When you hear the word drug(s), what do you think of? Take
a moment before you read on and think about it. List the drugs you
are familiar with or have heard about; both legal and illegal. What
did you come up with? Was alcohol on your list? If it wasn't, add
it. Alcohol is as much a drug as the prescription drugs: valium,
librium, codeine, and percodan or the illicit drugs, cocaine, crack,
heron, ecstasy, and marijuana. Alcohol is a central nervous system
depressant, a mind/mood altering chemical (MAC). You can get just
as drunk on 3.2 beer as you can on wine, sherry or 90 proof vodka.
It is estimated that the very familiar, readily available and legal
drug, alcohol, causes about 90 percent of all the drug problems in
the United States, either alone or in combination with other drugs.
About 50 percent of all alcoholics either abuse or are dependent
on other drugs other than alcohol.
Many teens in chemical dependency treatment centers say that
alcohol was their first introduction to drugs and a stepping stone
to other drugs. They also said that when their "drug of choice"
(the drug they most prefer to use) was not available; alcohol would
often serve as a substitute. Alcohol is capable of producing mood
swings in the user from mild euphoria (feeling "high"), to death as
a result of overdose of mixing alcohol with other drugs or drinking
too much alcohol alone. Don't be fooled; alcohol still ranks as
one of the world's most dangerous drugs. (See appendices for
Naturally alcohol is not the only drug of concern in our country,
but it will serve as the primary focus of this discussion and
introduction to alcoholism and chemical dependency. First, a very
brief overview of alcohol in the Bible and some historical notes
regarding its use. And finally a look at alcoholism itself and
In the Bible
The Bible has more than 200 references to alcohol (wine) and
other "strong drink," as well as almost 50 references to drunkeness.
The Bible describes alcohol use in numerous ways -- from being used
as an offering to stern warnings about the harmful effects on the
user and those around him. Here are some examples. As an offering:
"All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the
wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the
Lord, them have I given thee" (Num. 18:12) and in remembrance and
offering at the Last Supper (Mt 26:27 and Lk 22:17). Wine was used
in celebration at the Wedding at Cana (Jn 2), Jesus Himself changed
water into wine. In Gen 14:18 we read "Melchizedek, king of Salem
brought forth bread and wine: and was a priest of the most high."
In 1 Chronicles 16:3 we read that wine was drunk with meals: "And
he dealt to every one of Israel, both man and woman, to every one
a loaf of bread, and a good piece of flesh and a flagon of wine."
The Bible also has clear warnings about the effects of alcohol.
In Proverbs 20:1 it is said that "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is
raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." In Eph 5:18
we read "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess: but be filled
with the Spirit." It was as evident in the Bible as it is today t
hat there were those who drank in moderation (or didn't drink at all),
those who drank in excess, and those who just drank to get drunk.
The Bible gives us sage advice on the appropriate use of alcohol
including abstaining from it during pregnancy (Judges 13:7).
Codes and Canons
There is virtually no period in recorded history without references
to the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The history
of alcohol is also inseparable from alcohol misuse, abuse, and
dependency. One of the earliest recordings of the production of
alcohol is on an Egyptian Papyrus dating 3500 BC.
So it has been around for awhile. The term "alcohol" itself didn't
enter European languages until the 16th century. It has only been
in the past 300 years that the term alcohol has been synonymous
with spirituous liquids.
We have many "codes" and "canons" from various cultures on the
topic of alcohol. The most dramatic of these is perhaps from ancient
Persia which banned alcohol consumption altogether. To this day, the
Islamic religion maintains a total ban on the use of alcoholic
beverages. The Code of Hammurabi of Babylonia (1700 BC),
contains an assortment of restrictions on the sale and consumption of
alcohol. This Code also documents the early existence of public
drinking houses which were regulated by law. This law sometimes
called for the execution of its offenders. The original temperance
movement dates from pre-Christian times. The dynastic Egyptian tract
called "Wisdom of Ani" opens with a stern command -- "take not upon
thyself to drink a jug of beer." A list of consequences follows,
should you disobey this warning. Around 600 BC, the
Chinese Canon of History was written. It states that "men will not
do without beer" and "to prohibit it and secure total abstinence
from it is beyond even the power of the sages." The Canon also goes
on to provide a series of warnings about alcohol's use with the
intent of fostering moderation. The Church too, has its code of
conduct to be followed by her flock contained in the Canons of the
Church which were adopted by the various Councils over the centuries.
For example, Canons 42 and 43 ordain that "those clergymen, including
laymen as well, who occupy themselves in drunkeness and dice shall
either cease or be excommunicated."
It wasn't until 1619 in the Virginia Colonies that the United
States passed its first law against public drunkeness. In 1785
Dr Benjamin Rush wrote a pamphlet calling alcoholism an illness,
titled "On the Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the
Human Mind and Body." From 1811-1933, the Temperance Movement along
with the religious revival of the 19th century led to the Prohibition
Amendment which was put into effect on January 16, 1920 by the
Volstead Act. During the first year of Prohibition there were only
20 percent of the alcohol problems as compared to 1917. By 1929,
we had 70 percent of the alcohol problems of 1917 and a whole host
of new problems due to bootlegging and public and private corruption.
In 1933 the 18th Amendment was repealed. Did Prohibition work?
The Chinese knew the answer as early as 600 BC.
No, not too well, but it was well intentioned.
The United States had its own shifts in attitudes and behaviors
towards the effects of alcohol on individuals and society. From the
mid-1800's this shift was becoming more obvious. Inebriety which
was later to be called alcoholism was called many other things as
well, including mental and emotional illness and neurosis. During
the 19th century, alcoholism was thought to be a "moral problem or
weakness." If you get the "sinner" to "take the pledge" (to abstain
from all drinking, to "go on the wagon"), you could save him. In
1935 Alcoholics Anonymous was started in Akron, Ohio (Okay, New York
too). In 1944 the National Council of Alcoholism was founded and
finally in 1956 the American Medical Association declared alcoholism
a disease that should be treated like any other medical problem.
We have come a long way in a short time in recognizing the
destructive effects of the active stages of the disease of alcoholism.
Today alcoholism is recognized by all the accepted medical and
health authorities as a major health problem in the United States.
It is only outranked by heart disease and cancer. It is estimated
that at least 1 out of 10 persons are alcoholics. Some estimate
that on the average, four other persons are affected directly by
the alcoholic, not counting indirect contacts or relationships.
Statistics can be read to say pretty much what you want people
to hear, but even if only a fraction of the information was on
target; there is serious cause for concern. There is a high
mortality rate related to alcohol alone (excluding other drugs).
In the United States alone there are about 400 deaths from drunk
driving every week. In 1986 there were more than 2,500 documented
alcohol-related deaths in New York State alone. Alcoholism cuts
across every sector of society. The human suffering that comes
with the active and untreated phases of this disease is beyond
measure in statistical terms. How do you measure and explain
the death of a child hit by a drunk driver?
What Is Alcoholism?
The disease alcoholism is also grouped under the name of
chemical dependency (dependence) and drug dependence because alcohol
is a mood/mind altering substance (drug). Alcoholism occurs when
a person's use of alcohol interferes with any area of his or her
life; family, social, personal friendship, work or career
performance, finances, physical and emotional health, driving
record, spiritual life, etc. ... Some people have some of the
above problems related to drinking, but it has never been pointed
out to them that it was creating problem(s) and consequently they
never bothered to change their drinking behavior or patterns.
Some people are able to moderate their drinking and make changes
when things are pointed out to them. The alcoholic, on the other
hand, is not able to moderate his or her drinking. The alcoholic
is powerless over alcohol and there is no predictability after
the first drink that it will stop after one, two, ten, or twenty.
Nothing short of abstinence works.
Alcoholism cannot be cured, but it can be treated, and people
do return to very productive lives. The impact that alcohol and
other drugs have upon the ability to conduct a self-directed and
productive life are as different and unique as each individual.
Trained counselors are available to identify, through history-taking
and evaluation, patterns of behavior inherent to the disease,
alcoholism/chemical dependency. Having a disease, particularly
after it's pointed out, requires that some action be taken to get
the proper help and care. It requires that the person make some
changes, just as a heart-diseased person must take certain
precautions. No "blank check" is given for writing off inappropriate
or destructive behavior. Healthy choices can be made with help.
"Somewhere" along the line the person has got to want it too, or
it will never work. They have to want sobriety for themselves
(not for someone or something else).
Alcoholism is a disease. One way to look at alcoholism is to
approach it as we do other diseases. It has its own set of symptoms
which are describable and, when identified, can fairly accurately
describe what stage of the disease the person is in, e.g., early,
middle or late. Vern Johnson, author of the book, I'll Quit
Tomorrow, pioneered the notion of alcoholism being primary,
progressive, chronic and fatal if left untreated. In this model
- A Primary Disease: It is not a secondary symptom of
something else. Although there are usually other emotional
and/or physical problems associated with the illness that
need to be treated, active ingestion needs to stop before
the rest can adequately be addressed. It is a primary
disease also for the family.
- Progressive: It gets progressively worse if left untreated.
- Chronic: There is no cure, but people do get on the
road to recovery. Like any other disease, people do relapse.
There is no way for an alcoholic to drink again or use other
MAC's regularly without risking relapse.
- Fatal: If left untreated, people do die (auto accident,
physical complications, suicide, etc.). This disease can be
arrested, not cured. These are better odds than for some other
diseases that cannot be arrested or cured.
A Family Disease
If one member of a family is ill, it becomes a problem for all
the members of a family to one degree or another. When one member of
a family is in crisis, all are affected. Those who live with or are
concerned about an actively drinking alcoholic develop their own
ways of surviving and dealing with their own pain and suffering.
Dysfunction for both the family and drinker become a way of life.
In the midst of all of this, is powerlessness and unmanageability;
the alcoholic over alcohol and the family over the alcoholic.
A Label is a Powerful Thing
Of all the major diseases, alcoholism is difficult for many
people to understand and accept. When you hear that someone is
an alcoholic; what do you "honestly" think? ... honestly.
A label is a powerful thing. None of the major diseases is more
colored by myth, mystery and misunderstanding. One area that
stands out is that, if you have a disease, you are not responsible
for the things it "caused" you to do. There is a real tendency
to blame the disease for your actions; like saying the "devil made
me do it." Being an alcoholic does not exempt a person from
taking responsibility for his or her actions.
The person who becomes an alcoholic is not responsible for having a disease,
no more than the diabetic. Neither asked for the disease, but both are responsible
for doing what's required to get well once they know they have the disease.
Again, no blank check is given to write off inappropriate, abusive and destructive
behavior. The 12-Step
Program of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly addresses the amend making process
and what that really means.
Not a Moral Weakness
Many still believe that alcoholism is primarily a "moral problem"
or a "moral weakness" -- a weak character, or a "sin." The moral
weakness argument contends that the person "should have known
better." We generally do not say this about other diseases. We
do not say to the cancer victim, "you should have known better,
shape up!", but we do often say this to an alcoholic.
Moral weakness only sees alcohol and bad behavior. It doesn't
see the "ism" of the disease. It's an either/or proposition;
either "Shape up" or "Ship out," and doesn't offer any help.
No behavior can totally be understood outside of its context.
We have to look at the big picture and not forget that people are
involved and hurting, not just the alcoholic. Even if you have
difficulty understanding alcoholism as a disease, wouldn't you
agree that help is still needed. Call alcoholism what you want,
but still remember that there is a human being created in the
image and likeness of God who needs loads of help through caring
and loving (tough love) intervention.
Calling All Churches
The Church has a definite call to minister to those who suffer
from alcoholism -- everyone involved in the disease; the alcoholic,
the family, the church family, etc. Alcoholism is clearly no
respecter of rank, just like other diseases. Anyone can become
an alcoholic even after years of apparent social drinking or no
drinking at all. Anyone, priest, bishop, nun, monk, you and I
can become an alcoholic with the same incidence as anyone else
Because there are a lot of people who are Church members,
a lot of people in the Church suffer from alcoholism/chemical
dependency and they are in one stage or another of the disease.
It is no secret that alcoholism tends to be kept "hidden" and
called many other things because of the stigma attached to it.
Identification is often not made because our blinders are on,
or we don't want to get involved because it might be an
embarrassment. I can't recall a case where someone died of
embarrassment alone, but I know of many deaths related to
alcohol and other drugs. Alcoholism affects people; the
Church is full of people; therefore alcohol and drug problems
should be a concern of the Church. The Church is a vital
link to helping people. Often the priest is one of the first
to be contacted or consulted by concerned people or the person,
him or herself, looking for help and direction.
As Christians we struggle to keep God at the center of our
lives. We live in a world that looks for fast answers to
complex or unanswerable questions. People turn to different
things for those answers; some to material possessions, some
to status, some to power, and others to alcohol and other
drugs. In times of hurt, pain, suffering from whatever reason,
the latter may be turned to for relief. Let's not forget the
healing power of the Lord in our lives.
Our local parishes need to examine their own attitudes
towards alcohol and other drugs. As a whole Church we need
to work together. The Church needs to be a role model and a
teacher in the understanding of what alcoholism/chemical
dependency is. Without this understanding it can become
very easy to picture this disease as a disease of lazy
good-for-nothings, sloppy and unemployed people. (I hear
this all too often.) We know this is not true. Most people
do not fit this stereotype.
Resource for Spiritual Growth
The Church must be a resource for spiritual growth in
the area of alcoholism/chemical dependency through education
and relating clearly the Gospel message of "... as you did
it to the least of these my brethren you did it unto me."
The Church is an excellent place to teach prevention and
coping skills. Before a child can say "no" to drugs,
a foundation must be established to stand behind that
"no." Peer pressure goes two ways; it can influence
negatively and also very positively. We need an open
forum to discuss what we can do. We have so much we can
do in the Church to confront alcohol/drug issues directly.
Our churches are filled with talent; we just need to
organize it and make it "one body." The Church cannot
afford to be, as one author stated, "a sleeping giant in
the fight against drug abuse."
The other articles on this topic look at
along with resources and information for help and what
local parishes can do.
Definitions And Descriptions of Alcoholism/Chemical Dependency
- American Medical Association, Manual on Alcoholism, 1967, 3rd. Ed. 1977.
"Alcoholism (a form of chemical dependency) is an illness characterized
by preoccupation with alcohol and loss of control over its consumption
such as to lead usually to intoxication if drinking is begun; by chronicity;
by progression; and by a tendency toward relapse. It is typically
associated with physical disability and impaired emotional, occupational,
and/or social adjustments as a direct consequence of persistent and excessive use."
- McAuliffe, Robert and Mary. The Essentials of Chemical Dependency, 1975.
"Chemical Dependency is essentially a pathological or sick relationship
of a person to a mood-altering chemical substance, a psychoactive drug,
in expectation of a rewarding experience."
- Johnson, Vern. I'll Quit Tomorrow, 1973.
"Alcoholism is a fatal disease, 100 percent fatal. Nobody survives
alcoholism that remains unchecked ... The disease involves the whole
man: physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. The
most significant characteristics of the disease are that it is primary,
progressive, chronic and fatal. But it can be arrested. The progress
of alcoholism can be stopped, and the patient can be recovered. Not
cured, but recovered."
- Statistical Abstract (1979).
An "alcoholic" is defined as one who is unable consistently to choose
whether he shall drink or not, and who, if he drinks, is unable
consistently to choose whether he shall stop or not. "Alcoholics
with complications" are those who have developed bodily or mental
disorders through prolonged excessive drinking.
- Mark Keller, Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcoholism, March 1960.
Alcoholism is a chronic disease manifested by repeated implicative
drinking so as to cause injury to the drinker's health or to his
social or economic functioning.
Fr Bogdan Djurdjulov is a Certified Chemical Dependency Practitioner
and Health Care Management Consultant in private practice.
He is Associate Pastor of St
Paul Orthodox Church in Dayton, OH
and Principal of Creative Edge Consulting which is dedicated to
recognizing, inspiring, and promoting optimal relationship skills.
This article was originally published at the website of Orthodox Church in America