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The Associative Property of ADDICTION

Humans are social by nature, and a person typically takes on the characteristics and patterns of who or what they are around the most.

The associative property of addiction is a metaphor I developed to explain a key dynamic found in the recovery process that draws parallels between the mathematical principle known as the associative property of addition and the way our social connections influence our journey through recovery much in the same way.

An article I read this week in the journal Frontiers of Psychology put forth that social identities can serve as pathways both into and out of addiction with social isolation, the need to belong, and peer influence being high risk factors for its onset and initiation (Dingle, 2015).  

In the plant kingdom, the common climbing ivy, known as the genus Hedera helix, serves as a poignant metaphor for the nature of addiction and the ever-increasing grip of sin on our lives.

Much like ivy taking root and spreading through its host, addiction can embed itself in our lives, consuming our resources and choking our personal growth. This is purely parasitic with no mutual benefit to be found, only destruction.  

Addiction has a widely studied social nature, a nature that circles around influence. Do you remember being taught the term, “peer pressure” in middle school? Oh yes, that takes me back!

Just as leadership is the process through which we apply influence in our sphere, the opposite end of that spectrum shows that influence can also be a process in which one simply refuses to be influenced. This is by no means a passive process, it takes effort, and it is best accomplished through being proactive.

In the case of addiction, this would be choosing to be around the right people, places, and things—this is a proactive battle not a reactive one by any means—this is key!

The Bible says “bad company corrupts good character” with the warning to not be misled. This resonates powerfully in the context of the subject matter at hand. What stands out is the fact that it becomes apparent that we in this new life must approach our relationships with discernment being mindful of that parasitic ivy that once took root and almost destroyed everything.  

In mathematics, the associative property of addition teaches us that the sum of what you are adding in a group remains the same regardless of how you group the numbers--5+2 equals 7 and 2+5 equals the same. Applying this principle to addiction, it becomes evident that if we are seeking to set about a different outcome, we may need to reassess the groups we associate with instead of trying to regroup ourselves in the same old circles, patterns, and behaviors. Attempting to derive a new result from the same social circles that fueled our addiction is akin to rearranging the same numbers and expecting a different sum. We have to get into a new group to get a new result!

Recovery demands courage and the willingness to make difficult decisions. Sometimes that decision involves subtraction—subtraction of people, places, and things that are harmful to one's growth and continuing walk.


Protecting this new life within us requires us to evaluate our relationships and distinguish between those that nurture our growth and those that hinder it, even when it means pulling out the scissors and breaking connections. This is not an easy task, as we may need to distance ourselves from individuals who, consciously or unconsciously, contribute to the cycles of addiction. In fact, some may call us cold, but do you want this or not?

Choosing a different path often involves discomfort and uncertainty. However, the rewards of surrounding ourselves with a supportive and positive community can far outweigh the temporary challenges.

In fact, the same article referenced above that I read this week went on to state that being around the appropriate healthy community and people serve as "protective factors" against addiction (Dingle, 2016).

Recovery is not just about abstaining from harmful behaviors; it's about creating a life that fosters resilience and lasting change. Resilience often comes as a result of hard decisions. Who promised you this would be easy?

As we navigate the intricate terrain of recovery, let us be mindful of the associative property of addiction. By consciously selecting our associations, we empower ourselves to break free from destructive patterns and embrace a future defined by growth, healing, and genuine connection. After all, the sum of our recovery is determined not only by our efforts but also by the company we choose to keep. "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." Proverbs 13:20 Author: Rob Frazier, Director of Development, This is Living Ministries, Inc.



Dingle, G. A. (2015). Social identities as pathways into and out of addiction. Frontiers in Psychology, 1795.


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