Addiction is a scary word, but every person on the planet struggles with it . . . even little children. Join us today as AMBrewster explains the most dangerous addictive substance on the planet and gives you two ways to know if your children are addicted.
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Today’s show is called “How to Know it Your Child is Addicted.” And due to that, I want to make two observations from the start.
Number one, this is a huge topic that spans many issues.
Number two, I have a unique ability to talk an awful lot.
So, let me acknowledge right now that today’s episode is going to be intentionally narrow. My desire is to help us think biblically about this issue and see our children though the eyes of God.
So, with no further ado, let’s jump right in.
Merriam-Webster defines addicted as “a: having a compulsive physiological need for a habit forming substance b : strongly inclined or compelled to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.”
We’re going to touch on both of those definitions, but here’s how we need to frame this talk. We can’t merely Google “addiction” to find our answers. In order to understand our children better, our foundation must be the Truth of God’s Word.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t many secular medical practices that may be very helpful if our kids are physiologically addicted to a habit forming substance. But today’s discussion is going to deal with the heart issue that got our child there in the first place and — if not addressed — will get him there again . . . even after rehab.
And for those of you with young children who are considering skipping today’s show, please don’t. I believe we all need to understand what God says about addiction.
May I say that this issue is significantly greater than drugs and alcohol? Your elementary schooler is already addicted. And it will be that addiction that feeds later addictions. We need to help our children cut this off as early as possible.
So what’s the root of addiction. Well, as we learned in our Merest Christianity study, everything we do grows from what we believe about God and life. As we discuss addictions, we’re talking specifically about what we believe about satisfaction in this life.
Satisfaction is defined as “fulfillment of a need or want.” You can listen to “The Rock, The Bread, and The Donut” series to learn much more about needs and wants.
We all yearn for satisfaction, but the source of that satisfaction is going to determine our struggle with addictions. Here’s why . . .
If I believe that God is the only right and good source of satisfaction, then I’m going to submit myself to His will. As I study Scripture, I learn that true satisfaction isn’t receiving everything on my Christmas list — in fact — I can be truly satisfied even if I don’t get anything for Christmas at all. According to Matthew 5, I can even be satisfied in the midst of persecution and trials.
Basically, the satisfaction that God offers is a deep, vibrant, and all-consuming state of soul rest. It’s contentment. It’s peace. This concept is the foundation of our Peaceful Parenting series that starts with episode 69.
But, if I believe that satisfaction only comes when I get what I want and feel what I want, I’m taking my own Failure Philosophy and substituting it for God’s authority in my life. Simply put, the Bible calls this idolatry.
Now, this is a really important point we need to pause on for a minute. If you’ve attended a Bible-preaching church for any amount of time, then you’ve likely heard more than one message on idolatry. If you live in a country where idol worship is prevalent, no doubt what I’m about to say won’t resonate with you. But American preachers always seem to say the same thing; they say, “No one here has a shrine at home with a wooden god that we burn incense to. Our idols come in other shapes.” And this is where the preacher shows pictures of sporting events and cars and money and popularity and things like that.
And, please understand, I’m not putting down that kind of preaching. I believe it’s true . . . to a point, but the problem runs far deeper, and if we stop with that observation, we’re missing the most important life-changing Truth.
The idol — whether fashioned from stone or in the shape of a famous musician — is not the god being worshipped. Let me illustrate it this way.
I remember long ago having a conversation with a man who had committed adultery. He said these words, “Aaron, I’m addicted to the female body. I worship the female frame.” But, by the grace of God, I was quick to correct him. I said, “No, you’re sacrificing the female frame on the alar you use to worship yourself.”
None of us actually worship our favorite sports team. I think that’s why messages about idolatry rarely convict us. None of us truly worship money. Sports and music and food and drugs and money and sex are the things we sacrifice to ourselves. We are the gods of our lives and those things are the sacrifices we believe will bring us satisfaction.
Like Ken Collier said, there are “Just two choices on the shelf, pleasing God or pleasing self.” It’s not “pleasing God or pleasing self or pleasing your spouse or pleasing your favorite basketball player or . . . .”
So, if your child worships his own way over God’s way, then he’s going to seek for pleasure and satisfaction in anything that makes him feel the way he wants to feel. And if he achieves the feeling he’s looking for, why wouldn’t he return to thing that caused the good feeling?
So, the first and biggest addiction that every human — regardless of age, sex, or nationality — is going to struggle with, is an addiction to self.
The Bible says in Daniel 11:37, “He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all.” Now, this passage is referring to the antichrist, but the concept of antichrist extends far beyond the end times satanic puppet.
In first and second John we encounter the word antichrist five times. And four of those times are not referring to world leader during the Tribulation period. John tells us that anyone who denies Christ is an antichrist. Now, grammatically that makes sense, but what’s my point here?
When we deny God’s rule in our lives, we automatically insert our own rule. We’re mini versions of the antichrist. And it’s important to note that Christians do this too. Sure, we’re not denying Christ and losing our salvation, but when we exercise our free will to our glory and not God’s, we’re anti-His-rule in our lives at that moment.
My point is this, Merriam-Webster defines addicted as “a: having a compulsive physiological need for a habit forming substance” or “strongly inclined or compelled to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.”
We are our own habit forming substance. We are daily inclined and compelled to indulge in our own Failure Philosophies instead of God’s divine Word.
My friends, all addictions start with an addiction to self.
Now, I hate even having to mention this, but I’m obviously not talking about a child who’s physiologically dependent on a substance because his mother abused the substance while the child was in the womb. Let’s not be silly.
Other than that, though, all addictions start with an addiction to self. They all start with a rejection of God’s satisfaction and grow as a result of our own twisted concept of pleasure.
That’s the first answer to today’s question. How can I know if my child is addicted?
Well, he or she already is. We’re born pagans. We come into this world predisposed to rebelling against God’s right to rule and establishing our own little kingdoms on this earth where we consume and devour for our own pleasure.
Your child is addicted.
From here on out, the question is how that addiction chooses to feed itself in your child’s life. Or — as my friend, Mark Massey would say — we need to figure out the unique brand of flesh your child likes to smoke.
From now on, I’m going to use the words addiction and self-sacrifices interchangeably. Because our greatest addiction is the one we have for ourselves, all other addictions are merely the sacrifices we lay at our own feet.
Yes, some of these sacrifices may have physiological side effects that affect us differently than others, but at the core, they’re identical in that they represent what we think will make us happy.
Now, there are generally two ways to identify these sub-addictions — these self-sacrifices.
The first is noticing the Core Symptoms of an addiction. The second is noting the Peripheral Symptoms of an addiction.
Let’s start with the Core Symptoms. Core Symptoms are the unique consequences of having a physiological, psychological, or spiritual addiction. And they are all unique to the substance or the behavior or relationship to which the person’s addicted.
And this is where we can’t take the time to discuss all the possible physical symptoms of various people sacrificing any number of things to themselves. It may be dramatic weight loss or gain, bloodshot eyes, changes in spending habits, whatever.
However, the one Core Symptom that’s shared by all addictions is this: preoccupation.
Let me give you an easy example. I purchased a Wii entertainment system years ago. After looking at all the game consoles, I chose the one that reminded me the most of my childhood and that was the most family friendly.
My son was probably about five when I bought it, and I taught him a few games including the original Mario Brothers. You know, because I wanted to be a good parent.
Anyway, it didn’t take long before I noticed my son was becoming preoccupied with the Wii. He would talk about games and characters and cool things he saw for days after playing. He started asking to the play the Wii all the time. When he was given permission he would stay on the game system all day if we let him . . . which we didn’t. He was even caught sneaking around to play the Wii without permission.
I remember vividly the day I sat down with my five year old and said, “Son, I need to talk to you about addiction.”
I explained to him what it was, I explained why it was a heart problem, and I explained how we were going to help him break his addiction.
I share this as an example of the fact that all addictions are preoccupations. About what are your children always talking? On what do they spend their money? With what things is their entertainment filled? Addicts talk about their addictions. They surround themselves with people who talk about their addictions and songs that sing about their addictions. They live for the pleasure their sacrifice gives them, and they would dedicate their entire existence to it if they could.
For a young child, it may reveal itself like this: when your kids play, is there one who always has to be the king, super hero, or master, while the other children are subjugated and minimized? If so, your child is probably addicted to being in charge. Now, it may seem innocuous and even cute when they’re six, and I’m not saying that pretending to be a super hero is wrong, but I am saying that any and all constant preoccupations will reveal deeper heart issues.
Again, my son is two and a half years older than my daughter, and when they play he always wants to have the magical spell that can do anything. He wants to be the supreme commander of every universe. He pretends his super power is the only unstoppable super power. And this is something he manages to work into every game, imaginary escapade, and conversation.
And it’s something on which my wife and I are working with him. Now, he’s not receiving consequences when we overhear it, it’s not come to the place where we’re punishing him, but we do address it every time as part of his discipline. We help peal the layers from his heart and help him see why he always wants to be the greatest and why he never lets his sister win or be better.
And — you know what — he’s getting so much better in this area. I’m very proud of his growth.
Before I move from the Core Symptom to the Peripheral, I have to point out that a preoccupation with good things is also a problem. Some children are addicted to performing well in school. Some kids have a preoccupation with cleanliness. And though they may sound like a delightful thing, many kids work hard in sports and school simply because they want to beat someone else, prove themselves to their parents, or conquer in their own strength.
Children with a preoccupation to cleanliness are often feeding their immature self-addiction. They feel unnecessarily uncomfortable after touching things other people have touched, but instead of responding maturely, they obsess over a fear of germs or the feel of their hands.
So, how do we determine if a preoccupation is good or bad. Well, if it’s an actual preoccupation, it’s always bad.
Preoccupation is defined as an “extreme or excessive concern with something.” The only preoccupation that might be justified is a preoccupation with God, but even that is a questionable usage. True dedication to God can’t be excessive, and though it may be extreme compared to lukewarm, nominal Christians, is it objectively “extreme”? Generally speaking, when people refer to the service of Christ as being extreme, they usually have very low standards.
When you talk with your child’s teacher, you want to hear things like “She’s a hard worker.” “He does very good work.” But if their teacher says, “Your child seems preoccupied with getting the highest grade in the class,” that should be a warning sign.
It’s okay to love the Lord, but people who seem preoccupied with doing good deeds in the community are often motivated by selfishness.
Now, moving on, many times our older children are far more savvy and they start to cover up the Core Symptoms of their addiction. They start wearing sunglasses or baggier clothes. They veil their preoccupation and use lying to cover the real sacrifice smoldering on their altar. This is when parents need to be far more aware of the Peripheral Symptoms.
addiction.com provides this list of things for which to look out:
• A shift in mood, attitude and motivation
• A new friend and new hangouts
• Poor performance at school or work and/or being absent
• Secretive behavior such as lying
• A sudden, unexplained increase in spending
• A giving up of once-favorite pastimes and hobbies
• Unusual changes in sleeping patterns or schedule
These are some good things for which to look out, but — again — I want to provide a simple answer that will keep us from having to memorize various lists.
Whereas preoccupation is a Core Symptom, transformation is a Peripheral Symptom of addiction.
The list I just gave you was filed with words like “shift,” “new,” “increase,” and “changes.”
Any time we change our self-sacrifices, there has to be a requisite change in other areas of our lives. It’s going to affect the way we talk, it’s going to affect our money, it’s going to affect the people with whom we choose to hang out, our goals, our behavior, our relationships, our everything.
You may not be able to figure out what new preoccupation your child has, but when you start to notice negative transformations in his life, you can be sure there’s an addiction problem.
Of course, up until now you may have missed these key transformations. So what do you do?
Almost every time a new boy comes to Victory Academy, I ask the parents, “When did the trouble start?” And you know what, they always have an answer. All of them know the year, and many of them know the time of year something seemed to change in their child.
So, think back to a time when your child was different for the better. What’s changed between then and now? These transformations will be an indicator of her newest addiction.
Okay, so let’s recap.
First, we all struggle with an addiction to self. The only answer for this addiction, is to focus on what we really need — and that’s God. We need Him to rule our lives. We don’t need our own puny fiefdom.
Second, self-addiction always exhibits itself in secondary addictions. In our world, these secondary addictions are generally considered the problem, however we need to stop thinking like that. Just like our last episode about messy kids, the issue isn’t the mess, it’s the heart. Yes, an addiction to alcohol is bad, but so is a preoccupation with always having to have the biggest cookie. These children aren’t interested in submitting to God’s will for their lives.
Third, the secondary addictions are the sacrifices our children offer to themselves as they worship themselves.
Fourth, when trying to determine what brand of flesh your child is smoking, look for the Core Symptom of preoccupation. Sometimes this preoccupation can look good, but preoccupations with anything other than God’s glory are destructive.
Fifth, if your children have become masters of hiding their addictions, try to discover how they’ve changed in the other arenas of life. If there has been a significant transformation, you know an addiction is present. And many times the Peripheral Symptoms are like a trail of breadcrumbs that lead us to the Core Symptoms which are like flashing, neon lights pointing right to the addiction.
Sixth, and finally, seek help. More often than not — and this is true in my parenting as well — we miss the indicators because they evolve so slowly and quietly. We need three types of help to parent our addicted children well:
First, we need God’s help to know and apply His Word in our family’s life.
Second, we need help from trusted counselors who can help us become better at noticing our children’s preoccupations and transformations. To that end, if you don’t have anyone else to which to turn, please contact us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com
And third, we may likely need godly friends and family and pastors and counselors to help us evangelize and disciple our children. At the core, evangelism is the start of breaking the addiction to self. Discipling then continues that process as we hopefully move farther and farther from self-dependence toward God-dependence.
Well, I hope I accomplished my goal for today. My desire was to help us think biblically about addiction and see our children though the eyes of God.
Lord willing we’ll start viewing our children and ourselves more accurately. Let me warn you that when you look at yourself and your family the way God does, it’s a mix of sadness and joy. Yes, our sinful addictions are gross and depressing, but our hope is not in our ability to break our own addiction. That would be an addiction to self-improvement. No, our hope is in God’s ultimately transformational power and purpose in our lives and our children’s lives.
As always, you can find out episode notes linked in the description.
And I think some of you will be very interested in our next episode. I really do try to make all our content applicable to families with children of all ages, but our next show is an interview with Dr. Mark Shaw about “How to Know if Your Child is Cutting.”
Self harm is a huge addiction with which many children struggle. Today we didn’t have the time to look at the Core Symptoms and Peripheral Symptoms of every possible addiction, so I’m hoping episodes like this next one will provide more detailed guidance for parents who’re concerned their kids may be struggling with specific addictions.
Remember, your children were born into this world addicted. That’s not something about which to be afraid because God is King. He has called you to point your children to Him, and through His power they can brake the chains of self-addiction and find lasting satisfaction in Him.
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