Why do millions abuse chemical substances? Is there a missing dimension in their lives? Are there real answers to these troubling questions?
The world is awash in dangerous—yet pleasure-producing—chemical substances. Millions use and abuse these potentially deadly substances as self-administered drugs—in spite of well-publicized risks and documented fatalities. But why do people do this? Why do young people and adults alike deliberately take such risks? Why would someone willingly court disaster? Surprisingly, the real keys to understanding and combating substance abuse are not found in clinical programs or medical textbooks, but in the Bible! This may sound strange to modern ears, but the evidence is available. It is clear. It is sobering—and it is encouraging!
Substance abuse is a global problem encompassing a broad range of chemicals. If something can be ingested, injected, inhaled or absorbed into the human body, it can be abused! In America over 90 million people (nearly one-third of the population) either abuse these drugs or have a relationship with someone who is chemically dependent! Other countries face a similar problem.
Alcoholic beverages are consumed and abused around the world. Alcohol produces pleasurable effects by relaxing muscles and sedating the brain so that worries temporarily vanish. In moderate amounts, alcohol produces healthful changes in the human body. But frequent use at intoxicating levels clouds judgment, slows reflexes, causes memory loss and blackouts, damages the heart and liver, weakens the immune system and causes birth defects. Drunkenness is directly linked to accidents, job loss, violent crimes and suicide. In short, alcohol abuse kills and maims. It disrupts and destroys the very fabric of normal human society.
The use of tobacco is “the most serious and widespread addictive behavior in the world and the major cause of preventable deaths in our society” (An Invitation to Health, Hales, 5th ed., 1992, p. 399). Smoking is directly linked to heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and respiratory diseases like emphysema, breast and bladder cancer, miscarriage and—in children of smokers—low birth weight, birth defects and mental retardation (Ibid., pp. 403-408). Smokers have a death rate three times higher than non-smokers and have five times more heart attacks.
Recreational drugs are chemical substances taken for thrill and pleasure. LSD and PCP are hallucinogens that alter mental perception and promote a feeling of superhuman strength—yet these drugs can trigger violent behavior and psychotic attacks. Cocaine and amphetamines provide a temporary feeling of heightened energy and confidence but damage the heart and brain. Designer drugs such as Ecstasy—used by thousands at all-night dance parties called “raves”—create feelings of warmth and openness yet can permanently damage brain cells and can kill the user (see Time, June 5, 2000, pp. 62-73).
Nearly one half of the drug abuse in the United States involves the misuse of prescription drugs. This involves forged prescriptions, Medicaid frauds, black market sales, accidental misuse of prescribed drugs by the elderly and errors made by physicians (see Prescription Drug Abuse: The Hidden Epidemic, Colvin, 1995). Perhaps one of the biggest areas of concern is the astonishing increase in the use of Ritalin, a physician-prescribed drug given to American children diagnosed with ADHD (see accompanying box: America’s New Disease!)
Caffeine—the active ingredient in coffee, tea and a variety of soft drinks—is probably “the most-used drug in the world” (Hales, p. 345). High levels of caffeine ingestion have been linked to heart problems, breast lumps and bladder cancer, but conclusive proof is lacking. However, large amounts of caffeine can cause irritability, nervousness, insomnia and gastrointestinal disturbances. Continued use of caffeine containing beverages can lead to psychological and physical dependency (see Drugs, Society and Human Behavior, Ray & Ksir, 1990, pp. 230-232).
Many widely used chemical substances damage the brain, heart and lungs of the user as well as the bodies of unborn children. The use of drugs contributes to the leading causes of death in the world—heart disease, stroke, and various types of cancer. Drug abuse also generates an incredible financial burden for society. Estimated costs of substance abuse in America exceed $240 billion a year (Colvin, p. 100). In the United States approximately “one out of five hospital beds is occupied by someone with substance abuse as a contributing factor” and nearly “50 percent of all preventable deaths are related to some aspect of substance abuse” (Ibid.). A World Bank study indicated “tobacco use causes a net global loss of $200 billion [U.S. dollars] per year” (World Health, Sept./Oct. 1998, p. 23). Substance abuse and its consequences are major medical and social problems.
But why do we do it? Why do young people and adults around the world use and abuse dangerous chemical substances that clearly have the capacity to damage and destroy our brains, our bodies, our families and ultimately our societies?
Media reports and many academic publications suggest that substance abuse is due to poverty, low self-esteem and genetics. Drugs users are said to be victims of their environment and their heredity. Yet these commonly accepted ideas downplay or ignore evidence that clearly points in another direction. While some may have a biological sensitivity to alcohol and other chemicals, there is a well-recognized psychological aspect of substance abuse—which involves choices that individuals make for themselves.
Numerous studies indicate that people begin using drugs out of curiosity. Many are lured by the illusion that a magical substance can make you happy, outgoing, confident and provide meaning for an otherwise empty life. Many are looking for a way to escape the pressures of life or the boredom of daily routines or deal with depression (Hales, p. 318). Many begin using chemical substances for social reasons—to fit in and gain acceptance, to enhance low self-esteem, or make an impression and be noticed. Advertising promotes the mistaken idea that to have fun you have to use chemical substances. Millions of impressionable people see substance abuse behaviors modeled in movies or on television. Culture also plays a role in substance abuse. Russians, for example “are the world’s heaviest drinkers” and the director of a Moscow clinic comments, “if you don’t drink in Russia, something is wrong with you” (World Press, Nov. 1997, p. 44). Many individuals in other cultures also share this view!
Perhaps the most instructive information available today comes from extensive research on young people (see page 14: Risk Factors for Substance Abuse). These risk factors are primarily social and psychological factors—involving the influence of parents and peers—that mold the values and personal behavior of young people. The more risk factors individuals have, the more prone they will be to abuse chemical substances. This suggests that substance abuse is strongly associated with a lack of values, a lack of guidance, a lack of positive role models and a stronger relationship with negative peers than with parents. Research indicates that young people who associate with non-conforming peers involved in a deviant subculture are more prone to substance abuse than young people who have personality problems or face socioeconomic difficulties (Ray & Ksir, p. 13). While genetics may be a factor for some who develop chemical dependencies, formative environmental influences appear to play a much more significant role. These important findings provide valuable clues for solving the problem of abuse.
Today, the medical model of addiction dominates the thinking of much of the Western world (see The Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment Out of Control, Peele, 1989). This model suggests that people who abuse chemical substances or have behavior-related problems are the victims of a disease—faulty genes that produce internal chemical imbalances. Yet this currently accepted theory promotes the false notion that people “have little control over their lives…. It also excuses lawlessness by wildly mixing up moral responsibility with disease diagnosis” (Hales, p. 318) That is an incredible statement! Much of the information today about substance abuse actually undermines personal responsibility. Even programs that attempt to cultivate the capacity to “say no” to drug abuse are incomplete in significant ways.
Studies in human behavior have identified important factors associated with the prevention of substance abuse. Young people who “are religious, attend school regularly, get good grades, have good relationships with their parents and do not break the law are the students who report the least drinking and drug use” (Ray & Ksir, p. 13). These powerful values and positive behaviors can be fostered in the home by competent and caring parents and other adult members of the family. Promoting positive values that foster personal responsibility—by right education, positive peer influence and by a good example—is a documented and proven method of preventing and combating substance abuse (see page 14: Factors Preventing Substance Abuse).
But there is more to the story! If people are going to “say no” to drugs and other risky behaviors, they must have compelling reasons that go beyond just wanting to stay healthy and improve one’s self image. Writing in the Unesco Courier, Federico Mayor states, “to fight the demand for drugs, we have to go to the root of the problem and give life a purpose… we must offer young people not just a means to live but a reason to do so” (Dec. 1998, p. 9). Young people and adults need to be informed about the personal and social consequences of substance abuse and develop “refusal skills” to say no to tempting yet dangerous situations. But on a more fundamental level, everyone needs to understand the ultimate reasons for avoiding risky and destructive behaviors. Those reasons, however, are not found in medical textbooks or treatment manuals but are revealed in the Bible.
America’s New Disease
More and more Americans are concerned that they or their children might have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Symptoms include poor attention span, poor self-control (impulsivity) and hyperactivity. Although no specific cause has ever been identified, many Americans believe they have found a cure—Ritalin. In 1997 five million people in America were on the drug—an astounding 700 percent increase since 1990. However some physicians are beginning to ask if Americans are really afflicted by a new disease or if we are merely facing the consequences of our own actions?
ADHD is thought by some to be due to excessive motor activity in the brain. While this may be true for a small number of individuals, this theory does not account for important environmental influences. About 90 percent of Ritalin users live in the United States where it is “primarily a white, middle-to-upper-middle class phenomenon” (see Running on Ritalin, Diller, 1998, p. 36). Males outnumber females four or five to one. ADHD children often come from households characterized by “severe marital discord, low social class, large family size, paternal criminality, maternal mental disorder and foster care placement” (Ibid., p. 97).
Perhaps the most sobering observations made by Dr. Diller, a pediatrician, involve the parents and family patterns of children with the symptoms of ADHD and its related conditions, CD (control disorder) and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder)—with symptoms that include: often loses temper, argues with adults, deliberately annoys others. Diller states “many kids improved sufficiently without medication, just by working with the family and the school” (Ibid., p. 84). It appears that many ADHD children never develop a moral sense—they are never adequately socialized. Their parents either do not have time to parent or do not know how to parent!
According to Diller, modern American society may be an ADHD-generating culture—in other words, we are doing it to ourselves. Two-career families and single mothers who work outside the home are part of the mix. Children farmed out to day care centers and pre-schools, who are not ready for that exposure, feel abandoned by their parents. These “sad, angry children who feel bad about themselves act out their confusion and insecurity” and are labeled ADHD kids (Ibid., p. 82). Television programs and video games that promote aggression and feature impulsive acts of violence aggravate the problem. This all feeds the spiraling demand for Ritalin. Since 1990 the makers of Ritalin have enjoyed a 500 percent increase in profits from the sale of the drug (Ibid., p. 35). What we used to handle successfully with education and discipline—including spanking—we now want to treat with drugs (Ibid., pp. 188-198).
A return to the biblical concept of the family, where the father provides guidance and resources for a safe environment and the mother is the homemaker and supplies the personal attention so essential to the development of young children, would begin to immediately reverse this new American disease. The real solution for many ADHD and related disorders involves preparing to handle the responsibilities of marriage and learning how to parent—not more prescriptions for Ritalin.
One of the guiding philosophies of life today is “if it feels good, do it.” While this sounds logical, it is a shortsighted philosophy with dangerous consequences. In a world devoid of meaning, we have become hooked on a search for new and different sensations. A movie star recently said, “Give it to me, I want to taste it, I want to feel it.” Tragically, our secular society has thrown away the divine road map that explains in detail not only how to live life, but why we need to live a certain way. The Bible shows the way out of the global problems of substance abuse.
The Scriptures reveal the true purpose of life and the real reasons for living a certain way (knowing when to say yes and when to say no). In Genesis we learn that the Creator of the universe made us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27) and that we are to take care of what God created (v. 28). The Bible states the human body is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), that our body is “the temple of God” and that “if any man [person] defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The concepts of personal responsibility and facing the consequences for our own actions are fundamental themes that permeate the Scriptures. God made us free moral agents for the purpose of learning to make wise choices (see Deuteronomy 30:15-20). It is the job of parents and leaders in society to teach younger generations the way to live that leads to a truly abundant life (Deuteronomy 4:6-10; 6:7; Proverbs 22:6). Young people must be taught and shown by example that the laws of God are practical and not just ceremonial (Proverbs 3:1-2). Experienced adults must convey the lesson that “there is a way that seems right [thrilling, exciting, full of fun] to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Young people must be encouraged to “ponder the path of [their] feet” (Proverbs 4:26), to set worthwhile goals (Matthew 6:33), to do their best (Ecclesiastes 9:10) and to choose their friends carefully (Proverbs 1:10-19). The way to real happiness involves making wise decisions (Proverbs 3:13-15)—not the futile search to find a magical chemical substance!
The Bible also gives specific guidelines regarding the use of chemical substances. The Scriptures warn repeatedly against drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol (Proverbs 20:1; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10; Ephesians 5:17-18; 1 Peter 4:1-3). However, the Bible also recognizes the healthful aspects of alcohol (1 Timothy 5:23) and sanctions its use in a variety of ways (Deuteronomy 14:26; Ecclesiastes 9:7; Matthew 26:29). The message of Scripture is moderation (Philippians 4:5, KJV). When this message is missing, especially in the home, serious consequences arise. Young people, who see alcohol and other substances abused at home and find their own abuse of chemical substances sanctioned or tolerated by parents, tend to seek out peers who do the same things—which leads to continued abuse. Following biblical guidelines will go a long way toward preventing the abuse of chemical substances. Doing what “feels good” for the moment is the easy road to self-destruction!
The Bible not only records ultimate reasons and specific instructions for preventing abuse, it provides personal case studies for our admonition. Solomon was given wisdom by God (1 Kings 3:9-12), but he apparently learned some lessons the hard way—by experience! In chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes his futile attempt to find happiness by pursing whatever physical pleasure his heart desired—the proverbial wine (2:3), women and song routine. His experiment was an abysmal failure, and he became a candidate for suicide (2:17). The ultimate lesson Solomon learned is recorded at the end of the book: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). This is the ultimate reason for not abusing chemical substances—we will all be held accountable by our Creator for our actions! When Jesus Christ returns to this earth, those who have learned to make wise choices and live according to the laws of God will be rewarded, while those who ignore His divine laws and guidelines will be punished (Matthew 25:31-34; Revelation 11:18).
Substance abuse has plagued mankind down through the ages. Yet research indicates “drug addiction is highly treatable if patients are motivated and feel they have something to live for…. Individuals must feel there is something better in the world than drugs” (Hales, p. 369). The medicalization of substance abuse—viewing it as a disease—is a human attempt to remove the feeling of guilt from the abuser. This approach not only ignores the real causes of substance abuse, but also takes away powerful motivating factors for avoiding abuse or changing destructive behavior. The Bible explains that God will reward those who walk in His ways, as well as those who overcome personal behavior problems. Our Creator not only reveals the true purpose for human life, He also outlines the way that leads to happy, healthy fulfilling lives. When that knowledge is missing from our lives, we are irresistibly lured by the temptation to get high! To learn more about your Creator, the true purpose of life and the powerful, unchanging principles that lead to real happiness, request our free booklets The Real God: Proofs and Promises and Your Ultimate Destiny. These booklets could end your search for a chemical crutch and change your life forever!
Risk Factors for Substance Abuse
- Early alcohol intoxication
- Adult examples of drug use
- Peer approval of drug use
- Parental approval of drug use
- Absence from school
- Poor academic achievement
- Low educational aspirations
- Little religious commitment
- Emotional distress
- Dissatisfaction with life
(Drugs, Society and Human Behavior, Ray & Ksir, 1990, p. 14)
Factors Preventing Substance Abuse
- A purpose in life
- A strong system of values
- Positive parental examples
- Close relationship with parents
- Positive peer influences
- Academic achievement
- High educational aspirations
- Regular school attendance
- Regular church attendance
- Realistic long term goals
- Knowledge of consequences
- Hope of a reward