Someday Soon Mormons Will Stop Referring to Addiction as a Bad Habit

I talk to a lot of Mormon sex and porn addicts, many of whom have found a wonderful and complete recovery in Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). One of the great things about SA is the way its members have come to identify most facets of the confusing and elusive drug lust. By sharing our experience, strength and hope with one another, we put our collective wisdom into the mix along with working the 12 steps, faith in Christ’s atonement and real repentance. The result is lasting sexual sobriety for a lot of Mormon men and women.

Mormons antique telephone outdated ideas porn addiction

The idea held by some Latter-day Saints that addiction is “just a bad habit” is outdated–kind of like using this antique telephone in 2013.

As I said, I’m blessed to be able to talk with many of them. During our discussions, I usually try to ask one important question: Given what you now understand about lust and addiction, how old do you think you were when you first became addicted to lust?

The typical answer no longer surprises me. Most of the responses are along the lines of, “When I was four,” “When I was five,” “When I was seven or eight,” or even, “I think I’ve been addicted to lust for as long as I can remember.”

For some reason, these kinds of answers disturb a lot of (other, possibly non-addict) Mormons who seem to find comfort in the notion that you have to “practice” in order to become an addict. It’s the problematic idea I talked about recently that addiction resembles, in their minds, a slow-moving train with a thousand stops to get off at before you arrive at Addiction Central. According to most of the Mormon addicts I’ve talked with, however, that metaphor is off by about 999.

Think about it. If pornography (i.e., lust) is more addictive than cocaine (see also this article), why on earth do so many Mormons cling to this notion that you get to experience a thousand exposures before you become addicted? I happen to believe that the more we come to understand addiction, the more we will see that for a lot of us, the addiction was instantaneous or nearly so.

As Mormons educate themselves about addiction and become willing to listen to and learn from those of us who have found recovery, they will stop referring to addiction interchangeably with “a bad habit.” ADDICTION IS NOT MERELY A BAD HABIT! Spitting on the sidewalk is a bad habit. Forgetting to lock your car doors when you leave it in the parking lot is a bad habit. Repeatedly forgetting your kid’s birthday is a bad habit.

Returning time after time after time to Internet porn and compulsive sexual behavior like masturbation even knowing that it’s destroying your marriage, your spirituality and your integrity is insanity–another word for addiction. Being so mentally impaired by lust that you can’t see how it’s progressively leading you to seek out and view more shocking porn or to engage in more shocking sexual behavior is insanity–and is evidence of addiction.

Addiction is so much more than a bad habit. Continuing to talk about addiction as though it were merely a bad habit is doubly deadly. First, it suggests that addiction is just something we addicts “got used to” over time. It marginalizes the speed and power of addiction and suggests to actual addicts that they still have time to “get off the train” before addiction sets in.

Second, it suggests that since secret and isolating “practice” gradually brought us into addiction, the solution is simply to “practice” getting out of the habit of addiction. Read “The ABCs of Addiction” and “The Silent Seventy Percent” to understand why this perspective is naive at best and deadly at worst.

I believe that in the very near future, as most Mormons stop referring to addiction as merely “a bad habit,” almost immediately miracles of addiction recovery will take place on a grand scale. Without the smokescreens of denial and misinformation, Mormon addicts will finally get so desperate that they will become willing to do whatever it takes to get well. And then they’ll get well–to the surprise of just about everybody, except those of us who are already addicts in recovery. This is what I pray for and it’s what other recovering Mormon addicts pray for as well.

About Andrew+

Latter-day Saint, sex and pornography addict in recovery, dealing with depression, returned missionary, father of a bunch of kids, graduate degree, self-employed, Book of Mormon reader, writer and thinker. Working on understanding and overcoming resentment, the number one killer of addicts.


Someday Soon Mormons Will Stop Referring to Addiction as a Bad Habit — 8 Comments

  1. Andrew
    Your thoughts and comments could not have had better timing. I just came from my LDS 12 step group. I go on a regular basis to rub shoulders with other addicts, to feel of their strength and listen to what they share. The missionary who was concluding our meeting came right out and said, he hated the word addiction and that this was really just a bad habit. I was so outraged at that one comment I interrupted his speaking and said ” this is not a bad habit. it IS an addiction and if he still thinks it as such then I would discuss it with him after the meeting.” I am a quite guy and very reserved, I have become very passionate about my recovery. I talked with both missionaries after the meeting and used the ABC’s of addiction to try and help educate them about the nature of this addiction.
    Thank you so much for validating my indignation about his misconception. I did feel shame for cross talking the missionary in front of the group. I did apologize for my outburst.

    • Jeff: I am seeing people die from this disease. If I don’t stay in recovery, I will die from this disease. How I wish individuals like this missionary wouldn’t dismiss the massive pain and misery that I experienced over decades of acting out and trying and failing to stop. A bad habit, huh? I guess I didn’t ever get the memo. Maybe I could have saved myself some grief.

      Here’s a link to the Church’s sexual addiction reading list:

      Maybe you could suggest that these missionaries go read those books (because it’s clear they haven’t), and then come back in with better information so they don’t keep on with this myopic opinion about addiction just being a bad habit.

      It’s also evident that this guy associates shame with the addict label. In other words he sees addiction as shameful. He sees addicts as less than he sees himself. Well shame on him and good for you for standing up to him as he ignorantly attempted to shame you for being an addict.

      Personally, I am not ashamed to call myself an addict. It describes my disease and it also sends an immediate message to other addicts I encounter that I know how they feel, that I have experienced the healing power of Christ’s atonement, that I know how to help other addicts stop acting out with their drug and that I have the privilege of spending the rest of my life helping those other addicts find salvation.

      I am an addict and from the despair of my disease, Heavenly Father has changed me, renewed me and given me not just hope but actual release from the mental obsession that is my disease. I wouldn’t change my life for anything.

      No, addiction is most certainly not just a bad habit. Thanks for sharing your experience. God bless you in your recovery.

      • In respectful defense of the missionary who incorrectly implied that addiction is non-existent– I dare say he was trying to help. He probably did more harm than good, and, Jeff, I’m also glad you spoke out then and there just in case there were people at your meeting who became confused and devalued by his statement. But, again, I dare say he was doing the best he could. The missionary at the PASG meeting in my area seems to also not understand addiction, and occasionally says some ignorant statement about getting out of our bad habits, and how he once had a bad a habit, or how “everyone’s an addict” (I hate that phrase). I often think wow, he just doesn’t get it. But that’s okay. He’s doing the best he can, and if I look beyond that, I can see his genuine love and respect for those who attend the meetings, even if I think he looks down on us sometimes.

        We all make mistakes. Even people who aren’t addicts. Even people who don’t understand addiction.

        More than that, I loved this post! It’s so educational and if I wasn’t afraid people would point fingers at me and assume that I’m a sex/porn addict (which I am) then I would share this on my FB page. 🙂 I’m not there yet. Keep posting! Women are reading too!

  2. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I attended meetings for years believing that the all I had was a little problem. I would introduce myself an addict to fit in, but in my head I told myself that I wasn’t an addict. Addicts were inferior and didn’t have control. I went to these meetings because I wanted to, not because I needed to. Or so I thought.

    Attending meetings with this attitude helped me overcome feelings of shame surrounding the addiction but had no effect on my acting out. In some ways my acting out was worse than before attending.

    After four years of doing meetings my way, no sponsor, no fellowship, no real step work, and being allergic to the idea of actually being an addict, I had to admit things were not getting better. I realized that I might be powerless. I admitted to myself that I was an addict.

    Once I believed that I was an addict, and that being an addict was OK, the process of recovery took off.

  3. Pingback: Taking a Look at the LDS Church's Sexual Addiction Reading List

  4. I hope this day is sooner than later! It wasn’t until my husband admitted to being an addict that things actually started changing. I just posted about my frustrations with this. I guess I need to keep praying and hoping that our Stake President will see that it is a true addiction and not just a bad habit!

    • It seems that church leaders a not aware of the seriousness of this disease. Calling it a bad habit vs. addiction underscores the shame the addicts and their spouse feel. In addition, many people seeking help to recover from this addiction only look toward the church to offer solutions. My bishop is not a professional counselor, he is not a certified sex addiction therapist. He can offer help for spiritual recovery but that is about all he can do. As a culture, we should start looking for solutions that have worked; even if that means looking outside the church and researching what it really means to be in recovery.

      • Amen. Few in the Church are willing to admit this, but we collectively look down with derision upon those who are addicted in much the same way that societies of the past looked down on lepers. If I despise something, the last thing in the world I want to discover or admit is that I am that very something that I despise.

        Gratefully, there are addicts in recovery who are also LDS. They have moved past the fear, shame and humiliation that accompanied the secrecy and isolation of their past failed efforts to overcome their mental obsession with lust and the resulting behavior. They have felt the redemption that comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ. They have learned to stop acting out–and stop “acting in.” And they are enthusiastic about their recovery and want to share their experience, strength and hope with suffering addicts, suffering spouses and priesthood leaders who are anxious to understand both the problem of lust addiction and the solution to lust addiction.

        I think it may surprise a lot of people to hear this, but I believe that some of the happiest, most useful and Christlike people in the Church these days are the addicts in recovery and the spouses of addicts in recovery. The power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is clearly manifest in their lives.