Is Every Drunkard an Alcoholic?

You say a person who is not a “drunkard” in the spiritual sense can be still an alcoholic “therapeutically.” How can that be?

At first that may appear to be a confusing statement.   In Christian circles, the terms “drunk” and “alcoholic” are too often used interchangeably.     When dealing with alcoholics, too often believers focus almost entirely on whether or not the addict is actively using his or her “drug of choice” (which can be alcohol).   With this thinking, it’s easy for them to say “She’s doing better,” when their alcoholic is not on a drinking binge.   But what’s probably happening is that the person is simply between binges and most likely nothing has really changed.   She is still on the downward spiral of addiction that will inevitably lead to more chaos, pain and most likely death or incarceration.

A.   What the Bible Says – According to the Bible, anyone who becomes intoxicated on a regular basis is a “drunkard.”   Galatians 5:19-21 labels drunkenness as a sin, a real moral choice that will keep the offender from inheriting the Kingdom of God.   We must not confuse our terminology.   Alcoholics and addicts who are actively using their “drug of choice” are definitely “drunkards.”   But so are “social drinkers” who become regularly intoxicated.   While these foks may not be caught up in a web of compulsive alcohol or drug use, they are still engaged in an activity with serious moral and spiritual implications.

The Apostle Peter wrote, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NASB).

We have enough difficulty discerning Satan’s activities when we have a clear mind. But if our spiritual sensitivity is clouded by intoxicants, we are more open to his deception and control. We need to take Paul’s exhortation to heart: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV).

B.   The Physiology of Addiction — Repeated drunkenness is where addiction begins. Medical science has shown that long-term use of alcohol and drugs results in changes in the human body that do not disappear upon an alcoholic’s salvation.   As a matter of fact, this physical aspect of the disease of alcoholism will remain with the recovering addict until he is glorified and receives his new body from the Lord.   (1 Cor. 15:42-44)

The loss of control that occurs when the addicted individual begins drinking is a primary symptom of alcoholism.   It is not just a psychological problem; it has a physiological basis, as well.   This is why people who become established in a life of recovery must be mindful of the fact that they will always be “sensitized” to alcohol and drugs. For them, total abstinence is a must.   Any use of alcohol can “activate” the chemical mechanisms of addiction leading to compulsive drinking and behavior.

I’ve been asked, “Then why doesn’t God heal that too?”   Why would He?   The only benefit would be enabling people to go back to drinking in moderation.   There is actually a pretty good change that such a person will end up back into full-blown alcoholism!   If he never drinks again, this physical aspect of the illness will have no other actual effect on a recovering individual life or Christian walk

C.   The Battle with “The Flesh”   – The Bible is pretty clear on the fact that, while we are made new in our spirits and souls, the human body in which we live remains a part of this world.   We often see the term “flesh” used.   Even in Romans 7, Paul talks about the dichotomy Christians live with because we are spiritual beings still living in a fallen body.   For recovering addicts this means that, while he is a “new creation” in Christ, he must manage to live in a body that still has the mechanisms of addiction in place.   Furthermore, this fallen body still has a fallen brain, which is a physical organ – separate from the new mind God has given me.   This organ of my body still has a lymbic system that is programmed to respond to all sorts of stimuli in a sometimes twisted manner that is not that different than when he was in active addiction.

D.   Abstinence vs. Recovery — I would never say that remaining abstinent is not a good thing.     But, stopping active use is no guarantee that the addict’s life will automatically improve.   Actually, for most, the early days of recovery can be filled with withdrawal symptoms, sleeplessness, confusion, reemerging negative emotions, and so forth.   I’ve actually known people who were a lot more pleasant to be around while they were drinking than when they were not.   Stopping the use of alcohol and drugs is a whole lot easier that learning to live life without them.

  E.   Therapeutic Considerations — Besides the purely physiological issues, recovering individuals need help to overcome another set of consequences from alcoholism and drug addiction; those that reside in their minds and emotions.   There are attitudes, temptations, feelings, and patterns of thought that are unique to the addict.   Real joy and victory in life can only come through a definite process of discipleship, which is another way of looking a Christian recovery.     He must “transformed by the renewing of his mind” (Romans 12:2) and must learn to “walk in the Spirit that he might not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16).

So, it is important to keep these issues in mind as we reach out to those who struggle with addiction.   There is deliverance but it is important to live circumspectly.   For recovering people, remembering where they came from is one sure way to keep on the path to where they need to go.


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