Editor's Note: This is Part II in a two-part series on alcohol and your teen. Click here to read Part I.

Many myths surround the use and abuse of alcohol. But the most destructive of all is the belief that being able to drink a large quantity of alcohol is a sign of strength. In reality, a high tolerance for alcohol—being able to “hold your liquor”—is a sign of budding alcoholism. It is the one thing all alcoholics have in common.

One day, we sat in an office with a teen and his parents listening to the teen’s alcohol abuse story. He boasted he could drink a six-pack of beer without being fazed. In fact, he said he would drive others home after consuming 15 to 18 beers at a party. He was trying to make the point that he could handle liquor. Until we explained the reality of high tolerance, he didn’t realize that he perfectly described his need for help to cure his disease of alcoholism.

How Well Do You “Hold Your Liquor”?

Most people have an automatic limiting mechanism that prevents them from developing a high tolerance to alcohol. Drunkenness, illness, or sleep occur when large quantities of alcohol are consumed. The tolerance level stays basically the same throughout life, though many would argue that a growing tolerance is developed over time. It is true that tolerance goes up a bit for most people, but for the alcoholic, the rise is either dramatic or tolerance is high from the first drink. In the world of drinking, the alcoholic veers off on a path that has only one end—addiction to the chemical.

Problem Drinking and Drunkenness

Alcoholism is not to be confused with drunkenness. Many alcoholics have such a high tolerance that they are rarely drunk. They drink a great deal but are often able to stop just before losing control. A family might live with an alcoholic for a lifetime and never see the person drunk. Only in the later stages of life, when a deteriorating and aging body loses its ability to contain vast quantities of alcohol, do many alcoholics drink until they lose control.

Drunkenness, however, can happen to anyone who has any level of tolerance. Some people are drunk on one drink. If that is the case, the Bible forbids them to drink because it condemns drunkenness, and rightfully so. Drunkenness is a big killer in our society.

The Bible clearly states, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Drunkenness is a counterfeit for being filled with the Spirit. It is a form of escape and a maladaptive coping mechanism. Anyone who gets drunk is a problem drinker and needs help. The sin needs to be confessed, and the behavior changed. Unfortunately, when teenagers drink, most drink to get drunk. That is why teenage drinking is always considered problem drinking. It is illegal, and most of the time it is also immoral.

Alcoholism

Having been raised in Texas in a conservative Christian home, I (Steve) heard many sermons on alcoholism. The preacher always referred to the alcoholic as a drunkard. A biblical passage on drunkenness would be used to condemn that person, implying that the person had chosen alcoholism and would spend the remainder of his (they were always considered males) days in a drunken stupor.

Receiving this perspective early in life, my acceptance of the facts about alcoholism and drunkenness did not come easily. But eventually I learned the truth about the biblical perspective. It’s been a great help in understanding alcoholics and assisting them in their recovery.

The Bible doesn’t address the condition of alcoholism. It only speaks to us about drinking and drunkenness. Many ministers think of a drunk man on skid row drinking out of a bottle when they think of an alcoholic. But that is the exception rather than the rule. Only about 5 percent of all alcoholics make it to skid row. The other 95 percent are drinking and functioning in jobs, schools, churches, and in families. Many people have no idea these people are alcoholics.