I grew up in a time when alcoholism was considered by my church to simply be be defined as a sinful behavior. It was equated with drunkenness, and the Bible clearly calls being drunk sinful. But the truth is, the alcoholic can consume a large amount of alcohol and not be drunk, They are only drunk for a short time when they stop drinking, or during the late stages of the disease. So the, what does the Bible have to say about alcoholism?
First, let me give you the current definition of alcoholism by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Alcoholism is a disease characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions of thinking most notably denial.”
Now let’s look at the Bible. Here’s what God says in Proverbs 23:29-35:
Who has anguish? Who has sorrow?
Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining?
Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
It’s the one who spends long hours in the taverns,
trying out new drinks.
Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is,
how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down.
For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake;
It stings like a viper.
You will see hallucinations,
and you will say crazy things.
You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea,
clinging to a swaying mast.
And you will say, “They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. (Denial)
I didn’t even know it when they beat me up.
When will I wake up
So I can look for another drink?”
Were you able to see the different parts of the definition in that passage? The Bible does have a description of the behavior of the addict/alcoholic, and though the disease of alcoholism is not in itself not a sin, many of the behaviors of the addicted person certainly fit the category of sin.
Typically, the alcoholic is able to drink a lot of alcohol without getting drunk. In college, they were the envy of everyone for they could “hold their liquor.” In addition, there usually is a history of alcoholism in the family. And eventually, like all untreated diseases, over time, things get progressively worse. So the adverse consequences accumulate, their family is destroyed, and then one of the last things to go, the alcoholic’s job is lost. As the disease progresses, more and more alcohol must be consumed, and eventually drunkenness is experienced. When the disease hits this stage, it isn’t long before the alcoholic either dies, or is found living under a bridge.
But the advantage of the disease model is that there is hope. The addiction can be broken and recovery of the addict’s life can be experienced. If you have an addict or an alcoholic in your life, get help for yourself. Learn about the disease and change your participation in the problem. That’s where hope can begin.
Question: What’s new for you in the Proverbs description of the addict/alcoholic?