Addiction or Freedom
September 1989

“Addiction or Freedom,” New Era, Sept. 1989, 4

The Message:

Addiction or Freedom

From an address delivered in general conference in October 1988.

The choice is yours, but so are the consequences.

I am impressed to speak out on a problem of deep concern—the worldwide epidemic of drug addiction. My study of drugs began early in medical school. Each doctor spends months in specialized courses learning potential benefits and risks of medicinal agents. Proper prescription of drugs is the forte of skilled physicians. Generally, when their advice is carefully followed, results are remarkably successful. In addressing this topic, I specifically exclude such application of modern knowledge by educated professionals.

But I raise my voice with others throughout the world who warn against abuse of drugs beyond prescribed limits, and the recreational or social use of chemical substances so often begun naively by the ill-informed.

From an initial experiment thought to be trivial, a vicious cycle may follow. From trial comes habit. From habit comes dependence. From dependence comes addiction. Its grasp is so gradual. Enslaving shackles of habit are too small to be sensed until they are too strong to be broken. Indeed, drugs are the modern “mess of pottage” for which souls are sold. No families are free from risk.

But this problem is broader than hard drugs. Their use most often begins with cigarette smoking.1 Tobacco and alcoholic beverages contain addicting drugs. They lead the list in incidence and cost to society.

As I speak with governmental and medical leaders of many nations, they voice grave concern over the consumption of alcohol and other harmful substances by their citizens. Though the extent of the challenge is international, data from the United States of America will be cited solely to indicate the monstrous scope of this worldwide problem.


Cigarette smoking is the most frequent preventable cause of heart disease, artery disease, lung disease, and cancer.2 In the U.S.A. in 1982, 16 percent of all deaths (314,000) were attributed to the smoking of tobacco.3

For the year 1985, the estimated cost of both smoking-related health care and lost productivity amounted to $65 billion. That calculates to an average of $2.17 per pack of cigarettes sold.4 Social consequences of smoking far exceed the price paid to purchase cigarettes.


There is mounting concern worldwide over the consumption of alcohol. The U.S. government estimates that 10.6 million adults are alcoholics and that one family in four is troubled by alcohol.5 It is a factor in half of all the nation’s traffic deaths.6

Recently, a tragic milestone was reached. More Americans had been killed from alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents (1,350,000) than had been killed in all the wars America has ever fought (1,156,000).7

Other Drugs

Drugs such as LSD, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine are also endangering people throughout the earth. The noble attributes of reason, integrity, and dignity, which distinguish men and women from all other forms of life, are often the first to be attacked by these drugs and alcohol.


The solution to the drug problem ultimately is neither governmental nor institutional. Nor is it a question of legality. It is a matter of individual choice and commitment. Agency must be understood. The importance of the will in making crucial choices must be known. Then steps toward relief can follow.

Agency, or the power to choose, was ours as spirit children of our Creator before the world was (see Alma 13:3; Moses 4:4). It is a gift from God, nearly as precious as life itself.

Often, however, agency is misunderstood. While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices, we are tied to the consequences of those choices.

We are free to take drugs or not. But once we choose to use a habit-forming drug, we are bound to the consequences of that choice. Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will!

Road to Recovery

For relief of an ailment, as a doctor of medicine I might write a prescription. As an ordained Apostle I would invoke the spiritual blessing of eternal perspective. Combined, my spiritual prescription would return the gift of agency to its rightful owner.

This challenge uniquely involves the will, and the will can prevail. Healing doesn’t come after the first dose of any medicine. So the prescription must be followed firmly, bearing in mind that it often takes as long to recover as it did to become ill. But if made consistently and persistently, correct choices can cure.

Spiritual Prescription

My spiritual prescription includes six choices:

A. Choose to be Alive. Seek beloved family, friends, and physicians. Plead for their help. Your precious life is at stake. Cheer up your hearts, and remember that you are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life (see 2 Ne. 10:23).

The choice for life brings an outlook of optimism. It breathes hope. It rekindles self-esteem—regarding one’s body as a timeless trust. And it awakens a personal commitment to “see that ye take care of these sacred things, … that ye look to God and live” (Alma 37:47).

B. Choose to Believe. Believe in God. Accept yourself as His child, created in His image. He loves you and wants you to be happy. He wants you to grow through life’s choices and become more like Him. He pleads that you will “reconcile [yourself] to the will of God, and not to the will of the … flesh” (2 Ne. 10:24).

Reconciliation requires faith, repentance, and baptism. Be “born of God, changed from [your] carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness” (Mosiah 27:25). Renew covenants made at baptism by worthily partaking of the sacrament regularly, “that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9).

Then “be meek and lowly in heart; … withstand every temptation of the devil, with … faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Alma 37:33).

Choose to believe in and be blessed by your Creator.

C. Choose to Change. “How long will ye suffer [yourself] to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?” (Hel. 13:29). Choose to change—today!

“The spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15). Both spirit and body have appetites. One of life’s great challenges is to develop dominance of spiritual appetites over those that are physical. Your willpower becomes strong when joined with the will of the Lord.

Addiction to any substance enslaves not only the physical body but the spirit as well. Therefore, repentance is best achieved while one still has a body to help attain spiritual supremacy: “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; … this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32).

D. Choose to be Different. Distinguish yourself from worldly crowds. Defenders do not resemble offenders. Among them are clever merchandisers who plot to link beer with sports, tobacco with charm, and drugs with fun. Scripture warns of those who so deceive:

“Thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation” (D&C 89:4).

Choose to be different; you will be blessed both physically and spiritually.

E. Choose to Exercise. Exercising the body and the spirit will aid in the climb toward recovery. Appropriate physical activity helps to combat depression, which so often accompanies addiction.

But spiritual exercise is even more crucial. This battle will be more easily won with fervent prayer. If we truly “counsel with the Lord in all [our] doings, … he will direct [us] for good” (Alma 37:37).

Strength comes from uplifting music, good books, and feasting from the scriptures. Since the Book of Mormon was to come forth “when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth” (Morm. 8:31), study of that book in particular will fortify us. President Benson has issued that challenge.

Exercise the body and the spirit and choose to exercise faith in God.

F. Choose to be Free. Break “bands of iniquity” (Mosiah 23:12; see also 1 Ne. 13:5). Leave behind “an iron yoke … handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell” (D&C 123:8).

Choose to be free from feigned friends who first flatter yet later despise (see D&C 121:20). Drug abuse may have started with them, but you pay the price.

“Remember, my brethren [and sisters], that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free” (Hel. 14:30).

The Lord has revealed His sacred standard to guide people in a troubled world. You and I were born free to follow His divine guidance. We may choose for ourselves. Those choices may bring addiction or freedom. For freedom and joy, choose to “be faithful in Christ.” He will lift you up. May “the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever” (Moro. 9:25).


  1. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction, Public Health Service, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1988, pp. 262–63.

  2. Cigarette Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease 1985: Special Report to the Public, American Heart Association (50-075-A).

  3. Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress Staff Memorandum, Sept. 1985, p. 2.

  4. Ibid., p. 5.

  5. U.S. News and World Report, Nov. 30, 1987, pp. 56–57.

  6. Healthy People: The Surgeon General’s Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Public Health Service, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979, p. 125.

  7. Accident Facts, Annual report of the National Safety Council, 1975, confirmed by telephone conversation 20 July 1988.

Photography by Michael Schoenfeld