June 28, 2019

Finding God in the Journey to Recovery

God’s healing presence is an essential part of the pathway back.

Katia Reinert

Addiction is commonly viewed as the compulsive use of some harmful substance such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco, opioids, marijuana, caffeine, or other. Seventh-day Adventists often think of themselves as being free from addictions, since upon baptism or profession of faith church members vow to abstain from using harmful substances. Many forget, however, that substances are only part of the story of addictions. The rest of the story encompasses behavioral addictions.

Many in churches and communities are engaged in compulsive behaviors that are hurting them and their loved ones, crippling their faith. They may not even realize that they’re addicted.

Recognizing an Addiction

Pastor John has a beautiful family and ministry, and is highly respected by his colleagues. His wife and two teenage children have been supportive and proud of him. Lately, however, his wife has noticed a change in his behavior. He seems more distant, preoccupied with other things, and having no time for nurturing their intimacy. He has developed a routine of staying up late working on his computer.

One night his wife found him using pornography. This shocked her, and she wondered why he would do this. Their marriage was now in crisis. John felt ashamed, but denied he was addicted. He prayed and asked God to help, but the drive to use pornography did not go away. Whom could he talk to about this? Where could he find help for this compulsive behavioral addiction?

John is not alone. The struggle with compulsive behaviors is common, but often people do not call it an addiction. Many continuously overwork while they spend little time with family or friends. Some hide food and binge-eat, making food the center of their life. Others spend several hours a day on the Internet with social media or in gaming. The list of behavioral addictions can include pornography/sex, video gaming, gambling, shopping, food addictions, Internet, plastic surgery, risky thrill-seeking behavior (e.g., skydiving), workaholism, exercise, and so on. Engaging in these behaviors a few times does not necessarily mean you are addicted. But could you recognize it if any of these turned into an addiction?

Stages of Addiction

Addictions used to be seen as a moral failing or a character flaw. As researchers studied the impact and role of the brain in the addictive process, however, they concluded that addictions are like a chronic illness characterized by impairments in health, social function, and voluntary control over the use of a substance or behavior.1 Specific regions in the brain are impacted by an addiction disorder, and those who suffer from this condition need to seriously consider treatment as they would consider treatment for diabetes or hypertension.

Researchers have also concluded that as in the case of substance use, several behaviors lead to a short-term reward that can produce an urge to persist in the behavior with diminished control over that behavior, despite negative consequences, following the same route as with substance abuse.2 The U.S. Surgeon General’s report has identified three stages they follow: binge/intoxication, withdrawal, and preoccupation/anticipation.3

Binge/intoxication is individuals consuming an intoxicating substance or engaging in a behavior, and experiencing the rewarding, pleasurable effects. In this stage, tolerance is built. Tolerance is the need to continuously increase the use of or additional time spent performing the behavior in order to obtain comparable pleasurable effects.

Withdrawal/negative effect follows. In this stage individuals experience highly uncomfortable feelings and enter into a negative emotional state in the absence of the substance or the behavior.

Preoccupation/anticipation is the stage in which one seeks the substance or behavior again after a period of abstinence. The person obsessively focuses on the behavior and is preoccupied with planning how to engage in it. This takes much time and attention from other important things in life.

These stages become a cycle, and people cannot seem to stop despite adverse consequences. No one should ignore this red flag. Are there any behaviors in your life that follow this pattern? If so, keep reading.

There Is Hope for Recovery

The struggle against any addiction is real—but there is hope! Many people find lasting recovery if they do the work of recovery and follow the steps for treatment. In the case of behavioral addictions, the first step is to talk to a health provider. The treatment may involve therapy and a recovery program to deal with the root causes of the addiction. Spiritual counseling can also be helpful. In recovery we must remember that an addiction is the unconscious, compulsive use of any psychoactive material in response to the stress of life experiences, typically dating back to childhood. These life experiences are likely to be lost in time, and protected by shame and secrecy. Since the addiction is the tip of the iceberg, and the problem is often the scars that people carry, finding healing for those scars is critical. These scars are often related to trauma or attachment disorder, and dealing with these deep emotional issues must be part of the treatment.

Christ’s forgiveness can bring release from worry, guilt, and regret about the past and present.

The assistance of a therapist may be needed to help identify the root causes and put people on the path to recovery. Ultimately, however, people can find true and lasting healing in Christ alone. Christ is our Creator and can heal anyone bound by addictive behaviors. He was sent to “bind up thebrokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isa. 61:1, ESV).4 He experienced all forms of trauma, and understands our deepest pain. He can help us find true lasting recovery. How?

In the case of an attachment disorder that translates into a feeling of emptiness and loneliness, understanding and accepting God’s grace and unfailing love can help these feelings disappear.

Christ’s forgiveness can bring release from worry, guilt, and regret about the past and present.

Those who struggle with low self-worth can know a new love and acceptance of themselves and of others and feel genuinely lovable, loving, and loved. In Christ they have a new sense of belonging and connectedness.

The Adventist Church offers resources that can help people struggling with any addictions to find recovery in Christ. Some hospitals provide inpatient addiction recovery programs. But churches also offer 12-step groups. Through Adventist Recovery Ministries Global5 people can participate in or facilitate a 12-step Christ-centered recovery group that can offer support on a weekly basis. Materials for both facilitators and participants are available, along with a special recovery edition of the book Steps to Christ.6

Gateway to Wholeness is an evidence-based program to help people struggling with pornography.7 This program is anonymous and available free online. It comes with a workbook and eight therapeutic video sessions.

Remember John? He used the Gateway program and found it to be extremely beneficial. He read the Steps to Christ recovery edition and fell in love with God all over again. He is experiencing a daily walk with God that he has never had before. He is attending a 12-step recovery group and is committed to helping others in their recovery. He is in individual and couples therapy and feels that his marriage is stronger. He wants to help his church be a center for recovery for others who struggle with brokenness in their lives.

The Bible reminds us, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]” (2 Cor. 3:17, Amplified).8 May we each seek healing for our brokenness in Him, and find freedom from the bondage of our compulsive behaviors so that we can better glorify God with our lives.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), 5th ed. (Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Publishing), 2013.
  2. Jon E. Grant et al., “Introduction to Behavioral Addictions,” American Journal of Drug Abuse 35, no. 5 (September 2010): 233-241, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164585/.
  3. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet] (Washington D.C.: November 2016),  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28252892.
  4. Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  5. adventistrecoveryglobal.org/
  6. www.adventistbookcenter.com/steps-to-christ-recovery-edition-english.html
  7. gatewaytowholeness.com/
  8. Scripture quotations credited to Amplified are taken from The Amplified Bible, copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987, 2015 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Katia Reinert, Ph.D., R.N., is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Katia Reinert
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