Should You Drink Alcoholic Beverages?
Helpful facts that young people want to know
MORE and more young persons are facing this question today. What facts will be of real help to you in knowing how to view this matter sensibly, for your own lasting good?
Alcoholic beverages cover a wide range. Some have quite a low alcohol content, as does beer. Others are moderately higher, as are most table wines. Then there are what are called “distilled spirits” with high alcohol content, such as brandies, whiskeys, gin, vodka, Latin-American tequila or Greek ouzo.
Regional attitudes and customs are also of wide variety. In some lands—France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Chile and other countries—wine is used as a common beverage at the family table. This may be due to a problem in obtaining good water supplies or may just be due to custom. But even in these lands the attitude toward use of alcoholic beverages will vary from family to family.
Not only this, but the results from using alcoholic beverages also vary from country to country, from family to family, and from person to person. You need to keep this in mind to develop a sensible viewpoint toward such beverages.
Well, then, in view of all this variety, is there any stable, consistent standard to guide you in this matter? Yes, the Bible provides this for us. Its inspired counsel gives a very balanced view on the use of alcoholic beverages.
THE BIBLE’S BALANCED VIEWPOINT
The Bible shows that from ancient times wine was a common beverage with meals, being used by such persons as King-Priest Melchizedek, by Abraham, Isaac and many others. (Gen. 14:18, 19; 27:25; 1 Sam. 16:20; Eccl. 9:7) Jesus provided wine for a wedding feast, and the apostle Paul counseled the young man Timothy to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.”—1 Tim. 5:23; John 2:1-10.
Rightfully the Bible lists wine as among God’s provisions and blessings for the enjoyment of mortal man. (Deut. 11:13, 14; Ps. 104:15; Joel 2:19) It also shows that God’s people used other alcoholic beverages.—Deut. 14:26.
Does this mean there is no need for caution on your part as to drinking alcoholic beverages? By no means. For the Bible shows the ‘other side of the coin’ as well. There are many things in life that are not wrong in themselves but which can bring serious consequences if misused or used too soon. God gave man procreative powers, but these are to be used only in honorable marriage and their use can bring heavy responsibility of caring for a family. Fire, steam, electricity and various tools can be very helpful to men and women in their work, but, used without due caution, they can also be very harmful. Consider now just what the effect of alcohol is on the human system.
Unlike other substances, alcohol needs no digestion. It begins to be absorbed into the bloodstream as soon as it enters the stomach, though most absorption takes place in the small intestine. It is quickly carried to the brain, the liver and other parts of the body. Since alcohol contains calories, the body now sets about metabolizing it, that is, transforming the alcohol into a chemical form that the body can, in effect, burn up as fuel. Most of this work is done by the liver. The lungs and kidneys lighten some of the load as they expel some of the alcohol through the breath and urine.
Once in the bloodstream, what effect does alcohol have on the person? If taken in any quantity, it does not stimulate the body cells, but acts to depress them. In small amounts, the effect is that of mild sedation, relaxation or tranquillity. At higher levels, the effect it has of depressing or suppressing the brain’s ‘switchboard controls’ may, at least in some people, cause them to become very talkative, excessively active and even aggressive.
In still greater concentrations, the brain becomes severely depressed, the central nervous system is affected, and the individual begins to have difficulty in coordinating his movements. That is why he has trouble in walking, seeing and speaking clearly, becomes confused and muddled in his thinking. (Compare Psalm 107:27.) The problem is made worse by the peculiar effect alcohol has in making the person think his senses are really operating better than usual. So, he is generally the last one to realize that he has taken too much. And once he reaches the point of intoxication only time can bring any relief.
The Bible gives us a very accurate picture of the dangers and the discomfort that come with overindulgence in alcoholic beverages. At Proverbs 23:29-35, we read: “Who has woe? Who has uneasiness? Who has contentions? Who has concern? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has dullness of eyes? Those staying a long time with the wine, those coming in to search out mixed wine. . . . Your own eyes will see strange things, and your own heart will speak perverse things. And you will certainly become like one lying down in the heart of the sea [experiencing confusion and helplessness like that of a drowning person], even like one lying down at the top of a mast [where the rocking back and forth of a ship is most keenly felt, making a fall very likely]. ‘They have struck me, but I did not become sick; they have smitten me, but I did not know it [for the drunken person is insensible to what is going on and often is not aware of his wounds until he has become sober].’”
A GROWING PROBLEM FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
But are young people in any real danger of experiencing intoxication or even becoming alcoholics? Yes, they are. Newsweek magazine of March 5, 1973, shows a growing trend among teen-agers toward alcohol, often in place of drugs. And many are drinking to the point of intoxication.
In one Boston suburb, for example, one out of every three students in the eighth grade was reported to have experienced intoxication at least once. In southern California, one teen-ager in every twenty is a “problem drinker,” and, according to the National Council on Alcoholics, the age of the youngest alcoholics in the nation has dropped from 14 to 12. France has for long faced a serious problem of alcoholism among children, some showing signs of cirrhosis of the liver at an early age. In Hungary (a country with one of the highest rates of suicide), medical centers in recent years have been treating thousands of children annually for intoxication.
Why do young people get into this problem? In many cases there is someone in their family who is already an excessive drinker. In many other cases, it is because they begin drinking at the instance of other young people. Sometimes a young boy is put under pressure by others of his age to ‘prove he is a man’ by drinking a heavy amount of some alcoholic drink, or a young girl is made to feel she is socially backward if she does not drink.
Does drinking an alcoholic beverage really prove anything as to the kind of person you are? Obviously not, since even animals can be induced to drink it. Really, what do persons who would pressure you to drink want? Are they seeking your good, something that will benefit you? Or are they, rather, just trying to put you in the same class with themselves, perhaps hoping to have the ‘fun’ of seeing you lose control and act, not like a grown man or woman, but like a small child who cannot walk, talk or see clearly and who does and says foolish things?
Note what one authority, Dr. Giorgio Lolli, is quoted as saying of alcoholics: “The alcoholic is retreating from the adult world into infancy, physically and psychologically. His mental perceptions and bodily sensations become indistinguishable. Like the infant, he becomes helpless and requires a baby’s care.” Furthermore, persons seeking sexual immorality may also encourage one to drink so that his or her self-control deteriorates.
Surely giving in to any of these pressures would show—not that one has strength or is grown up—but that one is weak and lacks moral courage. With good reason Proverbs 20:1 warns that wine can become “a ridiculer, intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.” You do not need to experience drunkenness to know how undesirable it is—any more than you need to break a leg to know how painful that can be.
It is not merely the danger of becoming a “problem drinker” or an alcoholic that calls for caution. Just one bad experience with alcohol can bring lasting damage: a serious auto accident, possibly with loss of life or limb—your own or that of some innocent person; or an act of immorality that puts a stain on your whole life and that may bring thorny complications; or perhaps some violent conduct that you will long regret. Why take an unnecessary risk?
The possibility of such tragic results is clear from the fact that, of the 50,000 persons dying each year on the highways of the United States, more than half the deaths are from accidents that have alcohol-related causes. And a New York Times report of July 18, 1972, says that “more than 80 per cent of homicides and aggressive assaults are committed by intoxicated persons.”
WEIGHING THE MATTER WITH WISDOM
In weighing the matter, remember that alcoholic beverages are not one of life’s essentials as are air, food and water. You can get along without them, and many prefer to do so. Remember, too, that the person who wants to have the approval of Jehovah God, the Life-Giver, must serve him with his ‘whole heart, soul, mind and strength.’ (Luke 10:27) Misuse of alcohol can not only rob one of mental clarity and alertness and physical strength, but also affect one’s heart, leading to the development of bad motives.—Isa. 28:7, 8; 1 Thess. 5:6-8; Hos. 4:11.
True, the Bible speaks approvingly of the moderate use of such beverages as wine. But what if one looks to such alcoholic drinks as an escape from the reality of life or from boredom by achieving an artificial glow of happiness and a synthetic feeling of comradeship? Or as a personality medicine to ‘brace one’s nerves’ in overcoming timidity or fear? He may well find that the cure is worse than the ailment. What good is money if it proves to be counterfeit? And what good is a feeling of happiness or courage if it proves to be only artificial?
An enlightening report by the National Institute of Mental Health (published by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) shows that dangers of misuse of alcohol were least likely to appear where the following circumstances prevailed:
(1) Where the individual’s earliest contact with alcoholic beverages came within a strong family or religious group and where the beverages usually were of low alcohol content (such as table wines or beer) and usually taken at mealtimes as just part of the meal. (2) Where use of these beverages was viewed as neither a virtue nor a sin, drinking not being considered as any measure of adulthood or of one’s being a “real man.” (3) Where no one was pressured to drink and where turning down a drink was no more looked down upon than turning down a piece of bread. (4) Where drinking in excess was strongly disapproved, being considered neither ‘stylish’ nor comical nor something to be tolerated. And, perhaps most importantly, (5) where there was united and consistent agreement on what is right and wrong as regards the use of such beverages, parents presenting a good example of moderation.
Your finest and safest guide, of course, is God’s Word. As we have seen, it provides examples of the proper use of alcoholic beverages and strong warnings against their misuse. It counsels young persons to “be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous.” (Eph. 6:1) Respect your parents’ judgment, based on God’s Word, as to whether you should drink alcoholic beverages or not or under what circumstances you may do so. You are wise if you avoid indulging in them when those partaking are all young persons with no parents or relatives present to provide a controlling influence.—Prov. 1:7-9; 6:20-22; 22:15.
Above all, for your lasting happiness, “whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.”—1 Cor. 10:31.