Drinking Alcohol

A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer.

A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Christian world – or at least those parts of it I have come into contact with – has a funny view of alcohol. It ranges from those who do not drink at all and consider it a sin to drink alcohol, to those who say to have very little alcohol, to those who say that alcohol is fine so long as, in drinking it, you neither cause others to stumble nor do anything that dishonours God. Incidentally, mine is the latter view. I’ve noticed in the churches that I’ve been in a variety of views – I’ve found that you can guess at what the church position on alcohol is by whether they serve wine or grape juice at communion! There is also a whole debate between those who believe that Jesus never drank alcohol, that no one holy ever drank fermented drinks, and that Biblical references to “wine” are in fact referring to grape juice. I am not going to go into that here, although I personally find those arguments rather hard to believe.

The reason I bring up alcohol is because I certainly, when I have been very depressed (or high, actually) have turned to alcohol as a comfort. Rethink has an excellent page on substance misuse which includes the following table of how much more likely people with various psychiatric conditions are to misuse drugs and alcohol:

Psychiatric disorder  Increased risk of substance misuse
 Antisocial personality disorder  15.5%
 Manic episode    14.5%
 Schizophrenia  10.1%
 Panic disorder   4.3%
 Major depressive episode  4.1%
 Obsessive-compulsive disorder    3.4%
 Phobias    2.4%

(Source: Rethink: Alcohol and Drug Use)

The page also has some useful theories of why people like me and others with psychiatric conditions are more likely to abuse substances, including self-medication (drugs picked deliberately to relieve certain symptoms,) “alleviation of dysphoria” (using substances to make ourselves feel less bad) and others.

I have been aware for some years of the danger of becoming addicted to alcohol (I do not take illegal drugs) because I do enjoy drinking very much. If you follow me on Twitter (@believersbrain) you will often find me tweeting that I am off to the pub, and when I am there I tend to drink a large amount. Mostly because I can – as someone who is overweight and drinks regularly, my tolerance is high.

This brings up some questions for me as a Christian. The most important, I think, is does my alcohol use honour God? There are various prohibitions in Scripture against being drunk, against being controlled by drink and while there is no blanket condemnation of drinking, there is certainly an association between being drunk and committing sin. Something we can all see on a Saturday night to be honest! Drinking makes some people more aggressive, leads to fights, leads to inappropriate sexual behaviour, and can lead to self-harming behaviour either deliberately or simply through falling over. I know that I have been most at risk of suicide when I have been drunk – not because it makes me more suicidal but that it lowers my inhibitions to the point at which I might actually go ahead and do it.

That said – I am not aggressive when drinking or even when drunk. Myself, I am soppy, I decide everyone is lovely – like a priest I knew who, when drunk, used to bless everyone in sight! I do not, I think, bring shame on my faith – although for those who think someone, especially a woman, who is drunk is shameful, then in that case I suppose I do.

It is a difficult one for me – I enjoy drinking and many nights of the week I am in the pub. Here where I live I know few people, and those people I do know outside church are in the pub – it is always the quickest way to meet people to go into a pub or bar and start talking, particularly when the alcohol removes my shyness when meeting new people. I like it very much and I would not wish to say I will never drink again – but I do not want to end up addicted either. When I lived in London I had a few healthcare people ask if I was addicted, mostly because then I was in the pub every night of the week. I don’t think I was, for when I moved up here I stopped drinking for 6 months entirely, and felt no ill effects. It was really only a desire for a social life that started me off again (and also because I missed the taste)

Does God want me to drink? I think he understands the function alcohol has for me – not just as a nice-tasting pleasant drink, but also as a means to be more confident in public, to meet new people, and to remove some of the constant social anxiety I have. I worry about ending up with drinking problems – a few of my drinking companions over the years have developed alcoholism – and I also worry that, as alcohol is a depressant, that I may be making my own illness worse. That doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment. I don’t really think that it is un-Christian to drink, unless it makes me do things a Christian should not do. Part of me says that it proves to others that Christians are “normal” people, that it brings me and my faith (which I am open about) into a group of people who don’t have that faith, and we discuss Christianity in the pub, sometimes.

I don’t have a real ending to this post except to say that I remain somewhat conflicted between something I think is fun, I enjoy and which I don’t really see a problem with so long as I am not sinning after drinking, and something which a lot of Christians would see as a sin in me. I am not alone, I think, among Christians who have a mental illness in drinking for all the various reasons people have for it, but my desire to conform to a more conservative model of Christianity does give me some conflict about whether I should drink at all. So, with some reservations I will still say that I do not believe drinking, even to excess, is sinful insofar as it does not make you commit sins while doing it!

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