Alcoholism is a Choice, Not a Disease

For those who want to be helped with their alcoholism, there must be a large measure of honesty. Honesty begins by not thinking of oneself as a victim, because, as it is alleged, alcoholism is currently viewed as a disease. That alcoholism is a disease is a medical theory. A theory is not a scientific fact. The disease theory of alcoholism was first proposed in 1784 by Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, USA.

A serious challenge to the disease theory came with the publication of a study conducted by D. L. Davies in 1962. Dr. Davies followed up on seven alcohol abusers and found that some of them were able to revert to “controlled drinking.” He addressed the main issue as to how someone suffering an alleged “disease”, which is supposed to lead to uncontrollable drinking, can manage to drink controllably. It is a good inquiry.

Between 1980 and 1991, medical organizations worked together to establish policies regarding their positions on the disease theory. The policies of the American Medical Association, formed through a general consensus of the federation of state, and specialty medical societies within their House of Delegates, state, in part: “The AMA endorses the proposition that drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases and that their treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice.” Again, note that a “proposition” is not a proven conclusion. A “general consensus” is not a scientific fact.

It is interesting that in a 1988 United States Supreme Court decision on whether alcohol dependence is a condition for which the United States Veterans Administration should provide benefits, Associate Justice Byron R. White’s statement echoed the District of Columbia Circuit’s finding that there is “a substantial body of medical literature that even contests the proposition that alcoholism is a disease, much less that it is a disease for which the victim bears no responsibility.” Justice White also wrote, “Indeed, even among many who consider alcoholism a “disease” to which its victims are genetically predisposed, the consumption of alcohol is not regarded as wholly involuntary.” In other words the United States Veteran’s Administration does not have to pay people who have abused alcohol.

Also, the United States Social Security Administration no longer makes disability payments to individuals for whom substance use disorders are a material aspect of their disability.

Programs such as Rational Recovery reject the “disease model”. Rational Recovery was founded in 1986 by Jack Trimpey, a California licensed clinical social worker inviting individuals to hold themselves accountable for their behavior.

What is indisputable is that the results of medical research have been used both in support of, and against, the disease theory of alcoholism. While both positions could be wrong, they cannot both be correct. More research is needed in the medical community.

The Biblical term for alcoholism, is drunkenness. Drunkenness is a state of voluntary excessive drinking, which the Bible condemns and calls a work of the flesh. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19) The Bible commands people not to be drunk. “And be not drunk.” (Eph. 5:18)

I think a good argument could be made that if idolatry, witchcraft, hating, and anger, are not “diseases”, then logically neither is drunkenness.

Honest Christians who want to help an alcoholic need to stay with biblical language. God calls excessive drinking “drunkenness”; society calls it a disease, and labels that “disease”, alcoholism. If alcoholism is a disease, it is a disease needlessly acquired by an act of the will. It is the only disease that requires a license to propagate it. It is the only disease that is bottled and sold. It is the only disease that requires an outlet to spread it. It is the only disease that is habit-forming. It is the only disease socially acceptable. It is the only disease that is advertised. It is the only disease without germ, or viral cause, and for which there is no human, corrective medicine.

No, drunkenness, or alcoholism, is not a disease. Rather it is self- inflicted, foolish behavior, and, it is sin in the sight of God. It is self-indulgence behavior,and harmful to self and to others. Individuals only hurt themselves by calling drunkenness by another name. Labeling a person an alcoholic might mitigate feelings of guilt and responsibility, but then, that is not helpful.

The Primary Goal for Alcohol Addiction

The primary goal in the treatment of drunkenness, or alcoholism, is total abstinence. Among alcoholics with otherwise good health, social support, and motivation, the likelihood of recovery is excellent. Individuals who do not call upon the name of the Lord, individuals with poor social support, poor motivation, or psychiatric disorders, tend to relapse within a few years of treatment. Their last state is worse than their first. For these people, success is measured by longer periods of abstinence, reduced use of alcohol, better health, and improved social functioning.

Accepting Personal Responsibility

Treatment for alcohol addiction can begin only when the drunkard, or alcoholic, accepts the fact that the problem exists, and agrees to stop drinking. Every person must understand that alcoholism is curable. However, a person must be fully motivated to change.

Four Stages of Treatment

The first stage in treating an alcoholic is to present the gospel. The church must not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” (Rom. 1:16)

The church should also make every effort to warn people of the danger of becoming a drunkard, or an alcoholic. In another day, and in another era, the church took a stronger stance against liquor than it does today. Evangelist Billy Sunday preached against alcoholic consumption in any form. “I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the liquor traffic. I have been, and will go on, fighting that damnable, dirty, rotten business with all the power at my command. I shall ask no quarter from that gang, and they shall get none from me. After all is said that can be said on the liquor traffic, its influence is degrading on the individual, the family, politics and business and upon everything that you touch in this old world. For the time has long gone by when there is any ground for arguments of its ill effects. All are agreed on that point. There is just one prime reason why the saloon has not been knocked into hell, in that is the false statement that the saloons are needed to help lighten the taxes. It costs fifty times more for the saloon than the revenue derived from it. I challenge you to show me where the saloon has ever helped business, education, church morals or anything we hold dear.” (The Best of Billy Sunday)

On the matter of drinking in general, every Christian should be persuaded in their own mind, and guided by the Holy Spirit. There is liberty of conscience (Deut. 14:26; John 2:1-11; Rom. 14:5-8; 1 Cor. 11:25-26). The larger point is that the church must not hesitate to preach against drunkenness. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18)

The second state in treating an alcoholic is detoxification (detox). Medical supervision is advised during this stage of treatment, because sudden detox can result in withdrawal seizures, hallucinations, delirium tremens (DT), and in some cases may result in death. Most local churches are not sufficiently staffed to handle individuals who need detox. Extreme care should be taken by the church before beginning a specialized ministry to alcoholics.

However, there should be no hesitation to preach the gospel to everyone in the local church with gospel exhortations to live soberly. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

The third stage in treating an alcoholic is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation involves counseling, and behavior modification, in order to give the recovering alcoholic the skills and motives needed for maintaining sobriety.

The fourth stage in treating an alcoholic is to maintain their sobriety. The success of this stage necessitates an alcoholic to be self-motivated. An eternal external watch is not practical, or possible. Every person is responsible before God for their own heart. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10) Certainly the church can help a weaker brother or sister struggling with an addiction to alcohol by arranging a support group, encouraging attendance at worship, and having private Bible studies with a Mentor to be accountable to.

Realistically, because detoxification does not stop the craving for alcohol, recovery is often difficult to maintain. For a person in an early stage of alcoholism, discontinuing alcohol use may result in some withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, and poor sleep. Withdrawal from long-term dependence may bring the uncontrollable shaking, spasms, panic, and hallucinations of DTs. Again, it is important for the church to work with the medical profession, when possible, in ministering to those addicted to alcohol.

Because an alcoholic remains susceptible to relapse, and potentially becoming dependent again, the goal of recovery is total abstinence. Recovery often needs a wide range of options, which may include education programs, group therapy, family involvement, and participation in self-help groups. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most well-known of the self-help groups, but other approaches have also proved successful. Many local churches have found a way to minister to alcoholics for their good, and for the glory of God.

Proper Nutrition and Diet for Alcoholism

Poor nutrition is often associated with heavy drinking and alcoholism. Because an ounce of alcohol has more than 200 calories but no nutritional value, ingesting large amounts of alcohol tells the body that it does not need more food. That is not true. Alcoholics are often deficient in vitamins A, B complex, and C; folic acid; carnitine; magnesium, selenium, and zinc, as well as essential fatty acids and antioxidants. Restoring such nutrients aid in a healthy recovery and are an important part of any detox program. In the matter of nutrition, the Church should excel, for Christians are commanded to feed those in need. “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” (Matt. 25:35)

Walking Down the Road of Recovery to Avoid a Relapse

Total abstinence is the most crucial, and probably the most difficult step in a person’s recovery from alcoholism. To learn to live without alcohol, specific steps must be taken to move down the road of recovery.

The first step is to stay away from people, and places, that make drinking the norm. New, non-drinking friends must be found. Christians must be careful not to cause a person to stumble. (1 Cor. 13:1)

The second step is to unite with a group that focuses attention on the Word of God and on helping others. The main objective is to stop the addict from obsessing with themselves. As long as people focus upon themselves, their problems, their needs, and their own bad behavior, there will be little or no progress. It is only by thinking of others that we die to self. “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:7-8)

The third step is to enlist the help of family and friends. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” (Eccl. 4:9-10)

The fourth step is to replace every negative dependence on alcohol with positive dependencies such as a new hobby, or volunteer work. “Let him turn away from evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.” (1 Peter 3:11 NKJV)

The fifth step in walking down the road to recovery is to start exercising. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that provide a natural high. Even a walk after a meal can be peaceful.

The sixth step is to learn to lean on Jesus, moment by moment. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” (John 15:4)

“Learning to lean
Learning to lean
I’m learning to lean on Jesus
Finding more power than I’d ever dreamed
I’m learning to lean on Jesus.”

Helen H. Lemmel, 1922




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