When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t. First appearing small, manageable, and harmless, addictions grow until they become difficult to escape. Sometimes, they’re obvious, but often the addict doesn’t realize they have a problem.
The fact of the matter is—I’ve been addicted without even realizing it.
Before you gasp, let’s define addiction. Merriam-Webster states that an addiction is a compulsive, chronic, physiological, or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.1 You see, addiction doesn’t have to be to a chemical substance. It’s a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in anything repeatedly.
Did you notice habit-forming in that definition? I can’t stress enough how important it is to develop good habits and break bad ones. We’re creatures of habit. Addiction feeds into this, drawing us physiologically or psychologically into its clutches. We repeatedly go back for more, again and again, no matter the consequences. Addictions must meet two criteria. It must be something beyond our control and outside the realm of reasonable use. And it must be impacting your life in some negative way.
Have you ever felt anxious over forgetting your cell phone, like a piece of you is missing? Do video games interfere with fulfilling daily responsibilities, cause social withdrawal or sleep disturbances? Do you spend excessive amounts of time thinking about food, overindulge at mealtime, feel guilty about eating, or hide your food? If you answered yes to any of these, you might have a problem.
In 2009, addiction expert Scott Gallagher conducted a survey to define the top twelve teen addictions. Here are his findings.2
Self-harm (primarily cutting behavior)
Bullying or abusing others
Clash of the Will
At this point, I suppose you’re wondering what my addiction was. Unfortunately, I’ve struggled with a couple of different things. In my preteen years, a game called Clash of Clans pretty much dictated my life for about two years, and my life became extremely imbalanced. The game was worked to create a fixation because, to make progress, you must continually stay engaged. Otherwise, your whole clan suffers.
I enjoyed playing it and became really good at it. After acceptance into one of the best war clans in the United States, I became even more obsessive because I didn’t want them to kick me out for being inactive. When I wasn’t playing, I was thinking about it, strategizing next moves and countermoves. I played it pretty much all day for a whole summer, going into sixth grade.
My mom tried to help me find balance by setting time restrictions and enforcing breaks, but it was summer, and we weren’t consistent with it. After I told her I was dreaming about Clash of Clans, she encouraged me to take drastic measures. I decided to quit entirely and deleted my two-year account to break the addiction. It was extremely hard that first week. I almost felt sick, deleting all that progress, and I became anxious about my newly found free time. But the following week was easier. When I found freedom and the game no longer consumed me, I felt so much better, my thoughts were clearer, and I never considered redownloading the game.
Another Downward Spiral
Fast forward to my eighth grade and freshman year of high school. I had joined cross country, and to be fast, we were instructed to be as lean as possible. Our coaches encouraged us to cut out all soda and minimize sugar. As a disciplined individual, I took this too far and counted every calorie I ate, thinking that losing weight was the answer to running faster. Shortly thereafter, I developed body image issues, which progressed to an eating disorder.
Eating extremely low-calorie and running massive mileage, I lost more and more weight. Satan attacked me with this mental illness. I looked in the mirror and at five feet, ten inches tall and 115 pounds, thought I was fat.
This eating disorder took me through several stages. Next, came a cycle of binging and starving. I restricted my food consumption throughout the day, but right before bed, I’d start with a small snack, perhaps one spoonful of peanut butter. Then, one led to another and another. I felt like I couldn’t stop because I was so malnourished from under-eating all day. Next thing I knew, I had eaten a half jar of peanut butter.
This became a daily occurrence. I was so disappointed in myself after binging, feeling awful, shameful, and way too full. Thus, the next day I cut calories and sometimes worked out extra to compensate for my binge. But the following night, the same thing would happen again. Thankfully, I didn’t become bulimic, but this cycle of binging and starving was terrible, and food was an obsession.
I’m so glad I’ve found freedom in how I view and consume food. It took me walking away from running a season of track, keeping a food journal to ensure enough calorie consumption throughout the day, regular weigh-ins, a lot of in-your-face truth talk, and being held accountable by my parents. Oh, and lots of prayers.
Unlike Clash of Clans, I couldn’t merely eliminate food. It’s much more complicated than simply stop and eatnormal. Food addiction is a mental illness. I had to view food differently, and I had to change the way I saw myself. Reading the Bible definitely helped me renew my way of thinking. Sometimes, I still struggle, digging up those old mindsets again. But I’ve come a long way in finding balance and freedom in this area.
Addictions often result from stress or emotional pain and are likened to a form of self-medication, usually providing a short-term reward like stress-relief or happiness. Common factors resulting in addiction range from family history, to depression or anxiety, to negative social experiences or self-esteem issues.3
Sadly, our adversary Satan puts a huge target on teens because of our vulnerability and enormous potential. He whispers thoughts in our head, which makes us feel an uncontrollable desire for something we don’t need. He’s the author of confusion and the source of feelings of fear, anxiety, shame, and unworthiness.
The enemy’s greatest weapon is the power of suggestion. He’ll tell you Only one time, and It won’t hurt anyone, and No one will ever know. The enemy will come to you disguised as something you’ve always wanted. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
If we walk in the light, we will expose all darkness and uncover his schemes before they take root. If we can learn to live based on our beliefs no matter the circumstance, we’ll become righteous warriors. Our feelings won’t rule us, and neither will that voice of temptation in our head.
It’s best to nip it in the bud before the poisonous flower of addiction blossoms. But what if it’s too late? What if you’re already trapped in its vicious cycle? Then I implore you to seek help, immediately. At the end of this book, there are some resources for you to turn to for help.
I’ve mentioned my experience with video game and food addictions. Now, I’ll briefly discuss a couple more of the top addictions teens may struggle with throughout the remainder of this chapter. This information by no means, however, should replace seeking professional help.
Cell Phone Addiction
The largest percent of non-substance addiction is cell phone use, which is reported to release similar addictive neurotransmitters to your brain like drugs and alcohol.
Cell phone addiction in teens has risen to an all-time high. According to results of a 2016 Common Sense Media Report, an astonishing 50% of teens admit to being addicted to their smartphones.4 Addiction to electronics results in several micro-interruptions throughout the day. According to the New York Post, new research concluded that Americans check their phones on average once every twelve minutes—burying their heads in their phones eighty times a day.5 Other studies have linked unhappiness to cell phone use. There’s indisputable evidence stating that excessive electronic use is harmful. However, we continue to solidify the addiction to science because we still use them.
When you look around at people in lines, waiting rooms, or restaurants, everyone is on their electronic device. We don’t socialize like we used to. It’s almost as if we avoid the stillness of being left with our thoughts or the pleasures of having a conversation with others. I want to propose this is why the average human’s attention span has decreased from thirteen seconds to eight seconds from 2000 to 2013. Did you know this is a shorter attention span than a goldfish?6
I know I can relate. When I watch educational videos on YouTube for school, I usually put the speed on 1.5X or 2X because I have a hard time focusing for an extended period of time. It would be nice if I could do that to my teachers. Haha! I don’t want fluff or small talk. Give me what I need to know, and let’s go! I could cut the school day in half.
We’re addicted to fast solutions and immediate gratifications with our smartphones. We have the world at our fingertips. Google will take you anywhere you want to go and tell you anything you want to know. Furthermore, rewards, such as texts, likes, and social media updates trigger a dopamine release signaling the pleasure center of our brain.
Technology addiction expert, Dr. David Greenfield, refers to smartphones as the world’s smallest slot machine because they operate on a variable reinforcement schedule. “Every once in a while, you get a reward… a piece of information, a text, an email, an update… but you don’t know when you’re going to get it, what it’s going to be and how good it’s going to be.”7 This is the same reinforcement schedule as a slot machine to a gambler. What’s highly addictive about these things is the idea and the neurobiological expectation they set up that a reward is coming, but you don’t know when you’re going to get it.
So how do you know if you have an addiction to your smartphone? Here are some symptoms identified by PsychGuides.com:8
Increased Tolerance: Needing more time on your phone, new apps, or the latest technology to get your fix.
Excessive use: Characterized by loss sense of time and impulsive, frequent, constant checking of your cell phone.
Persistent failed attempts to use your cell phone less often.
Withdrawal: Feeling ill at ease or anxious when you’re away from your phone.
Mood Altering: Using technology to alter your mood or change your state of mind.
Relationships, work, or responsibilities suffer due to excessive cell phone use.
This doesn’t include eye strain, neck tension, and sleep disturbances, also caused by excessive cell phone use.
So, what’s the solution? Do we throw our phones away and go back to the dark ages? I don’t think we have to go that far. Cell phones can be healthy and useful when used in the right context and at appropriate times. Again, it’s about finding balance.
Let’s discuss some simple solutions to get you pointed in the right direction. First, establish screen-free zones. Put your cell phone away at mealtimes, family outings, and social gatherings. Learn to be present more and live in the moment. Make relationships priority. Also, keep your cell phone out of the bedroom at night to prevent sleep disturbance and insomnia. Another suggestion is to outsmart your smartphone by downloading apps, such as BreakFree, designed to monitor and curb your phone usage.
Taking simple steps towards decreasing the time you spend on your cell phone can be a gamechanger. I’ve found that turning off notifications and using the Do Not Disturb mode have helped me decrease my cell phone use. Also, I monitor my screen time mode found under settings on my iPhone to get a reality check of the actual time I spend on my device.
The key is awareness. Know how much time you’re spending on your phones, how it affects you physically and emotionally, how it affects your relationships, and whether your responsibilities are negatively affected. Once you’re aware, you can mindfully break your addiction.
Substance addictions affect teenagers from every social and economic status. Overwhelmingly, one in five teens admit to recreational drug use, and when asked why, they most commonly reply, “to fit in.”9 Unfortunately, ease of access is also a top response. Adderall, inhalants, marijuana, opioids, benzodiazepines, and anabolic steroids are some of the most commonly abused drugs among teens.
It’s important to know the difference between drug abuse and addiction and equally important to know neither are good. Teen drug abuse can have long-term cognitive and behavioral effects since the teenage brain is still developing.10 It’s best to avoid drugs altogether.
Sadly, teenagers addicted to substances rely on that substance to feel good, to have fun, and to bury their misery. However, these substances will never leave you fulfilled or satisfied. The only one who can truly bring you complete freedom and fulfillment is Jesus Christ.
Four years ago, I attended the funeral of a relative who died from a heroin overdose. She was thirty-six years old. I listened as my mom described a beautiful young girl who was full of life—adventurous and a little mischievous. Yet, as I looked at her body lying in the casket, I could see the destruction her addiction had caused. A beautiful life—stolen.
Countless lives have been destroyed because of drugs. Substance addiction is like signing a contract with the enemy, giving him years of your life, lots of money, and your mental state in exchange for a temporary high or escape. More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids—a two-fold increase in a decade.11 That is over twice the population of the city I live in!12
The bottom line is, don’t get hooked on substances. Don’t even try them. Experimenting with drugs is like playing with fire. I had a great friend who was happy, outgoing, and smart. But when he got into drug abuse, it changed his character. His grades dropped, he started hanging with the wrong crowd, and now it seems he can’t help but to live for the next high. It’s so sad.
All of us have so much potential. Addiction holds us back from so much, including our relationship with the Lord. It isn’t worth sacrificing the future only to feel short bursts of artificial happiness followed by a crash, which requires larger amounts to achieve the next high. A relationship with God is lasting happiness, a river that never dries up, a fire that doesn’t stop burning. Choose life before it’s too late.
If you struggle with substance addiction or abuse, please find professional help immediately. Again, I’ve placed resources and numbers in the back pages of this book you can turn to for help.
Finding a Freedom that Lasts
Breaking addictions is hard because we have to make ourselves more conscious of the decisions we make. We have to initiate the change. We have to seek help.
Addictions are bad habits gone really bad. They’re from the enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy your life and relationships. The key to handling addiction is to commit to seeking professional help and staying the course. When you fail, pick yourself up and try again. You can find freedom, and you can do hard things!
The first step to freedom is embracing the truth—no matter how much it hurts. Through my own experiences, addiction is hard to overcome. It’s possible, but it’s hard.
Addiction is like being on a small ship controlled by a mighty whirlpool. The easiest way to escape is in the beginning when the ship is on the outer ring of the current. As time progresses, the current gets stronger, and your downward spiral becomes near impossible to escape unless there’s outside help to pull you out. If there’s no outsider, the feelings of helplessness increase, and we begin to accept the fate of our downfall.
Something small and unmonitored can grow, becoming a large monster that controls your life before you know it. If you notice any of these tendencies, please find help. Confide in a trusted adult. My parents really helped me win my battles. I have faith that you can win your battles, too.
Addiction is never good and always holds us back from reaching our full potential.
Addictions often result from stress or emotional pain and are likened to a form of self-medication, usually providing a short-term reward like relief from stress or happiness.
According to results of a 2016 Common Sense Media Report, an astonishing 50% of teens admit to being addicted to their smartphones.
Cellphones are like the world’s smallest slot machines because of the neurobiological expectation they set up that a reward is coming, but you don’t know when you’re going to get it.
Teen drug abuse can have long-term cognitive and behavioral effects since the teenage brain is still developing.
Self-honesty is necessary to break an addiction.
If you struggle with addiction, please seek professional help.
Pause and Ponder:
What addiction(s), if any, do you struggle with?
What do you need in order to find freedom? Who can you reach out to for help?
What’s holding you back from seeking freedom right now?
“Addiction.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/addiction.
“Top 12 Teen Addictions: Addiction Expert Scott Gallagher.” Teen Drug Rehabs, August 6, 2013. Accessed November 12, 2019. https://www.teendrugrehabs.com/blog/top-12-teen-addictions-according-to-teen-addicts-themselves/.
“Teen Behavioral Addictions Treatment.” Paradigm Malibu, October 19, 2018. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://paradigmmalibu.com/teen-behavioral-addictions-treatment/.
Hurley, Katie. “Teenage Cell Phone Addiction: Are You Worried About Your Child?” Psycom.net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://www.psycom.net/cell-phone-internet-addiction.
Swns. “Americans Check Their Phones 80 Times a Day: Study.” New York Post. New York Post, November 8, 2017. https://nypost.com/2017/11/08/americans-check-their-phones-80-times-a-day-study/.
McSpadden, Kevin. “Science: You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish.” Time. Time, May 14, 2015. https://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/.
Grabowski, David. “A Slot Machine in Every Pocket.” Medium. Hyperlink Magazine, May 17, 2018. https://medium.com/hyperlink-mag/a-slot-machine-in-every-pocket-4f12d7ae116c.
October, Heidi, David Sarro, Isabella January, and Adrian Lim February. “Understanding Cell Phone Addiction.” PsychAlive, March 2, 2017. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://www.psychalive.org/cell-phone-addiction/.
“Signs and Symptoms of Cell Phone Addiction.” PsychGuides.com. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://www.psychguides.com/behavioral-disorders/cell-phone-addiction/signs-and-symptoms/.
“Teenage Drug Addiction: Why They Use Harmful Substances – Rehab Spot.” RehabSpot. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://www.rehabspot.com/drugs/who-addiction-affects/teenage-drug-addiction/.
“Teen Drug Abuse – Signs of Teenage Drug Use – Addiction Center.” AddictionCenter. Accessed November 13, 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/teenage-drug-abuse/.
Suburbanstats.org. “Current Richmond, Kentucky Population, Demographics and Stats in 2019, 2018.” SuburbanStats.org. Accessed August 18, 2019. https://suburbanstats.org/population/kentucky/how-many-people-live-in-richmond.