolute fact that such activities are also hideous deadly sins (Rom. 3:23). No matter what else one may call it, sin is still sin.

The activities mentioned above are idols of a broken heart (cf. Exod. 20:3-4; 1 Cor. 10:6-7). Whatever or whoever owns your heart, mind, and body is your god. Sin is an enslavement, a taskmaster. One is chained and handcuffed to it (Matt. 6:24; John 8:34; Rom. 6:16, 20) and a mere man-made key won't release the tentacles of its deadly imprisonment.

However, one's condition is much more severe than many may initially understand (Jer. 17:9). As there is approximately 90 percent of an iceberg found under water, there is a hidden deadly cancer festering under all outward sin. Every sin has a root sin associated with it; murder = hatred (1 John 3:15), adultery = lust (Matt. 5:27-28), etc. (1 John 2:16). It is a deep dark depravity, unrighteousness, and ungodliness. It affects every part of our entire being; what we see, hear, say, touch, and even where we go and do. It is the condition of the heart, one's very nature. We aren't sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. This is who and what we are.

So, it's not enough to be delivered from a mere addiction, just to cut off the top of the proverbial iceberg. While that's good - really, really good - one must also deal with its festering root, including it's authority, power, guilt, fear, and shame over them. Some simply refer to this as that nagging feeling they can't get rid of. So, unless we have a Titanic-type faith - the product of what Calvin called an Evanescent Grace - we will take biblical measures deal with the sin beneath the sin (1 Tim. 1:19).

God's View of Sin

While God is love (1 John 4:7-8), He literally hates sin (Prov. 8:13; Rev. 2:6) and sinners too (Lev. 26:30 [Lev. 26:28-39]; Psa. 5:4-5; 11:5-7; Prov. 6:16-19; Rom. 9:13). He hates sin because it opposes His holy, just, and good nature (Rom. 7:12). Indeed, if we trace sin back to its originating source we observe the devil and his seed at work (John 8:44-45; Jas. 1:14-15).

Scripture describes sin as a burden (Psa. 38:4), bruises, sores, raw wounds, a stain (Isa. 1:6, 18), a heavy debt (Matt. 6:12-15), something that defiles (Tit. 1:15), and a darkness (1 John 1:6). All unrighteousness is sin (1 John 5:17). It is not only an action against oneself, but humanity, society, and ultimately against God Himself. Needless to say it is temporarily crippling and eternally deadly! (Rom. 6:23). As matter a fact, one is already dead in trespasses and sin if they don't truly know Christ (John 3:18; Eph. 2:1).

However, this brief definition of sin barely touches the surface. As an iceberg has many crevasses in it, in the Old Testament, there are at least nine definitions of sin. Let's keep these very brief: (1) ra, bad (Gen. 38:7); (2) chata, sin (Exod. 20:20); (3) rasha, wickedness (Exod. 2:13); (4) avon, iniquity (1 Sam. 3:13); (5) pesha, transgression (1 Kings 8:50); (6) asham, guilty (Hos. 4:15); (7) taah, wander away (Ezek. 48:11); (8) pasha, rebel (1 Kings 8:50); and (9) shagag, err (Isa. 28:7).

And in the New Testament, there are at least twelve Greek words used to describe sin: (1) adikia, unrighteousness (1 Cor. 6:9); (2) agnoein, to be ignorant (Rom. 1:13); (3) anomos, lawlessness (1 Tim. 1:9); (4) asebes, godless (Rom. 1:18); (5) enochos, guilt (Matt. 5:21); (6) hamartia, sin (1 Cor. 6:18); (7) kakos, bad (Rom. 13:3); (8) hupocrites, hypocrite (1 Tim. 4:2); (9) parabates, transgression (Rom. 5:14); (10) paraptomai, to fall away (Gal. 6:1); (11) planan, to go astray (1 Cor. 6:9); and (12) poneros, evil (Matt. 5:45).

So, sin may take on various definitions. There is always a clear standard against which sin is committed. Man's responsibility is definite and as already stated ultimately all sin is rebellion against God.

I'm tired of all these chilling definitions of sin, aren't you? However, God is much more tired of the reality of our daily sin!

God's Holy Requirement

God commands us to be holy (Lev. 19:2). He commands us to sin not (1 John 5:21; cf. Matt. 5:48). But how can we, if we are handcuffed to sin with its numerous chains? It has us in its deadly grasp and we don't have the key. We know that God is the eternal Judge and He justly punishes sin (Gen. 18:25; Psa. 7:11). This is the predicament of predicaments for mankind! We're all guilty. What can we do?

Who Can Deliver the Addicted Sinner?

So, who then can deliver us from the authority, power, guilt, fear, and shame of sin? Can a secular psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or a jail cell? God does use secondary causes (WCF 5.2-3), so in some instances these may be very helpful with the surface part of an addiction. But what about the other 90% of all those underlying problems? None of the above are eternal physicians of the soul. None of them can eternally forgive a person for their sin, heal the heart and mind, or rather make someone a new creation. No one above can place the total debt we owe upon another Person and stamp one's sin paid-in-full. None offer the total destruction of the enemy of sin (i.e. destroying 100% of the icebergs of evil) or give eternal life.

Who then has the key of deliverance? Who is the eternal cure? Who can raise the dead in sin? (John 3:18; Eph. 2:1). The Great Physician (Luke 5:31-32) who has the keys to eternal life (Matt. 16:16; John 11:25). Christ loved His people when they were yet sinners, yet still addicts (Rom. 5:8; cf. John 15:13). He is the way, the life, and the truth (John 14:6). God alone can forgive and heal the broken heart (Prov. 28:13; Isa. 30:18; Eph. 1:7; Tit. 2:14). As John wrote, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36).

Are you a great sinner - an addict? God has some good news. Jesus is even a greater Savior! If you aren't a Christian speak to one you know today. That relationship isn't by accident. Accept Christ today! If you are already a Christian than begin conquering your addiction(s) today by accepting God's gifts of repentance (Acts 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Rom. 2:4) and faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 2:11), being renewed in the spirit of your mind (Rom. 12:1-2), removing the high places of idolatry [sin] in your life (2 Kings 18:4-5; cf. Exod. 34:13; 2 Chron. 31:1), and continually looking unto the delivering Christ (Col. 2:14-15) and His tender mercies (Heb. 12:2; cf. Num. 21:8-9; 2 Cor. 4:18). "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). Trust Him now!

While I hope this answer is somewhat helpful and encouraging, all of us are prone to besetting sins (WCF. 5.5). Unfortunately, none of us will be sinless this side of glory (1 John 1:8-10), but we can sin less and less as God deals with us in loving mercy.

God is marked by holiness and grace. He never abandons His people. Many times one needs assistance in dealing with addictions. It's not an easy path, but nevertheless very rewarding as sins are conquered. It may take time. Accountability is key. We need to lovingly help bear one another's burden (Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). Please see, "Augustine's Confessions: A Guided Tour of Overcoming a Besetting Sin" below.

Suggested Resources

Powlison, David. Sexual Addiction: Freedom from Compulsive Behavior (New Growth Press, 2010).
Tripp, Paul. Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (P & R, 2002).
Welch, Edward. Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001).
Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (https://www.ccef.org/).

Related Topics

What is Evanescent Grace?
Augustine's Confessions: A Guided Tour of Overcoming a Besetting Sin
Is Jesus the ONLY WAY to Heaven?
What is the most sin someone has ever committed in a lifetime?
We Believe in Jesus
We Believe in God
We Believe In The Holy Spirit
The Apostles' Creed

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).