The Sin Stigma of Substance Use Disorder

How do we make sense of the language of “sin” as it relates to addiction? If Substance Use Disorder can be compared to diabetes, where does the concept of “sin” fit in? Elbert Hubbard (not to be confused with L. Ron Hubbard) wrote, “We are punished by our sins not for them.” Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean-born psychiatrist, was known for integrating psychotherapy and the spiritual traditions in his work. He talks about sin as it relates to ignorance, difficulties, distresses and embarrassments as “a disorder of awareness and an interference with action.”

Think about the scriptures we have considered in this material thus far - recovery that heals is rooted in love, in particular - God’s love. God chases us down, not to berate us but to restore us, in love. Recovery is an opportunity to increase our capacity for honesty. Substance Use Disorder is disorienting; we lose our way; we lose the essence of who we were created to be - beloved children, made in the image of God. Do these concepts sound like God is more concerned with our “sin” or our restoration?

The “s” word - sin - can leave us feeling defensive and judged. Personally, I often feel a lot shame when I think of my behaviors as “sinful”. This shame-filled reaction stymied my recovery until I was able to understand that “sin” can be understood as “living independently of God” or “missing the mark”. Sin means losing touch with my spirituality, my true purpose for living, and my capacity to live reasonably comfortably in community with others. This is a by-product of my condition, not a condemnation of my personhood.

This is not to diminish the role of “sin” in our lives; thinking of sin in the way that the above authors suggest can actually deepen our capacity to reckon with it through the lens of compassion. It invites each of us to nonjudgmentally observe ourselves and get honest about our issues.

... whatever overpowers you, enslaves you. 2 Peter 2:19 (b) CEB