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.


Sponsorship for People in Recovery Programs

Most support groups encourage recovering people to find a sponsor.   In addition, “mentorship” is a solid Biblical concept. The relationship between Paul, the seasoned veteran apostle, and Timothy, the young, gifted, upstart preacher is an excellent example.

Still, for people involved in a long-term residential programs,   it is best to delay the process of finding a sponsor until they get near graduation.   While still in the program, the staff serves essentially as the “sponsor”.   Having an outside sponsor too early in the program can actually be counterproductive, especially if the sponsor gives guidance that is at odds with what the program’s staff.   It can also place the staff in a difficult situation in regard to confidentiality.

As I have often said, the primary goal of any long-term residential recovery program is to “work themselves out of a job.”   In other words, we succeed with troubled people when they no longer need us.   As we begin the process of planning an individual’s exit from a structured long-term program, careful aftercare/discharge planning is vital.   There must be a formal plan that includes church and support group participation, educational, housing and employment arrangements.   Finding an outside program sponsor should be a non-negotiable expectation for graduation from a residential recovery program.

How can we benefit from having a sponsor?

A. Establishing Accountability – Having another man in my life who knows enough about me to ask the hard questions has been a vital dimension of my personal walk of recovery. To be honest about it, there are times when I’ve actually walked away from temptation more because I did not want to be embarrassed by confessing it to a sponsor, than because it was the right or best thing to do.

B. Keeping Pride in Check – Ego, grandiosity, and self-centeredness are all issues with recovering people. The Bible is full of admonitions about this – “Pride goes before a fall, and God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, etc.” Ultimately, a sponsor helps me to keep from getting trapped by my own false sense of “powerfulness” and keeps me in reality (which is another word for “humility”).

C.   Staying Honest – It’s really easy to fool others, and even myself. I’ve learned how to look really good outwardly, while I’m doing terribly inwardly, even in support groups. Here again, if I’ve been open with my sponsor about my personal issues, he will hold me accountable and “nail me” when I’ve slipped into dishonesty. It is my firm conviction that no one with a clear conscience ever relapses.

D.   Maintaining Objectivity – “Stinking thinking” is a real trap. Having a person committed to being a “sounding board” for me gives me someone who can say stuff like, “I don’t think you are perceiving that correctly” or “Have you considered this might be what’s really going on?” This is especially helpful in the always difficult area of relationships in which all recovering people struggle. Most others in our lives have some “vested interest” in how we behave or how well we do in our lives. It’s hard for these folks to be very objective. So, we need someone outside of our primary family, work, etc. relationships who doesn’t have as much at stake to help us to steer a clear course.

E.   Finding Encouragement – I find I am apt to get down on myself at times, often because of things over which I have little or no control. Having an objective, supportive person who understands the process of recovery helps me keep a healthy perspective on things. Usually, I find I’m doing better than I might think. And, even when I’m not doing so well, my sponsors have provided the hope and support I’ve needed to move forward and do the often difficult things that are necessary to keep growing.

How to Find a Sponsor

Look for a person who is:

  • Of the same sex (an absolute must!).
  • Growing and solid in his/her own personal program of recovery.
  • Trustworthy and able to keep what is shared confidential.
  • A good listener and non-judgmental encourager.
  • Available when they are needed.   This usually means able to meet at a set time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

A good starting place for finding a sponsor is to look for people at support group meetings who seem to be solid and take an interest in newcomers.   It might be wise to find out how other participants in the meetings see this person.

Since establishing a sponsorship relationship is really an informal arrangement, it starts by simply asking a trusted individual – “Would you be my sponsor?”   And, it’s perfectly acceptable to fire” a sponsor if the arrangement does not seem to be working out.   So, there are definite advantages to starting this process while still in the program so staff members can provide support and feedback until a suitable sponsor is found.

Who Needs Recovery?

You probably need to consider seeking help if:

  • The last thing in the world you want to do is talk about your possible areas of “stuckness.”
  • Your life is getting to be a repeat of one disaster after another.
  • You are finding you feel less and less in control over problems you once thought were under control.
  • You have noticed an increase in the frequency of the behaviors that you believe are a problem (lying, stealing, drinking, eating, gambling, etc.)
  • You have family members that have begun to show concern about problem areas in your life.
  • You feel that you are getting more of the things that you don’t want and less of the things you do want.
  • You have unresolved issues from your past that periodically resurface, much to your discomfort.

— Tim Timmons from his tape set “AA means Anyone Anonymous”