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Is Addiction Sinful?

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I am dealing with addiction in my family and wondered if the Church sees it as sinful?

One of the fundamental Christian beliefs is that the created world is good (Gen. 1:31). However, this does not mean that created things cannot be used immoderately or abused. In the case of addiction, a person has developed an unhealthy dependency on some created thing or activity. The choice to do so – when chosen – can be sinful. However, as addiction limits one’s freedom, the extent of one’s guilt may be limited.

THE GIFT OF LIFE AND HEALTH

Especially when wellness is diminished, whether through disease, age or addiction, we come to see the importance of the gifts of life and health. As beings who God created, we recognize that our lives are entrusted to us by Him. And with this comes an obligation to care for our bodies. The virtuous life, which God calls us to cultivate through our attitudes and actions, requires us to practice temperance as a matter of justice, self-care and concern for others. As the Catechism defines temperance, it is the virtue that “disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco or medicine” (CCC 2290).

SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Substance abuse is of particular concern because of its potentially serious effect upon individuals, families and society. Using drugs or using alcohol immoderately can inflict serious harm.

The choice to endanger oneself or others through the use of drugs or alcohol can be gravely sinful (CCC 2290). Participation in the production and trafficking of drugs is also immoral. The Catechism uses its strongest language to warn those engaged in distributing and selling drugs that their activities “constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC 2291).

ADDICTION AND FREEDOM

Not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol becomes addicted, but for those caught in addiction, one’s freedom is directly impacted. It is not possible to simply decide not to use again. Using a drug for the first time (if not prescribed by a doctor for therapeutic means) may be a choice and therefore sinful, but the subsequent addiction is not.

With addiction, one’s brain is altered to need the substance. Addictions confuse a person’s mind, values and decisions. Once addiction develops, the person is no longer free and can find himself making choices contrary to his health and wellbeing, including disregard for others and lack of concern for relationships. With addiction, one must use one’s freedom to acknowledge that he cannot get better on his own, but he requires help.

HELP FOR ADDICTION

Addiction is rightly classified as a disease that requires treatment. Medical intervention, psychological help and peer support can all contribute to recovery. Many organizations assist with addiction recovery, including 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and faith-based groups such as “Catholic in Recovery” (www. catholicinrecovery.com), which meets in Cincinnati, Dayton and online. To connect to an organization, one can call the national substance abuse helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Recovery programs and groups can assist individuals in rediscovering their faith. Active addiction can estrange one from God and the Church. Especially for Catholics, the healing process could involve spiritual counsel and the reception of the sacraments, including reconciliation.

As the person no longer abuses substances, he or she can grow in freedom and the ability to view the world without the distortion brought by addiction. This new freedom can help the individual return to wellness, restore relationships and grow in communion with Christ.

Father David Endres is associate professor of Church history and historical theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology.

This article appeared in the January 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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