Although the Seventh-day Adventist church has preached a message of temperance for more than 150 years, and prevalence of alcohol use is very small in Adventist communities, many Adventists, particularly youth, are impacted by the use of alcohol. Alcohol use is a major public health issue that continues to impact individuals, families, and communities globally.
Every year, 3.3 million deaths—about 5.9 percent of all deaths globally—result from harmful use of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions and brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and to society at large.1 For this reason, the United Nations’ “Sustainable Development Goal #3” includes a focus on strengthening the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including the use of alcohol.2
A major concern is that far too many young people use
alcohol and get started at an early age. We know that by age
15, about 35 percent of teens have had at least one drink, and
by age 18, about 65 percent of teens reported having had at
least one drink.1
Although young people drink less often than adults do, when they do drink, they drink more. That is because they consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking (consuming many drinks in a single occasion).
ADVENTIST YOUTH AND ALCOHOL
We would like to believe that Adventist youth use very
little or, ideally, no alcohol. But research conducted among
Adventist youth attending 69 academies in the United States
and Canada suggests that this is not the case. Researchers
found that although rates of alcohol use were lower among
the students they studied when compared with youth in other
schools, the rates were higher than expected. About 45
percent of Adventist youth in these schools reported using
alcohol, and 20 percent of those reported having their first
drink before age 13.3
In more than 25 years of research at
Adventist colleges and universities, it was found that about
30 percent of surveyed students reported using alcohol in
the previous year, and 40 percent had used it in their lifetime.
The good news is that there are many things we can do to
reduce the chances that young people will engage in alcohol
use or other at-risk behaviors. We can help them become resilient. From a student survey at Andrews University in Michigan,
USA, researchers learned some key protective factors; many
of these are related to family, church, or school life, such as:
• Consistent, warm, and positive relationships with a caring adult.
• Positive family environment and bonding.
• Positive parental modeling of resilience and coping skills.
• Extended support networks, including family and friends.
• Positive school environment.
• Volunteer service with an adult mentor.
• Having an adult to talk to about anything.
• Family dinners five or more times per week before college. In addition to these factors, youth in Adventist colleges and universities reported that their most important reasons for not using substances were:
• Commitment to Christ.
• Concern for their health.
• Fear of grieving their parents.
• Belief that the Adventist church is the true church.
• Attending Sabbath School nearly every week.
• Reading the Bible at least weekly.
• Personal prayer several times a week.
• Belief that God wants them to care for their bodies.
This brings hope to many parents and church leaders.
Programs like Youth Alive are designed to build resilience in
youth. There is more we can do. The Bible tells us to teach
our children in the way they should go, and, in the end, they
will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6, NIV). Elders can have a
significant influence on and positive impact in the lives of
youth in the church. Learning their names, becoming their
trusted friends and mentors, and showing care and acceptance
are critical. Bringing the Youth Alive program to your
church and teaching youth that their health is valuable and
their body is God’s temple all add up and go a long way toward
preventing at-risk behaviors, such as alcohol use. Consider
what you can do.
1 National Survey on Drug and Alcohol Use (NSDUH) 2014. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs2014/NSDUH-DetTabs2014. htm#tab2-15b
2 United Nations Sustainable Development Goal http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/health/
Katia Reinert is associate director of the Health
Ministries Department for the General Conference.