Lesson: Understanding and Overcoming Substance Abuse
For anyone struggling with substance abuse or addiction, there is reason for great hope! God created us and gave us His Word, the Bible, with the essential keys for overcoming and spiritual growth. With that foundation and the strength that comes from God, plus professional advice and counseling, you can win the victory over substance abuse!
Judy Markley, a counselor in Oregon, tells this story:
"For the sake of confidentiality, John is not a real person, but a
story representing most of my clients.
"Months after John graduated from nine months of alcohol and drug treatment
with a renewed commitment to stay clean and sober, he was back in my
office. John confessed he finally contacted his drug dealer after losing
the battle against his urges. Because John has been a career criminal
consumed by drug-related activities, he had lost his wife, friends and
possessions and has not seen his children for 11 years. He has a broken
heart. Ashamed and afraid, with two years of prison hanging over his
head, still high from drinking and using meth the previous night, he
tearfully begs for help…as he had done the first time.
"John's story is the story of addiction, a powerful force that strangles
the best of intentions. John is both victim and self-saboteur, choosing
to behave in ways he does not want."
What does the Bible say about wanting to do the right thing, yet choosing
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What Is Substance Abuse and What Does the Bible Say About It?
Substance abuse is a broad term for addiction or inappropriate use of
a chemical substance to alter one's mental, emotional or physical state,
whether the substance is ingested orally, injected intravenously or inhaled.
Abuse doesn't always involve or lead to addiction, while dependence is
the therapeutic term that defines addiction. Substance abuse generally
damages one's health, because the substances are often extremely toxic
In general, the Bible does not disapprove of moderate drinking of alcoholic
beverages, but the Bible strongly condemns drunkenness (1 Corinthians
5:11; 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:18; Isaiah 5:11). We also know by biblical principles
that if a person has developed a dependence on alcohol, that person should
commit to abstinence.
Because the Bible talks about wrong use of alcohol, it is logical to
expand this to other mood-altering substances. The Bible does not specifically
address the evils of drug use, but refers to "the lust of the flesh" as
a description of out-of-control desire (Galatians 5:16).
How do I know if I have an addiction?
2 Peter 2:19 (New Living Translation)
They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves to sin and corruption.
For you are a slave to whatever controls you.
Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they
Illegal substances—like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines—are extremely
addictive. If any substance becomes so important that you are willing
to break the law, risking legal consequences, you are becoming addicted.
Realize that it is God who gives human governments the right to make and
enforce laws, and He wants us to obey all laws that do not go against
His laws (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14; Acts 5:29).
Narcotic-based medications are addictive. Use them only as prescribed.
Communicate regularly with your doctor about your prescriptions and possible
alternatives. Also many fumes or inhalants—such as solvents and aerosol
sprays—and hallucinogens are very dangerous and addictive.
Checking with a professional alcohol and drug counselor to obtain an
assessment can help answer the question of whether you are addicted. Some
of the criteria considered include loss of control and failed attempts
to quit; extreme amount of time and resources spent obtaining, using and
recovering from the effects of use; ongoing use in spite of recurring
problems; reduced lifestyle; significant withdrawal; and developed tolerance.
Another way to determine addiction is to attend Alcoholics or Narcotics
Anonymous (AA or NA) to hear others' stories. AA also states that if your
drinking is a problem to someone else, then you have a problem. Contacting
AA or NA to obtain their literature may be one of the wisest things you
have ever done.
Do you want addiction to rule your life? As a virtual tyrant, enslaving
you, it will eventually destroy everything you love (Romans 6:16). Because
addiction magnifies covetousness, which the Bible likens to worshipping
an idol, it is impossible to devote your life to God (Colossians 3:5).
Now that I have admitted I have an addiction, how can I face
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who
is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.
Your victory begins with being honest, open and willing to seek support
from others. If you are addicted, people close to you have probably known
it for a long time. They will breathe a sigh of relief because the defense
of denial is finally broken. Opening up and listening are marks of humility
(1 Peter 5:6-7).
Released from upholding the family lie that everything is okay, family
members can start their own work of overcoming codependency. Codependents
are consumed with the job of keeping life as normal as possible by covering
up for the addict. By attending Al-Anon, a support group for relatives
and friends, they can receive help to build normal lives.
I am so ashamed, even though I have apologized. How do I begin
to feel better about myself?
2 Corinthians 7:10
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted;
but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Once addicts realize the enormity of their problem, they often become
plagued with shame and guilt. Did you know there is a difference between
shame and guilt? Shame promotes a sense of worthlessness, full of self-recriminations.
Guilt, however, can help you acknowledge your bad choice, which is the
first step toward godly sorrow and repentance. Guilt can provide motivation
as it spotlights the outcome of your bad choice so you can make the opposite
Shame erodes your ability to accept support from a recovery community,
putting you at a greater risk of relapse. You may find yourself triggered
to self-medicate in an attempt to relieve internal discomfort, emotional
pain and isolation. Try to remember, you are not addiction; you do addiction.
What is God's solution for shame?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God's love transcends all other love. Although difficult for us to understand,
we must believe God's Word that He values us highly. When we repent of
our sins, even in our darkest moments, God is eager to forgive us. If
He did not love us and value us, why would He have allowed Christ to die
an excruciating death for us? God loves us and wants us to have a life
full of His blessings (Romans 8:32; 1 John 3:1). As the ultimate parent,
God loves us as His children, making us heirs to His creation (Romans
8:16-17). Prayer and godly repentance will open the way to finally accept
and understand this.
How can I stop relapsing?
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive,
that your joy may be full.
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,
so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
Let's define a relapse, as well as a lapse or a slip, terms used in recovery.
These three levels are different based on the extent of use as well as
recovery behaviors. A slip might be a few sips of beer or hits of marijuana;
whereas a lapse could be a full beer or a full joint. However, a relapse
might be a day of using drugs, getting drunk, going to the full extent
of obtaining an effect. If you continue to abuse the substance until you
are caught or hit bottom, you have resumed an addicted lifestyle.
Regardless of how you fall, you must repent. Repenting means changing.
Godly repentance includes realizing that our sins caused the death of
Jesus Christ and asking God to forgive us. This requires a firm commitment
to change. It is a process of asking God for strength and developing character
to resist urges to use the substance. Repentance follows a change of heart,
not just empty remorse and regrets.
Repentance is replacing the choices to act sinfully with the choices
to do the right things (Ezekiel 18:27-28). No one can overcome without
being absolutely ready to stop wrong behaviors, which begins with an honest
commitment to be absolutely done! Although the process may often be punctuated
by successes and failures, when you continue to do your part, God will
help you to avoid and escape temptations (Matthew 6:13; 1 Corinthians
But why do I keep relapsing?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can
Addiction is a great deceiver, falsely promising freedom from problems.
Likewise, God says the human heart is deceitful. Could you be kidding
yourself that you are doing all you can with your recovery tools and recovery
activities? Are you truly working your program "with your might" (Ecclesiastes
9:10)? At that flash point of decision, do you cry out to God for strength
to resist making an addictive choice? Or do you yield to the pulls of
your flesh (Galatians 5:16)? Honesty is the key to beginning true recovery.
Temptations to drink or use drugs are everywhere. What do I do?
"I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but
that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world,
just as I am not of the world."
Jesus prayed this prayer the night before His crucifixion, thinking about
what His followers through the ages would have to face in this evil age
(Galatians 1:4). Though we are in the world, we must not be of the world.
Likewise, one must come out of the world of addiction to minimize and
avoid temptations (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy
2:22). Avoid old environments, "friends" who are bad influences, even
sights of drug paraphernalia. And pray to God every day for commitment,
strength and wisdom to make right choices (Philippians 4:13).
Recovery is more than not using or simply remaining abstinent. Recovery
is rebuilding a better life by no longer choosing a self-destructive lifestyle.
The choices involved in learning to live a healthy, normal life mean you
pick up your recovery tools, work your 12-step program and develop a supportive
social network. It also means exerting extreme effort to push away illegal
drugs, to say no to drug dealers and to stop criminal thinking and behavior.
If you immerse yourself in reading the Bible, strengthen yourself through
prayer and run from all temptations, you will succeed!
How important is it for you to set goals for
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended [attained the goal
of the resurrection and perfection, verses 11-12]; but one thing I do,
forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those
things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the
upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
A major key to overcoming substance abuse or addiction is to keep your
eyes on that goal of recovery! Paul certainly understood the necessity
of being goal-oriented. If you "seek first the kingdom of God" (Matthew
6:33) and align your other goals with this powerful vision, God will faithfully
help you with all your goals. Stay focused and you will walk out of your
addiction, one day at a time.
Can I still receive salvation if I relapse?
1 John 1:8-9
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is
not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive
us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
You certainly can! When you fall down, God will help you get back up
and go forward. All people who are trying to lead a godly life are faced
with daily temptations to "relapse" into various sins. The apostle Paul—after
having the gift of God's Spirit for many years—described how he still
experienced this inner struggle (Romans 7:14-25). Prone to make mistakes,
humans can never earn salvation. Eternal life is God's gift, freely given
by His grace (Ephesians 2:8).
With God's power, we can gradually overcome the urges and cravings of
addiction, so do not give up if you relapse. It doesn't mean you are not
sincere about stopping. However, being in recovery does not give you permission
to relapse, just as grace does not give you permission to sin (Romans
6:15; Jude 4). So when you lapse or relapse, confess it to God and ask
His forgiveness. He will forgive. He will never leave you nor forsake
you (Hebrews 13:5). Be sure you never forsake Him! And never give up!
There Is Hope!
Counselors see many people mired down in their own wreckage, completely
devoid of hope. Yet given the chance to recover, these same people begin
to see how addiction kept them from achieving their potentials and enjoying
life. So, if you are addicted to substances, we pray you will commit yourself
to a life of recovery and fulfill your great God-given potential!
Click on this link to the valuable Web site of Narcotics Anonymous: http://www.na.org/admin/include/spaw2/uploads/pdf/litfiles/us_english/IP/EN3107.pdf
Answer the 29 questions to "Am I an Addict?" You may discover you are in denial.
If not, those questions will at least provide information so you can help
If you are ready for recovery, pray to God for His guidance to find helpful
resources. Have you considered obtaining counseling? Can you talk to your
minister to find a reliable Christian counselor? Be sure to check the
Related Resources below to learn more about freedom from bondage.
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