The drinking of alcohol has been a widely debated and a confusing topic for many Christians over the years and with alcoholism on the rise, I believe that some caution should be raised before answering the question.
The quick answer is ‘no’, it’s not sinful to drink alcohol, but that straightforward answer won’t suffice, especially since many Christians struggle with alcoholism. Alcohol within itself is fine but can easily become addictive, leading to people’s lives being completely wrecked.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to accidents and injuries requiring hospital treatment, such as a head injury violent behaviour and being a victim of violence. It can also lead to unprotected sex that could potentially lead to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
Not to mention the loss of personal possessions, such as wallets, keys or mobile phones and alcohol poisoning which we see on our streets every day when people are vomiting, having fits and falling unconscious.
The catchphrase these days is ‘binge drinking,’ this is when people drink heavily over a short period of time, these people are more likely to behave recklessly and are at greater risk of being in an accident.
Those who are prone to drink more than others are prone to heart disease, stroke, liver disease, liver cancer and bowel cancer, mouth cancer and pancreatitis. Time and time again I’ve met people who once had high flying jobs but are now unemployed, divorced, and have problems with domestic abuse.
We see people who try to give up alcohol suffering from withdrawal symptoms such as hand tremors, sweating, seeing things that aren’t real, depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
I personally can’t stand alcohol anymore, it took me years to quit drinking but I still get the desire to do so in certain situations or if something happens. I can’t stand it when people’s lives, homes and families are wrecked because of alcohol but the alcohol brewers still make billions of pounds out of people’s misery.
I’m not blaming them because everyone must take responsibility for their own lives and actions but I’m saying they don’t help, especially since cheap booze is so easy to get these days.
I also find it interesting in countries, alcohol is a part of their everyday lives, they have it with their lunch and dinner and the children enjoy it during these times from a very early age and yet in countries like Spain and Italy, there isn’t a huge alcoholism problem when compared to the UK and other countries. Maybe there is something to be said about respecting alcohol and being aware of its overuse consequences.
I think churches may need to give some serious thought when it comes to the use of alcohol, some churches use alcoholic wine at the Lord’s Table to represent His blood.
Some congregations when they host a fellowship meal may provide cakes and other food which has alcohol in it. These may be innocent within them themselves but to an alcoholic, this could be the very thing which starts them drinking again.
Now getting back to the question, is drinking alcohol sinful?
Now it’s all too easy to ‘yes’ because what we see in the lives of many people are disaster and heartache. And I understand that prevention is better than cure. Take a look at Genesis 2:16-17
Now read Genesis 3:1-3
God said, ‘don’t eat’, Eve said, that God said, ‘don’t eat or touch’. The point I’m trying to make is that we often add a little ‘extra law’ to protect the ‘original law’.
If we don’t break the extra law, then obviously, we won’t break the original law. For example, we might know someone whose addicted to pornography and so we advise them to stay away from the computer. The computer in and of itself isn’t sinful but may lead to sinfulness.
In other words, it’s easier to say ‘yes’ it’s sinful to drink because what we’re trying to do is protect the law against ‘drunkenness’.
So, drinking alcohol isn’t a sin in and of itself. For example, in the Bible we see that wine is a covenant blessing, Genesis 27:28 / Deuteronomy 7:13 / Deuteronomy 11:14 / Deuteronomy 33:28. Wine was also a blessed and acceptable offering to God, Numbers 15:5-10.
God approved of and encouraged the use of wine, Deuteronomy 14:26. And arguably in large doses under certain conditions, Proverbs 31:6-7.
Wine is to be enjoyed inappropriate ways, inappropriate settings, including its use to make ‘life merry’. Ecclesiastes 10:19 / John 2:1-10.
Now having said all this, bearing in mind that I’m not arguing that every case where wine is mentioned is simply grape juice or alcohol or strong alcoholic wine. But please bear in mind what Luke records in Luke 7:33-34.
I think we’ve established that drinking alcohol in itself isn’t sinful but the Bible is very clear about the effect it has on someone, it can lead to drunkenness and carousing which is sinful. There are a few examples of godly men getting drunk which led to sinful behaviour.
Look at the mess Noah and his family got themselves into after Noah got drunk, Genesis 9:20-25 / Ecclesiastes 10:17 / Romans 13:13 / Galatians 5:19-21 / 1 Peter 4:3.
The heart of these commandments is that we avoid any drunkenness and loose living, whether caused by alcohol or any other substance. In short, there are ways to drink alcohol that aren’t sinful, as well as ways to drink alcohol that are sinful.
But be careful, prevention is better than cure, having permission to drink, doesn’t give us permission to get drunk, Galatians 5:1 / Jude 1:4.
I think we’ve established that drinking alcohol in itself isn’t sinful but getting drunk is, the problem is, who gets to set the limit before drunkenness kicks in? You see one person may be ok after one glass of wine or even two glasses of wine but what about someone else?
One glass of wine might be enough to make them drunk! Every individual is different and despite having their best interests at heart, we can’t set ‘a limit’ for everyone. The sad part is that anyone experimenting with alcohol for the first time, won’t know what their limit is until it is too late, drunkenness has already happened.
Just a thought as we close, we are surrounded by people who have or will have major alcohol problems in their life, so wisdom needs to be used. When discussing the topic of drinking alcohol, we have to remember our audience, for example, I would really struggle telling anyone who has an ‘alcohol addiction’ that the Bible says it isn’t sinful to drink alcohol, I would also struggle to tell this to some teenagers, telling them that drinking alcohol isn’t sinful within itself, would be like giving some of them the green light!
I’m not saying we don’t teach the truth on the subject but what I am saying is that sometimes, common sense needs to prevail, depending on their attitude and maturity, this may well be the very time to advise them in love, to stay away from alcohol altogether, this may well be a time to say prevention is better than cure.
We also need to remember that anyone who has an alcohol problem or any kind of addiction, needs to be loved and supported by the whole church. The difference between their sin and our sin is that it’s more visible but if the truth is told and admitted, we’re all sinaholics.
For those of you who do enjoy an alcoholic drink, please keep Paul’s advice in mind.
I asked my friend, what was your life like before you realised you had a problem? They answered, ‘Being brought up by alcoholic parents was always dysfunctional. When life got tough, I never thought I wanted to drink but I found that alcohol made me feel better, for a while. I was always discontent in everything but didn’t understand why.’
‘I first started drinking when I was going through a divorce, my friend came to stay with me and she first introduced me to alcohol. And it was great because it gave me confidence but I didn’t realise that it was false confidence. And it made me feel like everybody else feels, they could be happy, they could be confident, they could be pretty, they could be funny, they could be all those things that I felt I wasn’t.’
I then asked them, at what point did you realise that you had a problem? They answered, ‘When I had a drink I became a completely different person. I was brought up with God in my life, my mum was a believer, and I was brought up with morals and standards. And very quickly when I became an alcoholic, all that went out the window.’
‘When I first picked up drink and thought, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t normally behave like that,’ I just thought, I’m just drunk, it’s all right. I was in complete denial but I thought it was alright because everyone else done the same’.
And then I asked them, at what point did you realise you needed to do something about it? They answered, ‘I drank for six years and there were times when I thought maybe I do have a problem, maybe I’m like my mum, maybe I’m an alcoholic.’
‘And then I would just say to myself, ‘don’t be daft, I don’t drink enough’. And so, because I didn’t drink a lot, I thought I can’t be an alcoholic. I used just put it in the back of my mind. The first time I really knew I had a problem, I did something about it. In December 2000, I spoke to a family member whom I knew wouldn’t just let me go on that way and then I called a support group for alcohol and went to my first meeting.’
‘Now I already had become a Christian a couple of years before that and turned my life around in so many ways but very slowly I started to pick up the drink again. I couldn’t understand why I was still drinking even though I was a Christian so I justified it by saying; ‘well I’m only having a couple of glasses of wine’.
‘I used to search through the Bible for anything that told me I could not drink but I could never find anything, so I used this to justify my drinking. And because I didn’t drink anything like I did before I became a Christian, I used to justify that by telling myself, ‘that’s alright’. God was in my life and God was in my heart and I used to think I was pathetic and worthless because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop drinking’.
I asked them, how long have they been going along to these support groups? They replied, ‘11 years but because I take it a day at a time, I need that support a day at a time to help me not to pick up a drink. I go to these meetings to help other alcoholics too. And when someone comes in for the first time they remind me of what I used to be like’.
‘I had no intention of becoming a Christian but people in the church just kept loving me, they were just so nice to me for no reason, they didn’t want anything from me. Christianity and the support group almost worked hand in hand’.
Finally, I asked them, what advice would you give someone with an addiction of any kind? They said, ‘They need to ask themselves if they really want help because if they don’t, any sort of help won’t work. They need to recognise that they are powerless on their own. I would then point them in the direction of the appropriate support group.’
‘As a councillor, I would say that people with addictions are just lost, their lives are in a mess.’ People see other people with addictions as bad, dangerous, horrible, thieves or whatever because they’ve done some terrible things. They are just human beings who somewhere along the line have become lost. Yes, they don’t bad things but that doesn’t make them bad people. They need guidance, unconditional love and help because without that help many will end up dead.’
‘And just like Christians are afraid of junkies or alcoholics, junkies and alcoholics are also afraid of Christians. The Christians are usually frightened because they don’t understand the addict, but the addict is also frightened because they think the Christian is so saintly’.
Cutting down or stopping drinking is usually just the beginning, and most people will need some degree of help or some long-term plan to stay in control or to stay completely alcohol-free. Getting the right support can be crucial to maintaining control in the future. Only relying on family, friends or carers for this is often not enough.
1. Ask your GP or your alcohol service about what longer-term support is available in your area. Self-help or mutual aid groups (groups such as AA or SMART Recovery groups) are accessible in most areas.
1. Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, you can call this free helpline, in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9 am – 8 pm, weekends 11 am – 4 pm).
2. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its “12-step” programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
3. Al-Anon Family Groups offer support and understanding to the families and friends of problem drinkers, whether they’re still drinking or not. Alateen is part of Al-Anon and can be attended by 12- to 17-year-olds who are affected by another person’s drinking, usually a parent.
4. Addaction is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.
5. Adfam is a national charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol. Adfam operates an online message board and database of local support groups.
6. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) provides a free, confidential telephone and email helpline for children of alcohol-dependent parents and others concerned with their welfare. Call 0800 358 3456 for the Nacoa helpline.
7. SMART Recovery groups help participants decide whether they have a problem, build up their motivation to change and offer a set of proven tools and techniques to support recovery.
8. OO. Overcomers Outreach is an international network of Christ-centred 12 Step support groups that ministers to individuals, their families and loved ones who suffer from the consequences of any addictive behaviour.
Most people receive their support to stop drinking and their recovery support in the community. If you need medication to help you stop drinking, it can often be taken at home or when attending a local service daily.
However, some people will need a short stay in a 24-hour medically-supported unit so they can receive safe treatment for their withdrawal symptoms or other problems. This may be in an NHS inpatient unit, or a medically-supported residential service, depending on your situation and the assessed medical need.
Some people are assessed as needing intensive rehabilitation and recovery support for a period after they stop drinking completely; either through attending a programme of intensive support in their local community or by attending a residential rehabilitation service.
This type of intensive treatment is usually reserved for people with medium or high levels of alcohol dependence, particularly those who have received other forms of help previously that have not been successful. Local authorities are responsible for alcohol treatment services.
The intensive residential rehabilitation packages may require an additional assessment process to determine access to the funding for this. It’s also possible to pay for residential rehabilitation privately and medical insurance companies may fund this for a certain period.
May God bless everyone who is recovering or thinking about getting started with their recovery.