By Brandon Sutton

One of the greatest threats to the recovering addict is relapse. For most people in recovery, it’s happened to them multiple times. Very few people get sober the first time and stay sober for the rest of their lives. Personally, I have been sober for 14 consecutive years, but I relapsed a lot early on. Staying sober is easy, but getting sober can be hard, especially for the newcomer. 

For the addict/alcoholic, relapse means we have fallen back into active addiction. For a time, the addict was able to stay sober but through a series of events, he or she began using again. 

How does relapse happen and how can we avoid it? 

Relapse occurs long before we put the drug in our body or bottle to our mouth. The physical act of using is the final step in a long process of relapse. For example, if an addict has been sober for 2 months but decides to start drinking or using drugs again, he or she had been in process of relapse for days, maybe weeks. Using drugs is the final act in the process of relapse, not the first. 

So, practically speaking, what leads up to the actual act of using? A lot of things. First of all, the addict usually starts to feel pretty good about themselves in early sobriety. This is not bad, but it can lead to self-dependence—the mindset that says, “I got this.” As the Scripture says, “Pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18). Because of this pride, the addict stops doing what was once helping them. They stop praying, going to church, reading scripture, going to meetings, calling their trusted friends etc. In other words, they cut themselves off from God’s power. They stop filling their mind with truth. When this occurs, the mind begins to wonder, and Satan has his way. The addict begins to think, “Maybe, I can use just one more time. I got sober before. I can do it again. What will one hurt?” At this point, relapse is inevitable. 

Relapse begins and ends in the mind. It is a spiritual battle that must be fought and won with the weapons of warfare given to us by God Himself. 

Ephesians 6:10-18 has great application for our subject. 

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

This is a spiritual battle, and we must fight with spiritual weapons. Here are five things you can do to avoid relapse.

  1. Depend on God’s Strength. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (V.10). The moment we begin relying on our own strength, we’ve lost. We’re well on our way to falling back into our old sins. We must depend on the Lord daily for His power. We must seek Him diligently every day through prayer and His Word—sometimes, it is moment by moment. 
  2. Realize this is a Spiritual Battle. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (V.11). The Devil’s playground is the mind. He loves to lie and tempt. Therefore, it’s easy to see that he is going to tempt the addict to not depend on God. He is going to place thoughts in your minds that point you back to your sin. He will entice and allure. But you must put on the armor of God to stand against Him. We must be spiritually fit each day so we will be ready for war. 
  3. Read the Bible Daily. “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth” (V.14) The Devil is a liar and will win the battle when you believe him. Therefore, fill your mind with the truth of God’s Word. Allow it to renew your mind (Romans 12:2). God’s Word is sufficient to train you for righteousness and equip you for every good work (2nd Tim. 3:16-17). Read it every day. 
  4. Do the Next Right Thing. “And having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (V.14). Sin will cut you off from the presence of God, but obedience opens the flood gates of His blessings. Righteousness refers to what is right and good. When we do the next right thing before the Lord, it leads to more right righteous acts and we will live in His favor. 
  5. Rely on other People. “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (V.16). In ancient times, soldiers shot flaming arrows at their enemies. The best defense for a flaming dart was shield covered in wet animal skin. When it hit the shield, it not only protected the soldier, but it extinguished the flames. Paul says faith is a shield that can extinguish the darts of the Devil. I don’t know about you, but my faith is strongest in community. When I am surrounded by other believers, I am strong in the Lord. We need each other, and the best way to beat addiction is with the help of fellow Christians. You can’t do this alone. 
  6. Remember who are you in Christ. “and take the helmet of salvation” (V.17). If you are a believer, you belong to God. You are His child. You are saved, forgiven and redeemed. You have been sealed with the Spirit. God has granted you eternal life and you have the hope of Heaven. Before you fall back into your sin, remind yourself of who you are in Christ. 
  7. Never Stop Praying. “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (V.18). Prayer, says John Piper, is like a war time radio. When the enemy strikes, you can call for help. In Christ, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence in our time of need. God loves to help weak people. Go to Him daily!

You don’t have to relapse into old, sinful behavior. You can win, but you must fight. Apply these principles each day and you will be strong in the Lord and stand against the schemes of the Devil.