The Seven Deadly Sins & Addiction

Why are the seven deadly sins referred to as "deadly" if all but one sin is forgivable? And what does this have to do with science & psychology anyway? To answer these questions I think we need to explore the neurobiology of addiction, specifically as it relates to urges, cravings, and temptation. To get a complete understanding of the message here, you will need to watch the 14-minute video below before reading the rest of this page.

The Neurobiology of Temptation

The human brain loves positive intensity... When it finds something that produces a positive intensity it will signal us to do it more and more often. The more intensely positive, the more the brain likes it and will request it. Mild positive signals are called urges while stronger positive signals are called cravings.

On the other hand, the brain hates negative intensity. When it finds something that produces a negative intensity it will signal us to do it only when we must - if at all. The more intensely negative, the more the brain hates it and will develop an aversion to the object or activity.

There was a whole treatment for alcoholism built around this concept. Aversion therapy got the desired results, but these results eventually "wore off" when the object or event was an addiction.

Seven Deadly Sins & Addiction

So, why all this talk about neurobiology and addiction? Because addiction produces an extremely powerful positive intensity (ie. payoff). Addiction is deadly. And, as I will show, the seven deadly sins are all directly related to the terminal disease called addiction.

Based upon the concept of forgiveness for sins and the information in the preceding video about biological changes in the brain and the development of addictions, it seems highly likely that the seven deadly sins may not actually be as morally deadly as they are biologically deadly - because to experience the intensity produced by engaging in the misuse and abuse of these behaviors repeatedly is to create the neural circuitry for addictions!

  • Envy: Like greed, Envy may be characterized by an insatiable desire; But they differ in that greed is usually associated with material goods, whereas envy may apply more generally to things like status, position, fame, etc. Envy can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem, which results from an upward social comparison threatening a person's self-image: "Why do good things always happen to him/her! Why not me, what's wrong with me?"

  • Wrath: Also known as "rage", may be described as excessive and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Anger is an emotion. The physical effects of anger include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of adrenaline and noradrenalin. Anger and fear are the two primary emotional energies for survival produced by the fight or flight response to the perceived threat of harm.

    When confronted by an attacker or wild animal, it would be good to have wrath/rage type energy available. However, having such intense emotional energy in everyday situations is likely to cause problems. (e.g. "road rage")

  • Pride/Big Ego: In almost every list Pride, aka hubris, is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins. In fact, some consider false pride or inflated ego to be the ultimate source from which six out of the seven deadly sins arise. It is identified as a powerful desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).

    The famous psychiatrist, Harry Tiebolt, wrote an excellent, now classic essay on this subject as it relates to addiction entitled "Ego Factors in the Surrender to Alcoholism."

  • Greed: Also known as covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power.

  • Gluttony: Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. A well known cliche in addiction recovery circles is "We grab all we can fearing we will never get enough... and never do!"

  • Lust: Lust (carnal "luxuria") is usually thought of as excessive thoughts or desires (i.e Obessions) of a sexual nature. When sex addiction is present the obessions lead to irresistable acting-out of the obessions (i.e. compulsion) Aristotle's criterion was excessive love of others, which therefore, rendered love and devotion to God as secondary.

  • Sloth: Now there is nothing intense about Sloth! In fact, it is just the opposite: Sloth is believed to be the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts. Sloth is also defined as spiritual or emotional apathy. It is a lack of motivation to engage in the pursuit of self-actualization.

    How is the last of the seven deadly sins, directly related to addiction? Two well-known clinical conditions directly related to addiction,are Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure, even during pleasurable activities), common in early recovery from alcoholism, cocaine, and methamphetamine addiction, and Amotivational Syndrome (a loss of ambition and general apathy for activities of daily living), common in marijuana addiction and early recovery.

    So sloth is a state that numbs-out other, normal sources of pleasure and interests, paving the way back into addictive behavior because "nothing else matters" -- John Bradshaw once said, "With feelings everything matters, without feelings nothing matters." Any alcoholic/addict who relapses after a period of sobriety will testify to this -- their last words before picking up another drink/drug/etc. will almost always be something like "Screw it!!"

It is incredibly amazing to see today's advanced technology, such as brain imaging techniques and clinical research, validating ancient wisdom of thousands of years ago that warn us to steer clear of these seven deadly sins in particular! But the question remains: "Are the resulting addictions, obsessions, and compulsions really that deadly?"

Considering that they are widely known to destroy families, lives, careers, relationships, marriages, children, bank accounts, health, economies, and potentially even bring oil and credit addicted super-power nations to their knees, by all means, the term deadly is more than justified.


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