Carol’s Challenging Question – Alcoholism

Christmas is coming – the geese are getting fat, or so the rhyme tells us.  But, apart from the “eat, drink and be merry” petition, some people who are hooked on booze really don’t need any more encouragement to drink to excess, even if it is the festive season and a time for jollity and celebration.

Alcoholism is a disease – there’s no two ways about it.  It might start as just social drinking but, before long, it can really take hold if the person doesn’t get a grip.  It can become an addiction just like drugs, tobacco, food obesity, gambling, sex and the myriad of other ills which people can become dependent upon. No-one has an issue with sensible drinking and keeping it within moderation but it’s when it gets out of hand that the problems start. Sadly, I’ve heard that older people are drinking more now, whether through loneliness, boredom, habit or because they have nothing else to do! Thanks for the photo Dan Pexels.com

There are many causes of alcoholism including family history, drinking from an early age, mental health disorders, stress and trauma, peer pressure, etc. and just the simple fact that, for many people, it tastes nice and can lift their mood or make them relax.

Sadly, though, it can soon take hold. While some people can tolerate relatively large amounts of alcohol seemingly without obvious health problems, the long-term prognosis is mostly bad. Once a person becomes dependent upon alcohol and cannot control their use of it, it can cause them very serious physical, emotional and mental suffering. That’s apart from the possible side-effects of broken relationships, divorce, job loss, money troubles and much more.

Apart from reduced life expectancy, alcoholism can lead to many cancers including breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, voice box, liver, colon and rectum in addition to high blood pressure, heart and liver disease, stroke and digestive problems.

Alcohol is such a part of people’s lives these days. I’ve heard it said that, if it was invented now, it would be banned as it’s such a danger to good health! We all know what happened during the time of Prohibition and the government have tried to limit the purchase of it by increasing the tax on alcohol. Some people turn to cheap alcohol – or even meths – once they are addicted.

So, Graham, does the bible have anything to say on alcoholism and what do you think the Christian stance on it should be?

Rev Graham replies:

Thanks, Carol, for the question and outlining some of the benefits of taking a drink and lots of problems which may occur from excessive drinking (when I refer to drink it will mean an alcoholic beverage).

Recently I was in discussion with an ex Bible College student who reminded me of the humorous comment Mr Hawker, one of our tutors, shared in the context of drinking alcohol as found in Acts 28: 11 -16: the brothers gathered at the Three Taverns and the Apostle Paul thanked God for them and took courage (aka a drink!!).

Thanks Pixabay

The Bible outlines that it is can be good to drink from the fruit of the vine, in the context of moderation and not to get drunk from it. Wine, beer and other drinks may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic and can be enjoyed accordingly.

In assessing the value, cause and effect of alcoholism it can fall into a number of categories such as: 1) Religious thought and teaching. 2) Morally assessed as a Vice. 3) At times characterised as a criminal activity, as in the case of drinking while driving. 4) In the light of recent medical evidence it is classed as a disease.  

There are further categories which relate to the levels of consuming alcohol from: 1) Abstinence – choosing not to drink any alcoholic substance; 2) Moderation – choosing to drink or not drink on certain occasions or regularly consuming small amounts of alcohol; 3) Excessive the use of alcohol socially and on a daily basis or used as a form of self-medication.

At this point it might be helpful to look at a number of bible verses; there are up to 100 which encourage or discourage various levels of drinking.

Advice To Drink

Deuteronomy 14: 26:  You may spend your money on lots of things including wine and beer. Isaiah 55:1: All who are thirsty, buy so as to eat and drink. Ecclesiastes 9: 7:  Go eat and drink with gladness and a joyful heart approved by God.

Psalm 104: 14 – 15: God grows the fruit of the vine that makes wine to gladden the heart. John 2: 3 – 11: Jesus changed water into a better wine for guests at a wedding.

1 Corinthians 10: 23 -24:  We have a right to eat and drink whatever way we choose but everything is not beneficial or edifying in seeking our own way. 1 Corinthians 9: 19 – 23: Paul is free from constraints so that he may be a servant to all. 1 Timothy 5: 23: Stop drinking water and take a little wine to act as medicine for your illnesses.

Advice Not To Drink

Leviticus 10: 9: In entering the sacred tent, you must never drink beer or wine. Judges 13: 7: Samson’s mother was not to drink strong wine or beer for he will become a Nazirite. Numbers 6: 3: Separate from wine and strong drinks.

Habakkuk 2: 15: Don’t choose to get a person inebriated. Hosea 4: 11: Often immoral practises and heavy drinking go hand in hand. Isaiah 5: 11: Do not rise up early and drink late into the evening and become inflamed. Isaiah 28: 7: Priests and prophets have fallen because of strong drink and so lacked vision and judgement.

Proverbs 20: 1: Wine is described as a mocker and drink a brawler and those led astray by it are not wise. Proverbs 23: 31: Do not gaze at wine when it is red, sparkles and pleasantly consumed for it bites and poisons like a snake. Proverbs 31: 4 – 5: It is not good for kings and leaders to drink too much wine and beer less they forget their laws.

Romans 13: 13: It’s important to behave decently, not in carousing and drunkenness. Romans 14: 15 – 21: It is wrong to act in a way that causes our neighbour to stumble and fall, so it might be better not to eat and drink at all.

Galatians 5: 19 – 21: The fruits of a sinful nature include drunkenness. Ephesians 5: 18: Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery; instead be filled by the Spirit of God. 1 Peter 4: 3: A pagan’s lifestyle will include excessive drinking.

As outlined, alcoholism has for centuries been a problem for religion, morality and law and defined as a sin, vice or crime depending on what structures a society is built upon and the values attached to it. In the later part of the 18th century and in the light of medical research, alcoholism had been categorised as a form of disease. During the 19th century, following the growth of the Temperance Movement in America, asylums were established as places for the specific care and treatment of those suffering from alcoholism.

In the 20th century, efforts were taken to move away from a religious and ethical disapproval of excessive drinking and re-evaluated it as a sickness which has been used as a ‘sick role’. However, if alcoholism is perceived as a disease, then judgement will continue in a different form with people being assessed as ill and not individually capable. Also it will not be acknowledged in physiological and psychological norms. So changing any understanding of alcoholism to a new value setting will not mean that it is deemed as value neutral!

The medicalization of alcoholism and other addictions is not without its critics and can undermine the responsibility of the individual.  Any change in language related to religious, moral, criminal and medical understandings also has its problems for many treatments retain a moral and religious character as exampled in Alcoholics Anonymous. For those attending an AA group they will be encouraged to share their story and seek to co-operate with a Higher Power to bring about change and experience a measure of healing.

The effects of alcoholism for individuals, families and communities is complex and multi-faceted and any cure or change depends on the type of help received and what levels of individual responsibility are taken. Thanks Pixabay

In my time working as a Project Worker for Adullam Homes in Bury, Greater Manchester, we welcomed many individuals who had lived with, for many years, the complicated effects of excessive drinking. For some, abstinence was their choice while others felt they were able to continue to drink in moderation and, for a few individuals, they continued to live in astate of being inebriated.   

The greatest lesson I learnt during that time was that there was always a reason why people found themselves affected by various addictions and difficulties. It is very easy to judge a person, especially when they are totally drunk and not behaving well. The back-story of any person is vital in understanding where they have come from and it helps in working with them as how best to move forward in trying to find an appropriate pathway for their healing and support.

Conclusions

So, Carol, in trying to answer your question, there is within the Christian faith an encouragement to see individuals take more self-responsibility for their actions so as to avoid their lifestyle being seen solely as a sin, crime, disease and vice of gluttony.

Within criminal law there has been a demand for harsher laws that will seek to contain the increased effects of excessive drinking which is strongly associated with criminal activity.

Medical Models based on various psychological and therapeutic approaches have increased and given more weight in support of alcoholism but they have had only a limited measure of success. Over time there had been the hope that medical treatments would act as a cure which would eliminate any religious, moral and criminal labels.

In a Christian sense it is important to find a balanced moderation or abstinence in thinking, lifestyle and example that relates to drinking alcohol. There is an acceptability to enjoy the fruit of the vine that God provides to some reasonable level. However, there are consequences, in the short and long term, to excessive drinking and there is plenty of advice from the bible as how best to handle the joys and temptations alcoholic beverages bring.  

SIGNPOST ORGANISATIONS

Premier Lifelinepremierlifeline.org.uk – 03001110101

Betel UK – recovery from addictions Tel – 0121 594 0650

UK Christian Rehabs  Tel – 02038 115 619

Addiction Services Salvation Army  Tel – 020 7367 4500

Alcohol Change UK – Tel: 020 3907 8480 email – contact@alcoholchange.org.uk

Alcoholics Anonymous – Tel: 0800 9177650 (National helpline) or help@aamail.org

Drinkline – Tel: 0300 1231110.

Eclipse – Alcohol Addiction Support – Tel: 0161 839 2054.

Turning Point – Smithfield Detox Unit – Tel: 0161 827 8570.

Manchester Integrated Drugs and Alcohol Service – Tel: 0161 823 6306.

Achieve – Trafford – Tel: 0161 358 0991.

Thomas – Salford – Tel: (Men) 0161 792 5982 (Women) 01254 660 861.

Mosaic – Support for Families and Friends – Tel: 0161 218 1100.

Pathfinder – Tel: 0161 716 4000.

The Counselling & Family Centre – Tel: 0161 941 7754

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