It is not unusual to see Adventists—even some elders or pastors—question whether abstinence from alcohol and other harmful substances is still relevant for the Christian lifestyle. Some claim that abstinence is too radical, citing studies which state that a little wine is good for the heart. Some people say that the Bible is not clear. Others say, “Didn’t Jesus turn water into wine in His first miracle?” Should this be a personal matter?
Alcohol consumption is still considered a major public health problem in today’s world; in many countries, it is among the top-three major risk factors for chronic disease.1 It is connected to crime, car accidents, violence (inside and outside the home), broken families, other addictions, mental disorders (e.g., depression), and other health problems. As a result, health advocates have passed laws in some states to increase alcohol taxes and decrease consumption. A small drink can lead to devastating effects in the lives of those who become addicted.
Here are some facts with hope:2
FACT: Physical health is impacted. Hypertension rates double, as does the risk of cardiovascular disease. Sudden cardiac deaths occur much more frequently, especially in heavy drinkers. Alcohol use can also lead to liver disease; high blood fats (triglycerides); heart failure; stroke; fetal alcohol syndrome in babies born to women who drink; certain cancers; injury, obesity, and diabetes from too many calories; violence; and even death.
FACT: A recent study suggests that alcohol is to blame for one in every 30 cancer deaths each year in the United States. The study also found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol was harmful—30 percent of all alcohol-related cancer deaths are linked to drinking 1.5 or fewer drinks per day. Researchers concluded that although moderate drinking has been associated with heart benefits, in the broader context of all the issues and problems connected to it, alcohol causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents.3
HOPE: The above studies validate God’s counsel in Proverbs 20:1: “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (NIV). Following this biblical counsel is the key to prevention. In Christ we can find true recovery for alcoholism or any other addiction.
How can elders help?
In our church, Adventist Recovery Ministries brings Christ-centered help to anyone struggling with unhealthy compulsive behaviors. Elders can start a 12-step, Christcentered support group or encourage someone else in the church to do so. Learn more at AdventistRecovery.org.
When connected to the church, we set aside excuses for why abstinence is unnecessary and understand how abstaining from harmful substances impacts not only our physical and mental health but also our spiritual life. We take to heart that “anything that lessens physical strength enfeebles the mind and makes it less capable of discriminating between right and wrong” and that “we become less capable of choosing the good and have less strength of will to do that which we know to be right.”4 God has shown to us the path of life (Ps. 16:1). Elders and spiritual leaders can choose to walk that path and to lead others along the way.
1 2011 Health at a Glance report, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). www.oecd.org/health/healthataglance
2 “Health Unlimited,” from Facts with Hope, April 2013 (www.nadhealthministries.org),4.
3 D. E. Nelson, et al., “Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States,” from American Journal of Public Health 103 (4), 642-649.
4 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 346.
Katia Reinert is director of the Health Ministries Department for the North American Division.