FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Diagnosis: Addiction

with Ed Welch | April 13, 2009
Play Pause

Is someone you know battling an addiction? Then join us today when biblical counselor Ed Welch shares what he’s learned about addiction: what it is, what the warning signs are, and how addiction affects your life, relationships and faith. Find out how to love someone struggling under the weight of an addiction.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Is someone you know battling an addiction? Then join us today when biblical counselor Ed Welch shares what he’s learned about addiction: what it is, what the warning signs are, and how addiction affects your life, relationships and faith. Find out how to love someone struggling under the weight of an addiction.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Is someone you know battling an addiction?

MP3 Download Transcript

Diagnosis: Addiction

With Ed Welch
April 13, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: This is Bob Lepine from FamilyLife Today, and before we begin today's program, Dennis, you want to speak to our listeners, right?

Dennis: I do.  You know, back before Easter, I gave up chocolate for Lent, and while I was on my chocolate fast, a friend of mine who ate a Dove chocolate in front of me gave me the wrapper.  You know, they have little sayings on the inside.  This one says, "Life may change us, but we start and end with family."

And I thought, you know what?  I want to share that with our listeners because what we're all about here on FamilyLife Today has to do with your family – equipping you with timeless biblical truth, and I want you to know something right now – I am coming to you asking for your help.  These are incredibly challenging financial days for individuals and for ministries like ours.  And you know, as a listener, I don't do this very often, but right now I'd like to ask you to do what you can do financially.  Go to our website,, or call our 800 number and say, "I'd like to stand with you guys in building my family and helping me in life's most important commitments."  I don't know how to say it any simpler than that, Bob.  We are living in some challenging days that are impacting ministries and individuals, and this ministry is no exception, and we are doing a great job managing our money.  But, right now, I need your help.

Bob: And you can help us by calling 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation to FamilyLife Today.  Again, your donations are tax deductible.  1-800-FLTODAY or go online at, you can make a donation online, and we want to say thanks in advance for whatever you are able to do.  We appreciate your partnership with us.

Dennis: I agree.

[musical transition]

Bob: You may think of an alcoholic or a drug addict as someone who is obvious to spot; someone you'd find in a bar or out on the street.  But author and counselor Ed Welch says it could be that the addict was sitting next to you in church last Sunday or works in the same office with you, and you don't even know it.

Ed: It's true that people who are married are in a close relationship with an addict.  The culture of that addiction is a culture of darkness, and wherever you get that culture from, whether you want it to be in darkness because you don't want other people to know, or you are just assimilating it from the person in the addiction – that is the culture of it.  Addiction is to thrive in the darkness.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 13th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We're going to see if today we can shed some light on the darkness that is addiction and the role that plays in a marriage relationship.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  Dennis, I was thinking about today's program and what we're going to be talking about this week, and I was thinking about the number of e-mails and letters that we've received from listeners over the years who have described for us marriage situations where addiction has been the defining motif of their marriage relationship.

Dennis: Or of a young person in that family who is also struggling with addictions of different kinds.

Bob: And the folks who have written us have gone on to explain how those addictions have either caused the relationships to disintegrate or deteriorate or erode.  Again, it's been the kind of thing that has kept families from being able to experience all that God wants them to experience.

Dennis: It has, Bob, and I think what happens is the entire family begins to encircle the person who is struggling with an addiction, and it redefines the marriage, the family, and can redefine our existence.  And the reason for that is we become enslaved.

And we're going to have an honest conversation today with a good friend of our broadcast, a gentleman who has been on FamilyLife Today a number of times, Ed Welch.  Ed, welcome back to our broadcast.

Ed: Dennis, thank you, it's great to be with you guys.

Dennis: Ed is a professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.  He is a counselor and also a director of counseling at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Philadelphia and has written a number of books, and he's done a couple of workbooks.  And help me here, Ed, if I'm accurate on this.  This is both for perhaps an individual to go through or a facilitator to go through with someone who is struggling with an addiction, is that right?  These workbooks called "Crossroads."

Ed: Yes, one is for the person who is actually struggling.  The other is the exact same book but there are comments in the margins that would help somebody to walk along with the person who was struggling.  So that would be called the "facilitator's guide."

Dennis: Okay, let's talk about an addict.  What's the definition?  And I'm not looking for a – I guess I'm not looking for a clinical definition.

Bob: Not looking for the DSM IV here.  Is that still the one – DSM IV – we're not to 5 yet?

Ed: That's not quite 5.

Dennis: I'm looking for more of a practical working description of what an addict is and what they look like.

Ed: There are a couple of things – as soon as you asked the question, a couple of things that came to mind.  First of all, there are areas of addiction.  There are drugs and alcohol – anything that engages bodily desires.  I think that's what we're talking about.  So drugs and alcohol, food, sex, illegal drugs, those would be the things that come to mind first.

Going back to your original illustration, I think that we can say that this is a relationship.  Somebody has a relationship with these things.  They love them, they love these objects more than anything else.  And going back to your original illustration about the home and how this wreaks havoc in a home, it's because there is an affair that's going on.  It's very, very personal.

They love this object, and what this object can do for them, and even when the objects begin to curse them they still have this tradition of walking with them.

Dennis: You rattled off a list of those things we normally consider to be objects of this affection that you're speaking of – alcohol, drugs, sex, et cetera, but there are a number of other things that we can be addicted to as human beings that are a little more respectable like success, perhaps performance at work, how we live, the style of our living, maybe even materialism and spending money.  Those can be addictions as well, right, Ed?

Ed: The opinions of other people – on and on and on, absolutely.  And I think, Dennis, what you're doing is something very, very important.  You are taking it so I am not immediately just thinking about an addict friend of mine, and sometimes when I think about that addict friend I'm thinking, "I'm not quite like that person."  And as soon as I say such a thing, they fall into this category of the abnormal, and Scripture doesn't quite speak to them.

But what you're doing is you're saying, "Here is what Scripture does – it just enlarges its scope until it captures all of us," and that's the starting point – for walking with the person who is struggling with an addiction to recognize we can find very, very similar things in our own hearts.

Bob: So if you're the guy writing the study guide on addictions, you had to obviously confront some of those areas where you might be predisposed to loving your own pleasure or your own success or something more than what you ought to be loving.

Dennis: You're not going to really ask him this question, are you, Bob?

Ed: I was wondering where he was going with that.

Bob: What are your potential addictions?

Ed: Money, the opinions of other people, personal reputation, a resume that looks successful.  And, again, I want it to look successful among the right people.  Not everybody has to think it's successful – discriminating on those things – money, the opinions of other people; food, certainly is something I can find.  Anytime I say no to something, and I go ahead and do it the next day, that's what I'm looking at.

Bob: So these are not necessarily bad or evil things.  I mean, we need money, and we need food.  It's really a question of whether we are a slave to that thing or whether we master it, right?

Ed: Has that thing become the center of our lives?  Anything that usurps the position of Christ will be an addiction in our life.

Dennis: So you are ultimately talking about what is the affection of the heart?  What the heart really loves.

Ed: The universe is ultimately very, very personal, absolutely.  What do we love?  What are we smitten by?

Dennis: Bob can probably remember who made this statement, but someone made the statement about the human heart – that it was made to worship something, and when it doesn't worship God, it doesn't go on to worship nothing.  It goes on to worship everything.

Bob: Well, wasn't it Calvin who said that the heart is an idol factory and that's what it does, it creates its own idols.

Ed: I was talking to a colleague this weekend who was saying the very same thing.  He put it even more succinctly.  He said, "Here is how you get into addictions – you worship yourself into it."  It's the object of your affections, which means that you have to worship your way out of it.

Bob: You know, as we're sitting here talking about it, over lunch today I asked you, because I'm headed to Philadelphia, and I said, "Okay, where do I go to get the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and I have to tell you, I've been thinking about this for a while, because I've been online checking out where the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia are.  Now, is that a problem?  Is this something that I need to look at and go, "There could be a real spiritual issue here.  I may be an addict for regional foods."

Ed: Let's impose a story of Scripture on it.  Let's impose the story of the children of Israel in the wilderness.  Now, what does that have to do with addictions?  It has a whole lot to do with addictions.  Addictions are an idol.  They are things that we worship other than God.

One of the early warning signs you have that the children of Israel were in trouble was when they began to grumble and complain.  If you find yourself grumbling and complaining because you can't get to the cheesecake place, is you find yourself …

Bob: This is cheesesteak, although I do like cheesecake.  I'll go either way.

Ed: The grumbling and complaining of the human heart – that can expose what we really love – "This thing that I love, it's being kept from me, and I must have it, I must have it."  If you are able to be a man who ends your day after not having the things you were really looking forward to – if you were able to end your day with "Lord, thank you, I have everything that I need in You," then you're walking a good path.

Dennis: We're kind of making fun here of cheesesteak.  There are listeners who are in marriages who are dealing with – I mean, bizarre behavior.  I mean, we're talking about it's nowhere near this lighthearted discussion we're having here.  It's back to my illustration like the solar system.  The entire family is revolving around this person who is making choices that are harmful, that are destructive, that are foolish ultimately.

How do we coach that person who is in that marriage at this point to know how to ultimately really help the person who is the addict?

Ed: That's a great – it's an important question.  The first thing, I think, just following what you were saying and this theme of – this is a very, very personal phenomenon.  This is we're loving something.  To be able to say to that spouse, "You feel as though you're betrayed.  You feel as though you've been victimized by adultery, even though there may not have been sexual sin in your marriage, and what you're feeling is exactly the case."

To let them understand that they're not as crazy as they feel because they will feel insane if the home is dominated by an addiction.

Dennis: You actually described it as like having an affair.

Ed: Absolutely.

Dennis: The person is giving their heart …

Ed: It's a love, yes.  They're giving their hearts to something other than their spouse.

Dennis: So, first of all, get in touch with what you're feeling and how you felt abandoned by this person's love for this other thing.  Then what?

Ed: And then the question becomes how – well, this is jumping over a number of things – but where we will eventually get is how do we love this person who may be acting like an actual enemy at those times.

Bob: Let me give you a scenario.  Let's say there is a husband who has found out – we'll say he found out two years ago that his wife had a drinking problem – not just social drinking, but this is a woman who can't get through the day.  She drinks first thing in the morning.  By the end of the day, she is usually in some state of – maybe not inebriation, but she's mellow, she's under the influence of the alcohol that she has been ingesting throughout the day, the kids' stuff is not getting done, stuff is being forgotten, and he has been thinking, "I've got to do something about this.  I've got to fix this."  You would say the first thing he needs to do is address his own feelings about having been abandoned by his wife or the fact that she loves her drinking more than she loves him and the family?  That's where he starts?

Ed: That's certainly where he starts.  And then, from there, to move to love that says, "This is ultimately something much more difficult and powerful than her relationship with me.  This is saying something about my wife and her relationship with the Lord.  She is saying there is something in her life that is difficult, and she seeks to master that difficulty her way rather than turning to Christ."

And so – you see how immediately it begins to cut into the anger that a spouse, very understandably experience when we recognize that there is something deeper than this being done against me, and it is clearly done against the spouse.

Let me put it this way – I'm looking at my spouse, and they're in danger, and when we see somebody in danger, we don't take it as personally.  The question becomes, as you find in the end of James, "How can I rescue this person?"  And somehow the rescue is going to take place by surprising them with love, and that's going to look like that in some way.

Dennis: Love, in the Scripture, is not passive, it's active, and so in the situation you are describing here, that person who is married to the addict, what do they do in terms of loving the other person enough to begin to confront them?

Ed: And here is where the church, I think, is so, so important.  Because you're asking a huge question, and there can be so many different answers to it, and it's so essential for that woman or that man to have friends who love and have wisdom and to think with them – here are some of the ways that love looks and, of those ways, what would be the best way in your particular situation?

Bob: So you would say you should not, as an individual husband or a wife, try to tackle an assignment like confronting an addict on your own?  You need community to be a part of that process with you?

Ed: We talk a lot about community these days, but it's true.  The way God deals with things is when we have a problem, we go to the Lord with it.  If the problem persists, we enlarge the circle, we ask for help, and here, obviously, is a very difficult problem that has been intractable in many people's lives.  So the very thing the person does not want to do – open the door to allow other people in – by the way, I can – I spoke to a woman over the weekend, and she had a book on addiction that she put on the bedstand for her husband, but she had masking tape over every word "addiction," because she was so embarrassed, even before her children, that her children would think that her father fathers an addict.

If you are embarrassed before your children, how much more difficult will it be to speak to people in the church.  That's a huge spiritual task in and of itself.

Dennis: We're assuming here that you may go to the church first.  I would see there being some kind of conversation that a spouse might have with an addict – let's say it's her husband.  Wouldn't she go to him and say, "I think we have a problem," and begin to at least broach an honest discussion that there really is an affection for something that is controlling the person's life?

Ed: Absolutely.

Dennis: Wouldn't that be the place to being, ultimately?

Ed: That would be the place to begin, but if I am in that situation, I am not going to have a very good conversation, because the husband has just broken some promises, and I'm angry, and I am going to confront, and it's going to be very, very personal, and it will not go well.  And so I guess I'm especially thinking of husbands and wives who have said things over the weeks, over the months, and it's just gotten worse – at those points we're thinking, "How can we enlarge the circle?" and "Lord have mercy, give us wisdom by way of your people."

Dennis: Ed, it's often been said that when there is an addict in a family situation, there is an enabler.  There is one who has either hidden it, as you describe this one wife who was putting masking tape over the term "addict," or she has protected her spouse or made excuses.  Is that true almost always, or are there addicts who are in marriages who are not married to enablers?

Ed: It's true that people who are married or in a close relationship with an addict.  The culture of that addiction is a culture of darkness.  And wherever you get that culture from – whether you want it to be in darkness because you don't want other people to know, or you're just assimilating it from the person in the addiction, that is the culture of it – addictions thrive in the darkness. 

And, Dennis, what you're saying is it's another way to combat our enabling tendencies.  Our desire is to bring things into the light; that that's what she's seeing.  You see a God who goes into the dark nooks and crannies of the world, and He brings light so people can see.

So rather than simply saying that this addiction is their friend, is their lover, is everything they need, what the light might begin to say is, "By the way, do you see this?  It's a lie."  That's what Isaiah says – "This thing in your hand, it's a lie, and it's betrayed you.  Look, here are the consequences of it in your life.  Here are the consequences of it in my life.  Here are the consequences of it with your children."  To be able to recognize that bringing things to the light is a wonderfully redemptive thing that God calls His people to do.

Bob: But you brings things to the light, and there are people all around who will shame you for what's just been brought out into the light, and you stop and think, "Why don't people bring stuff into the light?"  Because they don't want to bear the shame that's going to come with that exposure.

Ed: And therein, Bob, you're speaking about something in the Scripture, which is, frankly, largely untapped.  But we have a God who speaks often – He speaks always to the problem of shame, and we will find – one of the commonalities with addictions, those who are in it and those who are not in it in the same way, we will find shame everywhere.  So that would be, I think, a very valuable thing for us to speak about.

Dennis: Ultimately, I think what we are talking about here is courage, and it's back to Joshua, chapter 1, where, really, God commanded the leaders of the nation of Israel – "Fear not, be courageous."  And I think for that person who is in a marriage or who may have a child who they fear is dealing with an addiction, is they have to conquer their fears first – fear of losing their marriage, fear of losing the child, fear of losing their self respect, maybe reputation, because of what's confronted and what does come out in the light.  But, ultimately, they have to take steps of faith that will demand bedrock courage and a trust and a hope in God that as you step out, He is going to be there.  He is going to be at work, and it may be messy, and it may not work out the way we all wish it could in kind of a storybook ending, but you have to confront it at some point.  You just can't continue on with life as usual, allowing the addiction to define the other person and ultimately to destroy their life and the lives of those around them.

Bob: Well, I think what Ed has done for us is given us a tool that families can use or that churches can use to help unpack this whole subject and to help someone who is caught in the snare of an addiction to get free from that trap.

Ed wrote a book a number of years ago called "Addictions, a Banquet in the Grave," and since then has come up with a step-by-step guide away from addiction called "Crossroads," and there is both a study guide and also a facilitator's guide for someone who may want to lead a group study through this material.

And we've got all of the resources in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go online at for more information about Ed's book and about the workbook and about the facilitator's guide.  Again, the website is or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and let us see if we can equip you with some resources that can address this issue and help you find freedom or help someone you know find freedom from the snare of an addiction.

And, you know, the issue of addiction, like all of the issues we face in life, ultimately, the solution for those issues is found as we meditate in our hearts and in our minds on God's Word.  A few years ago, we finished up a project here at FamilyLife to create a devotional Bible for couples – taking the new King James text of the Bible and adding to it articles, devotions, tips on marriage and parenting issues.  This is a resource to provide a husband and a wife with a Bible you can read through in your private devotions or read through together that will help you address the kinds of issues that all of us face in marriage and in parenting.

This month if you are able to make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we would like to make available to you a copy of the FamilyLife Marriage Bible with articles and devotions by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.  You can get your copy, again, when you make a donation of any amount this month to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. 

If you are donating online at, just type "Bible" into the keycode box on the donation form or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation and request a copy of the FamilyLife Marriage Bible.  This may be something you'd like to give as a gift to someone you know who is getting married this spring and, of course, it's our gift to you when you make a donation this spring.  It's our way of saying thank you for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We appreciate so much your partnership with us.

Now, tomorrow we're going to talk more about the issue of addictions and talk about whether some people are prone to addictive behavior.  Does a person have an addictive personality?  We'll talk about that tomorrow.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 

We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you.  However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website.  If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.