In your phone’s settings, there is a place that logs your screen time. Throughout lockdown those numbers have creeped up. We’ve learned to find out shots of dopamine where we can, be it the thrill of the latest online order, the newest post, our favorite cheat meal, or the newest show. It is no surprise that living in a pandemic has bred high stress and conflict. In times of trial we can rely on old habits for comfort or escape. However, engaging in those comforts can become problematic if left unchecked. When left in the close quarters of quarantine, coping mechanisms that were once for light relief begin to spiral into patterns that can be damaging to ourselves and our loved ones. Katia Reinert, associate director of health ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters joins ANN InDepth hosts Jennifer Stymiest and Sam Neves to discuss the source of addiction as a symptom of mental illness and its effects on our loved ones.
Addiction is often misunderstood in its core sense. For many, addiction is seen simply as poor choices, associated with the dark underbelly of drugs, alcohol, gambling, or pornography. Yet this is not always the case. Reinert explains that ”any substance, any event or activity that we do can turn into an addiction” such as increased screen time, eating, online shopping, working, or exercising. These first stages, she explains, are called dependence, when the substance or practice is done “on a regular basis and excessively using a lot of their time”. This can easily slide into misuse or abuse, which is where the ability to detach yourself from the habit or substance is difficult to impossible. At this stage there is a psychological dependence which makes detangling yourself from the substance trigger withdrawals. If there is a risk for us to believe that we, as good, perfect, bible following Christians could never relate to the mental imprisonment of addiction, think again. As mentioned, using the term substance can trick us into thinking that it only applies to hard drugs, alcohol, or sex. But trade the word “substance” with “phone”, “show”, “game”, “food”, “product” and others, this struggle begins to hit closer to home.
For many, turning to these substances or habits is a means to feel a sense of control in the midst of chaos. Financial stress, trauma, unsafe home life, depression, anxiety, OCD, and other issues can cause a feeling of suffocation when we are trapped in our own heads or in spaces where we feel unsafe. The CDC found that 13% of people stated they either started using a substance or increased their use of a substance. 75% of youth from the ages of 18-25 said they were experiencing depression and using substances to cope, in addition the amount of overdoses increased by 18%. For those who are genetically inclined to addictive personalities, the risk factors increase exponentially. Reinert acknowledges the genetic factors of addiction are important to recognize and that though the substance may change, the behavior does not. If there were relatives who struggled with alcoholism or gambling, so much attention may be placed on avoiding those specific substances, that overworking may become the new substance.
The pandemic has been an anomaly in numerous ways, however one way is the normalization of certain coping mechanisms through social media. Stymiest addresses the increasing humor surrounding day drinking, with tiktoks, comics, videos, and posts joking about drinking during work just to get through the day, and rise of “wine moms”, being seen as relatable sources of humor. Hustle culture, the glorification of overworking, has also invaded our psych. However, no matter how humorous or trivial it may seem, such content is making addictions not only normal, but entertaining. In reality, dependence on such substances is a symptom of a much deeper issue of mental health. The constant need for distraction from reality leads to a detachment that is problematic and damaging to our health and relationships. These behaviors which are meant to be comforting, really isolate us further and prevent legitimate healing for loneliness, depression, or stress.
When confronted with the stress of addiction, it may seem like willpower alone should be needed to break the chain, however Reinert is quick to point out that addiction is a disease like any other illness and should be treated with the same care. For those struggling with internet or video game addiction in the family, set aside time for uninterrupted connection for children and parents. With the loss of school relationships and friends, kids are without relationships that are outside of themselves, therefore creating a safe space where they can connect in the home or encouraging the reconnection with friends can be a step to healing. The Sabbath is a day that addresses addiction head on, as a day of reconnection to loved ones and God, we are called to let go and rely on Him. For those who are struggling with deeper addictions, Reinert encourages the faith based 12 step program for addictions such as pornography, gambling, alcohol, or drugs. Yet first and foremost, Reinert says “try to do a self evaluation first, kind of like a search of yourself and then in that search ask God to help you see what that [addiction] is”. In finding the root cause for our dependence and addictions, such as loneliness, low self esteem, depression, etc. we are given the opportunity to invite God to overturn their hold on our lives and heal.