What About Alcoholic Beverages?
IN RECENT years you have heard much about the use of drugs such as heroin. No doubt you are aware that they are a growing problem.
However, did you know that in many countries the excessive use of alcoholic beverages causes about ten times as many problems as use of narcotics does? From a global viewpoint, alcoholism is a far greater problem than is the abuse of narcotics.
Perhaps you know someone who drinks too much. It may even be your husband, wife or a very close friend. If so, then no one has to tell you what a problem it can be. And for a certainty the problem is not diminishing, although it may not capture as many headlines as drug addiction.
In the United States there are some seven million alcoholics. That is an increase of several million in just the past few years. Over fifteen million more are somewhat alcohol-dependent. Thus Health News says: “Alcoholism is our nation’s most widespread addiction.” Even among youth, drinking too much is a far greater problem than the use of narcotics.
The situation in France is alarming. Newsweek comments: “According to doctors, social workers and the police, alcoholism is France’s biggest domestic problem.” On the average the French consume far more alcohol than the people of any other country—about 65 gallons of wine per adult per year.
In Communist countries alcoholism is usually their most serious domestic problem too. Nor is it much different in other places. “In the Bahamas . . . alcoholism is the number one health problem,” says Physician’s Alcohol Newsletter.
The High Cost
The cost of alcoholism is very high. And not just in terms of the price of liquor either.
Of the more than 50,000 killed in automobile accidents throughout the United States each year, about 30,000 result from drivers trying to handle a car after drinking. That is several times the number of Americans killed in any one year of the Vietnam war.
Sixty percent of the industrial accidents in France are blamed on alcohol. And in the United States it costs industry more than four thousand million dollars a year through absenteeism and reduced performance. It is responsible for more lost work time than all other diseases combined.
In addition to the high cost in killed and injured through accidents and time lost from work, there is another tragic cost from excessive drinking. A husband or a wife who does not control the intake of alcohol is usually the source of great anguish for other family members. A judge in France says that the most common complaint of wives seeking a divorce is their husbands’ drunkenness. And the effect on children can be catastrophic.
From the enormous problems caused by drinking too much, it is obvious that alcohol is far more than just another beverage.
By acting to depress the central nervous system, alcohol affects one’s mood. Small amounts can be pleasurable. But larger amounts affect one’s judgment and reasoning, almost always for the worse. With continued drinking, activities that require the control of arms and legs and other body parts are affected. Finally, excessive drinking interferes even with automatic processes such as breathing.
Someone who gets drunk on occasion may experience many or all the reactions just described. But that does not necessarily make him an alcoholic. What does? A person becomes an alcoholic when he makes a habit of drinking and feels that he cannot control it. When he feels the ‘need’ for a drink and says that he cannot restrain himself, he is on the way to becoming an alcoholic or is one already.
At first, addiction may be psychological. The alcoholic may feel that he has to have a drink to face life, or merely because he enjoys the effects. But after prolonged use, physical dependence sets in. The body tissues literally become dependent on alcohol and, when denied it, severe withdrawal symptoms can occur.
Thus, a person is an alcoholic when he depends on alcohol and feels that he is not able to cut it off. In time, perhaps very gradually, he will progress to the point where his whole life is affected by his drinking. It will interfere with his family relationships, with his ability to earn a living and also with his health.
Damage to Health
Some authorities say that the physical consequences of heavy drinking are more serious than those resulting from the use of heroin.
Dr. Harry Johnson, medical director of the Life Extension Institute of New York, says: “The likelihood of death from acute alcoholic poisoning and in withdrawal from chronic alcoholism is much greater than from overdosage and in withdrawal from heroin addiction.”
Withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, hallucinations, severe agitation or convulsions and, in extreme cases, death. These symptoms are part of what is called “delirium tremens,” and this is estimated to have a 20-percent mortality rate.
In advanced alcoholism the drinking binge is common. The alcoholic gets drunk and stays that way for days. He becomes seriously malnourished, often filthy and unable to care for himself. He is in danger of death due to liver, brain or other body damage, or from an accident. To forestall death, he must be detoxified. He must stop drinking long enough for his body to eliminate the alcohol and restore itself to some measure of normal functioning. Full restoration can take months. But some damage, such as to the brain or liver, can be irreversible.
Official figures show that during 1969, 22,130 in France died from cirrhosis of the liver. That disease causes the liver to shrink and harden, and is definitely identified with alcoholism. It is now said to be the number three cause of death among middle-aged adults in the United States. Also, in France, every third bed in psychiatric hospitals has a patient suffering from alcoholism.
However, many alcoholics do not wait for disease or accident to complete the destruction of their bodies. They commit suicide. “Studies show that the suicide rate among alcoholics is about 50 times greater than that of the general population,” observes the Atlanta Journal.
How Do They Get That Way?
Sometimes alcoholism starts with social drinking. It may be the custom in a community, or among the people with whom one associates. He may not want to be ‘different’ so he goes along with the trend. In time, it becomes a habit.
There is a high consumption of alcohol among executives. It is particularly so among sales executives and advertising personnel, people in ‘pressure’ jobs that often require much entertaining of clients. More than one fourth of all executives studied were found to be heavy drinkers. They consumed six or more ounces of whiskey every day of the week, including weekends.
Another reason is the need many people feel to escape from the anxieties and depressions of everyday life. Their life may be empty and without hope for the future, so they try to fill it with alcohol. But experiments at Boston City Hospital revealed that after a few hours of drinking, anxiety and depression increased!
However, it is a mistake to conclude that a person must have serious mental problems or anxieties before he becomes an alcoholic. Some do not. A person may simply find that drinking gives him a temporary sense of well-being. It makes him ‘feel good.’ He may continue drinking until it becomes habitual. So a rational person can become an alcoholic if he does not exercise self-control.
Childhood influences are often decisive. A higher rate of alcoholism has been noted among those raised in homes where drinking was common to one or both parents. The same is true where a child had been neglected by his parents. So the background, or culture, of people plays an important part.
Also, there are persons who simply have less tolerance for alcohol. Two individuals may drink the identical amount of alcohol. One may become addicted to it, the other not. The hereditary makeup is said to be the difference. Yet, even if true, it is not the hereditary trait that makes a person an alcoholic. It is the alcohol.
A person may be predisposed toward lung cancer and if he smokes cigarettes, he may get it; but if he did not smoke, he would not get the cancer. Some people are allergic to certain foods; but if they avoid these foods, they avoid the illness. So too with drinking alcoholic beverages. It is not the body that is responsible for the ‘illness.’ No one is compelled to be an alcoholic by some deficiency in his body. He becomes one by drinking too much. The possibility that his body will be unable to handle alcohol well just aggravates the situation. But even a person who does ‘handle it well’ can become an alcoholic by drinking too much.
The root of the problem is in the mind, in a person’s attitude. To say that the alcoholic ‘could not help it’ is to find a convenient excuse. Why can others, just as predisposed toward bodily intolerance for alcohol, ‘help it’? Why can some avoid smoking cigarettes? Why can some give up foods that cause them illness? For the same reason that they can avoid becoming an alcoholic—they have the mental strength.
A Balanced View
Because of the trouble alcoholic beverages can cause, some have labeled all drinking as ‘evil.’ Others say or imply that all strong drink is condemned by God. But that is not a balanced view. And it simply is not the truth, for it is not God’s view.
Do you remember reading about the first miracle that Jesus Christ performed? It was the turning of water into wine. (John 2:1-11) How reasonable would it be for him to make wine and then forbid people to drink it? And if God disapproved of all drinking, would he tell us in his own Word that he “will certainly make for all the peoples . . . a banquet of well-oiled dishes, a banquet of wine kept on the dregs”? (Isa. 25:6) Then, too, the apostle Paul advised Timothy: “Do not drink water any longer, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.”—1 Tim. 5:23.
So, of itself, drinking is not wrong. It is like many other things God created for man’s enjoyment. They can be used for good or for bad. For instance, is eating food bad? No, but you can make it bad if you habitually overeat to the point of becoming a glutton. Is your hand bad? Of course not. It is a marvelous instrument for man’s use. But you can make it bad if you use it to commit a crime, such as strangling someone with it. Yes, you can take things that are ‘good’ and make them ‘bad’ by the way you use them. It is the same with alcoholic beverages.
It is not the drinking of alcoholic beverages that God’s Word condemns. It is their excessive use: “Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Cor. 6:9, 10.
Yet, even this chapter of the Bible shows that such persons, including drunkards, can change. 1Co 6 Verse 11 adds: “Yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean.” So a drunkard can change, showing that alcoholism is not irreversible. But, of course, the longer one persists in it the more difficult a change becomes.
If a person finds that his body does not handle alcohol well, then the best advice is to avoid it altogether. If he feels that he cannot control it, he should not even take one drink, as often that paves the way for more.
Some persons who take several drinks a day feel that, since they are not getting drunk, it means they have the matter under control. If you suggest to them that this may constitute the beginning of alcoholism, or that they are already mild alcoholics, they usually reject the thought. They may say that a few drinks a day is not alcoholism and that they can stop at any time they want.
If so, there is a simple test that can help the person to see the direction in which he is going. He should see whether, without its causing mental and emotional turmoil, he can stop drinking altogether for a long period of time, at least a month or two. If he cannot, or if he does but finds he just waits for the day when he will resume drinking, it is a definite indication that he is already trapped by the alcohol habit.
However, some, challenged to do without alcohol for a length of time, say that they have no need to make such a test since they are not alcoholics. But this is often an excuse to keep drinking because they cannot face up to the fact that they may be too far gone already toward some degree of alcoholism.
One thing is clear: when a person does not want to, or feels that he cannot go without drinking for a long period of time, it is a solid indication that he is already in trouble with alcohol. He should face the situation honestly and not continue to delude himself. For if he continues, the likelihood is very strong that he will progress toward a more serious form of alcoholism and see his entire life deteriorate.
What can you do to help other people who may have problems with drinking? There are several things you may consider.
For instance, if you are hosting a gathering and offer refreshments, do you present only alcoholic beverages? Why not offer a nonalcoholic beverage too? This would be considerate of those who may take an alcoholic drink because of social pressure but who may really prefer something else. And if you know that someone already has a problem with alcohol, why serve it at all when he is in the group?
In some cases where a husband or wife has retreated into alcoholism, it may be due to the unpleasantness or quarreling that exists in the marriage relationship. Perhaps showing more consideration and kindness, more attention to what the other wants or says, can have a wholesome effect and reverse the trend. This has happened many times, as in the case of a housewife in Chile who had three young children and an alcoholic husband. Because of his excessive drinking, he had lost his good job. The family had to move to very poor quarters. The children did not have enough to eat, since he was spending so much on alcohol. The wife had to work to support the family. She also responded by being unpleasant, arguing, and screaming at her husband certainly things that are easy to do when confronted with an alcoholic.
But then, one of Jehovah’s witnesses called on the woman. She became interested in learning about God’s purposes for man as noted in the Bible. She also began to learn how a Christian wife should act toward her husband, even one who is an alcoholic. As she progressed in knowledge, she began to pray to God to be a better wife so she could help her husband.—1 Pet. 3:1-4.
The change in her attitude and actions impressed the husband. He began to cut down on his drinking. Then he stopped altogether and refused to join his ‘friends’ in their drinking bouts. He began caring for his family and using his money wisely. Family harmony returned. He explained that what caused him to come to his senses was the great change for the good he noticed in his wife after she began to study the Bible. He noted that she treated him with more kindness and consideration despite his drunkenness. Finally, he began such a study of the Bible too, anxious to continue the fine improvement he noticed in his family life.
Basically, what changed here was the whole way of life. And this is what has been found most helpful in dealing with alcoholics. As Dr. Benjamin Kissin of New York says: “We try to change the life pattern.” His work has also shown it to be the best way. And this is what the Bible says can be done, counseling: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new.”—Col. 3:9, 10.
With the right kind of motivation, one can indeed acquire the determination to combat alcoholism. And there is no greater motivating force anywhere than that found in the Bible, God’s Word: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12) It can supply the best motivation for cutting the bonds of alcoholism.
So what about alcoholic beverages? As you can see, they can be enjoyed when used in moderation. But if self-control is not exercised, they can become one of the worst curses afflicting the human family.
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LOST WORK TIME in the U.S. due to misuse of alcohol is said to account for more than do all other diseases combined.
30,000 LIVES LOST in U.S. during 1970 due to drinking drivers. This is more than seven times the number of U.S. troops killed in action in Vietnam in 1970.
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7 MILLION ALCOHOLICS
The number of alcoholics in the U.S.A. is as great as the combined population of ten of its largest cities