One of the trends in the past several years that I’ve observed is the growth of micro-breweries, brew pubs, sports bars and other drinking establishments. I’m not a teetotaler. My son and I like to meet up at a sports bar most weeks and solve the problems of the world. Occasionally we’ve visited some local wineries to taste different wines and educate ourselves about the differences. When I visit different cities, I like to try the local brews.
It is interesting that alcohol use has become far more accepted even in many Christian communities that once would have been dry. I have friends who have phone apps on which they log the different beers they drink and rate them and compete to see who can log the most. Most of us have concluded that the Bible doesn’t prohibit drinking, only excessive drinking or drunkenness.
But, I wonder, in shaking off the abstinent ways of a conservative past, do we laugh off the warnings?
- Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18)
- “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34)
- Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler;whoever is led astray by them is not wise. (Proverbs 20:1)
- Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks (Isaiah 5:22)
I could go on but this is probably more Bible than some of you want. But these verses call attention to the dangers of drunkenness leading to debauchery or the excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. Alcohol is a factor in most sexual assaults on campuses. Excessive alcohol use can weigh down the heart and depress. It can inflame tempers. The last passage is a warning against binge drinking.
But many would say they don’t drink to excess. What is interesting is to ask the question, what constitutes excess?
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 recommend no more than one drink a day for women, two for men and that drinking above this can lead to increased risks of many harmful health conditions
- Excessive drinking then is defined as having 8 or more drinks a week as a woman, 15 or more as a man.
- Many may not exceed these limits but still binge drink in which women drink more than 4 drinks in 2 hours, men more than 5 drinks in the same time at least once in 30 days. Drinking in this amount raises blood alcohol content above .08, or the legal limit for driving in most states.
- Drinking to this level 5 or more times in 30 days qualifies as heavy drinking.
(Sources for this are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
We know the risks of drinking and driving but have we taken on the risks to health, and also the risks we take in the form of risky behaviors when alcohol impairs our judgment? Perhaps more profoundly, do we consider the risks to relationships where we say or do those things we might later regret when sober, when we act with violence in word or action?
More serious yet is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), a more precise way of speaking of alcoholism. There is a list of questions that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism proposes to assess if you or a loved one may have an AUD:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect roughly ten percent of the American population. It touches people of every walk of life including those in ministry and other professions. The American Bar Association has identified this as an important concern for lawyers whose incidence of alcohol abuse or alcoholism may be double that of the general population.
Why this departure from my usual blogging on books? It is because I’ve been reminded recently of the destructive consequences of alcohol abuse in the life of an acquaintance who seems in the process of destroying his life. It called back memories of a brilliant and talented man I knew who sacrificed marriage, family, and work and drank himself to death. I’ve seen alcohol abuse contribute to suicide. I think of others whose alcohol abuse fueled family violence. Sometimes I’ve been involved in helping their children face the brokenness and pain and break that cycle in their own lives.
So for all of us who drink, and particularly if we find ourselves drinking more than we did in the past, I would encourage us to measure our drinking against the benchmarks and questions in this post, or ask someone we love to be honest with us. Don’t be that person who gets lost in the lie of saying “I don’t have a problem.”
5 thoughts on ““I Don’t Have a Problem””
It can be hard to move forward after a strict, legalistic past. I had Prov. 20:1 memorized after hearing it shouted (often literally) from the pulpit so many times! I now occasionally have an alcoholic drink. But it is hard for me to really enjoy b/c I still feel like I am doing something very risky and sinful. Sigh.
I like your balance in this post. “But, I wonder, in shaking off the abstinent ways of a conservative past, do we laugh off the warnings?” There are/were several alcoholics in our families. As a former nurse, I have memories of caring for male alcoholics in end stage liver cirrhosis who were yellow and their bellies were the size of a woman 8 months pregnant.
As Christians, we should be under the control of the Holy Spirit. If alcohol is controlling us, we have a problem. I agree that the Bible doesn’t prohibit drinking, only excessive drinking or drunkenness. Yet, yes, I think we need to be cautious and heed the warnings. Thanks for your post.
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Laura, thanks for your comments. It is good to hear your reaction to those verses. I didn’t grow up with that, although I’ve seen it in other quarters. I didn’t mention this in my post but I think modeling can be important. My parents had a beer every evening as kind of a night cap and a shared time together. I never saw them drunk and drunkenness was frowned upon in our household yet we could enjoy alcohol at special occasions and it was just part of the fun.
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I have a friend in my home church in China who used to drink a lot in high school. When he became a Christian at college, he started to feel physically repulsive to alcohol. He said there’re two statements now Christians can make:
1. “I used to be an alcoholic. Christ saved me and I would never drink for pleasure from now on”
2. “I used to be so afraid of drinking, but Christ showed me true freedom in grace so now I can enjoy casual drinking because I’m not bound by legalism”
Both statements are legitimate, but which one do you think can bring people to Christ with the fruit of repentance and joy? It’s not a rhetorical question.
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It’s not an easy question either. I wonder if a different statement is needed, particularly for those who are considering faith and have come from drinking backgrounds. Maybe something like, “I used to struggle with giving good things the proper place in my life without being controlled by them. Knowing, loving, and being indwelt by Christ gives me the freedom and power to both enjoy and refrain from things as they are helpful or harmful to me and others.
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