set-back vs. relapse

Jeff Olson —  February 24, 2011 — 8 Comments

Last weekend the weather in Michigan took a turn for the worst. Prior to the weekend, the weather was dramatically improving. The sun came out, the temperatures were warming up nicely and much of the snow from a long winter melted away.  Things were headed in a good direction.

But by mid-Sunday, it all changed. The temperatures plummeted to well below the freezing mark, the winds picked up, and heavy snow started falling. By the next morning, over a half foot of wet snow and ice blanketed the ground and the roads.

Yuk! Winter had settled back in.

I know that Spring will eventually arrive, but from where I sit, the weather didn’t’ have a minor set-back. It seems like a full-blown relapse.

After a period of improvement, the difference between a set-back and a relapse is huge. This is especially the case when it comes to an addiction.

Set-backs or an occasional slip are often part of the messy process of busting loose from the grip of a compulsive behavior. While it is still inexcusable, they don”t occur with the same frequency and intensity as before. A relapse, however, is when one excuses acting out again with no serious intention of stopping. Unlike a set-back, there is no desire to keep going forward and to get well. There is no commitment to own and learn from our mistakes. Instead there is a giving up and a giving into an even greater level of indulgence (Ephesians 4:19).

Set-back versus relapse—two terms that can help us gauge where we or someone else may be at in dealing with (or not dealing with) an addiction.

Jeff Olson

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eff is a licensed professional counselor in the State of Michigan and has worked for Our Daily Bread Ministries as a counselor and a writer since 1992. He has authored a number of Discovery Series booklets ( on such topics as addictions, grief, depression and marital abuse. He also maintains a part-time private counseling practice in the West Michigan area. Jeff and his wife, Diane, have been married since 1986 and have raised two lovely daughters. He is an avid outdoors man who also enjoys sports, music, boardgames, books, and movies.

8 responses to set-back vs. relapse

  1. Thank you for this article, I really needed to hear this today. I had a “set-back” two days ago and have been so angry with myself. Once again I chose to use alcohol to numb out the pain of current circumstances. I’d gone two weeks without a drink and was determined that I wasn’t going to allow alcohol to be what I trusted to get me through anymore, and then in one moment I threw away all the reasons why alcohol is not the answer and went to it for comfort again. I feel like a fool, and like I will never get it right. I’ll never learn to trust Jesus, or anyone. The thoughts of “Why bother. You’re a screw up and will never make it.”, kept ringing through my head. This post helps. I messed up, but it doesn’t mean it’s permanent. I do want to trust and I don’t want alcohol to be my comfort and escape, so I am going to begin again today. Thank you for showing the difference. I want to be whole, and I’ll keep striving for it.

  2. Hi cynthia, thats my name too! I just want you to know that no matter what you do God loves you no matter what. Keep focusing on Jesus and Hw will show up. The bible says if you draw close to God He will draw close to you.If God can heal me and make me whole, think about what he can do for you. Just talk to him and ask Him to help you with trust.I love you my sister in Christ Jesus. Restored addict through Christ Jesus.

  3. it doesnt matter what the enemy keeps whispering in our ears I know one thing today we are healed.

  4. my problem is anger, i never asked for these hang ups and feel like my life is a big ole set-up, like God cant wait to expose alla my mess to the whole world and keeps creating situations to embarass me. It makes me mad and want to turn away from Him. I mean what kind of God enjoys making His kids squirm and i mean this stuff entered my life at a young age, is it my fault that these are my issues. So now i’m dealing with stuff i dont want and everytime i turn around its another trial. it makes me want to sit in the house and hide, why go through the trouble of trying if God is trying to embrass me or out to get me?

  5. Dear Cynthia,I just want to encourage you to keep looking to God for your help. Dont stay down. Let the conviction of your sin draw you back into the presence of God. I have had many set backs over the years with alcohol and other things, and I dont understand it either, why I have had these destructive desires. What I do know more than ever is the love of God for me even in these setbacks. I do know that anger and excessive guilt over my failures only caused me to isolate more and hide from God and ltimatley caused me to sin more in these areas. I had to learn the difference between crushing guilt and the loving conviction of God. The guilt for me usually caused anger,and the enemy of our souls would be right there to keep feeding it back to me. I have learned to respond quickley to the loving conviction of God and in my brokenness and disapointment run back to Him where I can be restored in His presence through His word and prayer. Keep running to Him and respond to His healing grace…Be patient with yourself and keep your hope in Him…He is Faithful and He will do it…

  6. I have been struggling with addiction issues for most of my life. I have my periods of sobriety and then out of selfishness I relapse. There are times when I want to give up but God is so faithful in drawing me back to him. I repent and then try again. I am going to a treatment facility this month for help and from personal experience I needed to go through some painful times and admit that I can’t go through these battles on my own. I have learned to ask for help and I have I realize that God is the only one who can heal me from the past…

  7. Carol, glad to read that you are seeking help and that you know where your ultimate help comes from…we wish you the best!

  8. I always rely on Proverbs 3:5-6.

    God bless, strengthen, and protect you!

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