In many societies the greatest problem with addiction is not the various illicit drugs that people obtain and use, but the consumption of alcohol, which is more easily available. Because of alcohol abuse, great damage is done not only to society and the economy but also to unborn life (fetal alcohol syndrome). Many children suffer from severe consequences because of their parents’ lifestyle. Their physical growth and mental development are significantly hindered. The easiest and most logical approach to the problem of alcohol is complete abstinence. What would be our arguments in favor of such a lifestyle?
Firstly, Scripture has a negative attitude toward alcohol. For examples of the negative effects of alcohol, see the stories of Noah (Gen 9:20–27), Lot (Gen 19:30–38), and Belshazzar (Dan 5:1–6). There is even a clear and specific warning against the use of alcohol, which “bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Prov 23:29–35; Luke 1:15). Jesus also gave us an example of refusing to drink alcohol (Matt 27:33–34, 48).
However, it is important to note that the term “wine” in Scripture does not always refer to fermented wine, but can also mean grape juice.
Secondly, research has shown that alcohol is harmful, even in small doses. Here are some of the potential physical damages: destruction of liver cells (e.g., fatty liver or cirrhosis), destruction of cells of the heart muscle (cardiac insufficiency and heart failure), destruction of brain cells, and inflammation of the nerves (neuritis). However, harmful effects are not limited to physical problems. There may also be mental-emotional damages such as a decline of memory, decline of productivity and performance, depression, fear and disappointment with oneself, etc. Also, alcohol is linked to family violence, accidents, and other problematic behavior.
Ronny A. Bell, PhD, MS, et al., of the department of public health sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says: “Alcohol is by no means a safe drug, nor something that can in any way be recommended for health promotion. Suggesting that alcohol is somehow beneficial is so outweighed by its toxicity as to be criminal.” Dr. W. Feuerlein of the German Society of the Investigation and Therapy of Addiction has emphasized that even in small quantities alcohol is absolutely dangerous for certain groups of people, such as persons suffering from an illness of the liver or pancreas, diabetics, those with epileptic seizures, and all those who are in danger of becoming alcohol dependents. Dr. F. Portheine of the Academy of Occupational Medicine in Berlin has pointed out that alcohol is a neurotoxic substance that is harmful in the smallest quantities. It reduces protective fear and stimulates daredevilry and primitive passions. The sense of responsibility suffers immensely.
A third argument in favor of complete abstinence from alcohol is the fact that alcohol may become addictive. No moderate drinker has a guarantee that he or she will not become addicted. When persons are used to drinking moderately, under severe circumstances they may drink more and the pathway to addiction is thus established.
In considering the choice to drink alcohol, we must consider the issue through the lens of biblical stewardship. Because everything belongs to God, our bodies are also God’s property. God does not want this property to be destroyed, but to be preserved and cared for like a sanctuary (1 Cor 6:19–20; 10:31). Alcohol destroys God’s temple, our bodies. Our financial means are also God’s and should be used to His glory. To use our finances to destroy our bodies through the use of alcohol is to be irresponsible stewards of what God has entrusted to us (Hag 2:8).
We must also consider that Christians are called to be examples for others. Christians ought to help others, not imperil them. Those who drink moderately are a danger because they mislead others; the influence of an alcoholic is less stimulating than the influence of a moderate drinker. Those who drink moderately are also a temptation for currently sober alcoholics, for whom the smallest dose of alcohol may trigger a backslide into alcoholism. We are responsible for each other and should not live only for our own pleasure (1 Cor 8:13; Rom 14:19–21; 15:1–3). In order to be of real help we need to be completely abstinent.
It has been said that alcoholism is a thirst for God on a low level. Whether or not this is true, we have found Jesus and salvation in Him. The same biblical principles that apply to the use of alcohol are also applicable to the use of tobacco and illicit drugs. We do not need alcohol or other drugs to quench our spiritual thirst.
Ekkehardt Mueller is an associate director for the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This article has been reprinted, by permission, from Reflections, the BRI Newsletter.