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Drink, Drank, Drunk: God’s Guidance on Alcohol

  • Walt Mueller Posted July 19, 2010
  • 2010 19 Jul
Drink, Drank, Drunk: God’s Guidance on Alcohol

It scares me when I think about what I would have been like if I had been living during Prohibition (the period from 1920-1933 when alcohol was illegal in the United States). Based on my attitude toward alcohol, I would have been on the front lines wielding a Tommy gun as I traipsed through the woods and back alleys in search of moonshiners, bootleggers, rum runners and stills.

My disdain has been fueled by a combination of factors, including a semi-fundamentalist childhood, teetotaling parents and a family history of alcoholism. I also have buried more than a handful of youth group kids as a result of alcohol-related incidents. So you can understand how I feel about our culture's continued obsession with selling a kid-targeted message portraying alcohol use as a passport to a full and fun life.

On the flip side, I've had to temper my anger by embracing the corrective insights of God's revelation on the matter. I've been forced to realize that alcohol isn't the problem. Rather, the problem is people and how they choose to think about, use and abuse something that God's Word never condemns as wrong. God's guidelines don't prohibit the structure of alcohol, but it does set parameters for how to use or not use the structure in a right or wrong direction.

The Prevalent Problem
The issue reared its ugly head for me one day last spring through three encounters with our culture of alcohol. The first was a news story on how manufacturers, eager to grow their markets, are now shrewdly packaging alcohol in containers that look suspiciously like those cans of ever-popular energy drinks that our kids consume with reckless abandon.

The second was a story on a new fad known as "Eyeballing," a "game" engaged in by middle schoolers to college students in which participants pour straight Vodka into someone's eye in an effort to produce a quick buzz.

Last, a youth pastor friend was looking for some advice in handling a dilemma. His youth group kids were a few days away from attending their prom. He caught wind that several of the kids from his youth group were going to attend an alternative post-prom overnight party hosted by some concerned parents. These parents were expressing their love and concern for the kids by having them over to their house, taking the students' car keys, providing them with alcohol (which, after all, the kids were going "to be drinking anyway") and making sure everyone was kept safe.

Because my friend is not alone with this kind of dilemma, I thought I would share four practical suggestions with youth workers who care deeply about their kids and want to help them successfully navigate our culture's mixed messages about drinking.

1) Recognize the Problem
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 for boys and 13 for girls. The latest research from the Monitoring the Future Survey indicates that 37 percent of eighth graders, 59 percent of 10th graders and 72 percent of 12th graders have used alcohol at least once during their lifetime. The percentage of kids those ages who have been drunk are 17 percent, 39 percent and 56 percent respectively. It's now estimated that three million teens are full-blown alcoholics. Millions more have a serious drinking problem they are unable to manage on their own. Our kids are abusing alcohol.

2) Stop Enablers
Parents who promote underage drinking—no matter how pure they think their motives might be—not only are contributing to the problem but dabbling in some very dangerous territory. These parents willingly and sometimes naively play the role of adult enabler, not only by encouraging and facilitating underage drinking but by pulling the trigger for the kids who genetically are predisposed for alcoholism. I've seen it happen.

Consider this: Data indicates that about 80 percent of adults who are receiving alcohol treatment reported they first became intoxicated before the age of 18. In addition, teenagers who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol than those who began drinking at the legal age of 21. 

3) Act Responsibly
My immediate response to my youth worker friend was to encourage him to act on his knowledge. Serving his God, honoring the clueless parents of the kids in his youth group and loving and serving those kids required him to intervene and speak up. As a matter of immediate importance, he needed to confront lovingly the parents hosting the party, communicating clearly not only why he was doing so but also the ethical dilemma his knowledge placed him in, along with what he would do if they carried out their plan.

My guess was that a gentle and caring nudge might convince them to change their plans. I also recommended that if the plans didn't change, he had a responsibility to other parents—a responsibility to inform them of what was being planned, as well as offer a healthier alternative activity for those who wished to opt out of the party.

4) Educate Openly
We must talk openly with our kids about all the issues related to alcohol abuse. They need to learn the facts about the physical damage alcohol abuse can do to their developing brains. We must teach them God has given them the responsibility to obey the authority and laws of the government.

Take the time to read and study Romans 13:1-7 with your kids. We must help them learn how to deconstruct and discern the strategies alcohol marketers use to engage them, sell product and shape their worldview. We should study what Scripture says about drunkenness in passages such as Proverbs 23:20-21, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8. We must discuss the spiritual nature of the problems and yearnings that lead kids to drink, looking together at Scripture for God's answers to those deeper problems of the heart. Finally, we must provide a compelling, godly example of attitudes and behaviors concerning alcohol for our kids. For some of us, that means we will choose to abstain; God will lead others to model a healthy example of alcohol consumption.

Respond Well
Through the years, I've asked several former teenage alcohol abusers to write down their stories. I've also heard and lived with the stories of kids and young adults who still are struggling with alcohol addiction. The stories are all gut-wrenching. On average, abuse began during the middle school years. Sometimes it was parents—concerned parents who thought they were doing the kids a favor—who offered and poured the first drink. Many were alcoholics by the time they were in high school.

When asked why they turned to drugs and alcohol, the reasons varied; but one common thread has been the struggle with the difficult and confusing years of adolescence. Another thread has been parents who were detached, absent or overly permissive.

These realities should combine with our youth ministry calling to issue clear-cut marching orders. Our response should be marked by an overwhelming desire to glorify God, convey biblical balance, speak the truth and a willingness to confront others when necessary in order to foster a deep love for our kids.