Addictions progress in predictible patterns


People who become entrapped by life-controlling issues follow a predictable pattern. We usually are lured into experimenting with a dangerous substance, behavior, or relationship because it is accompanied by a "high" or feeling of exhilaration. Whether the experience involves alcohol or other drugs, illicit sex, pornographic literature, work, sports, gambling, excessive spending, or another avenue to addiction, the pattern and end result are similar.

We call this the Trap because it often snares its victims before they realize what is happening. Every person has the potential to experience a life-controlling problem-- no one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person's being aware. As Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee, founder of Turning Point Ministries, states, "Addiction is death on the installment plan. No one ever plans to be trapped by a life controlling problem, yet it happens all the time."

The best time to deal with a life-controlling problem is before it begins. Garth Lean, in his book On the Tail of a Comet, discusses Frank Buchman, the man whose ideas inspired change-oriented programs like Alcoholics Anonymous:

Buchman had learnt that temptation, of whatever kind, was resisted at its earliest stage. It was easier, he sometimes said, to divert a small stream than to dam a river. He defined the progression of temptation as "the look, the thought, the fascination, the fall" and said that the time to deal with it was at the thought. Tackle temptation well upstream. (80)

Myer Pearlman writes concerning this progression of sin, "A man is free to begin, but is not always free to quit" (54). The Bible is full of accounts illustrating the progressive nature of sin. The stages of temptation identified by Buchman (the look, the thought, the fascination, the fall) are illustrated in the Bible stories at the right.

Stages of Life-Controlling Problems
Vernon E. Johnson, founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them. He writes, "We came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency" (8).

Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: 1)learns mood swing; 2) seeks mood swing; 3) harmful dependency; 4) uses to feel normal. Man of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including us, can also be related to other types of dependencies, although the terminology may differ.

In Living Free materials, these four stages are labeled: 1)experimentation; 2)social use; 3)daily preoccupation; and 4) using the substance or practicing the behavior just to feel normal. Not everyone progresses through all these stages, however there is no way to predict which people who begin the pattern will continue to stage four.

By the time people arrive at stage three, their developing life-controlling issues are clearly idols in their lives. They are beginning to suffer negative consequences from their involvement, but instead of slowing down in response to the pain, they involve themselves more deeply. They look to the behavior, substance, or relationship that is entrapping them for comfort or relief. Their delusion grows deeper until they no longer recognize the truth.

In the video, we looked at the stages an alcoholic typically goes through as drinking becomes a life-controlling problem. However, these stages can also apply to behavioral struggles. Below are the stages people often experience with an eating disorder, a sexual addiction, and several types of emotional struggles. Although the actual name used for the phase may be different and the details may vary, what is important to know is that even though life-controlling problems take many forms, they develop along similar predictable patterns.

Adapted from Living Free Coordinator's Guide, Jimmy Ray Lee and Dan Strickland, Turning Point, Chattanooga, TN, 1999, pp 40-42.
Used by permission

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