When lockdown orders first went into effect, the United States saw a 54 percent increase in alcohol sales. Alcohol consumption rose among adults over age 30 by 14 percent during the pandemic, with a 41 percent increase in women heavily drinking. Now, nearly one in five American adults is using heavy drinking to cope with stress from the pandemic.
These numbers are staggering. And we’d be naive to think they’re only out there, outside the church.
Alcohol consumption is an issue of Christian liberty. One believer’s conscious allows him or her to drink while another’s does not. We choose not to quarrel, or treat one another with contempt, or judge one another over this disputable matter (Rom. 14:1–4). The question for those of us whose conscious allows us to drink is this: considering the sharp rise in alcohol use around the country, are we willing to pause and take an honest look at ourselves, our friends, and our faith families?
The Church Cannot Ignore This Crisis
As Christians, it’s imperative that we give our nation’s sharp increase in alcohol abuse our attention for three reasons. First, the misuse of alcohol is detrimental to the bodies and souls of all people. It’s well documented that drinking even a little bit too much is related to numerous physical and mental health issues, and it can also unnecessarily put the alcohol user in dangerous situations. Considering the sharp rise in alcohol use around the country, are we willing to pause and take an honest look at ourselves, our friends, and our faith families? Click To Tweet
Second, the Bible tells us that our bodies belong to God. He is our Creator and we are mere stewards of what belongs to him (1 Cor. 6:19–20). While indulging in certain foods, drinks, or activities might be permissible for us, they may also be detrimental to us. As the Apostle Paul says, we should not be mastered or dominated by anything (1 Cor. 6:12).
Finally, and perhaps most moving, the misuse of alcohol is an attempt to find peace, healing, and wholeness that can only be found in Jesus. Numbing our minds to cope is a cheap counterfeit of the soul-deep satisfaction that can only come from a relationship with the God who made us and died to save us.
Admitting an Alcohol Dependency in Yourself
First, we must be willing to admit if we have any symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). I was at a recent gathering of ministry leaders where one man shared that he and his wife decided not to keep boxed wine in the house because the ample supply made them drink more than they intended to. Another woman said that she and her husband had a frank conversation about having too many evening drinks ever since lockdowns began. They, too, decided on some new boundaries.
Admitting to ourselves and sharing with others that we have a problem feels radical when it should really be very ordinary. Scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). May we be compelled by the truth that temptations gain strength in the dark but weaken in the light.
Making Room for Others to Admit a Dependency
Many churches begin their Sunday services with a liturgy made popular by Immanuel Church in Nashville, which warmly invites those who are weary, mourning, feel worthless, weak, in sin, and in need of a Savior to feel at home. This word of welcome is for all of us. We are all the sick that Jesus came to heal. The church should be the best and safest place to admit an unhealthy relationship with alcohol because we can offer one another true hope, authentic community, and the transformative healing of Jesus.The church should be the best and safest place to admit an unhealthy relationship with alcohol because we can offer one another true hope, authentic community, and the transformative healing of Jesus. Click To Tweet
Transparency begets transparency. As the ministry leaders described above did, may all of us share openly with one another our temptations, downfalls, and dark moments. We know this is for our own good, as “whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Fostering Supportive Fellowship
After walking closely with a few friends battling alcohol dependency over the last several years, I offer two observations. First, we need their voices and perspectives in the church. They’re refreshingly humble and raw. These friends know their need for their Savior and they’re quick to proclaim his mercy.Admitting to ourselves and sharing with others that we have a problem feels radical when it should really be very ordinary. Click To Tweet
Second, they often feel alone and ashamed. Even in Christian community there’s an assumption that alcohol is fun and fine, a must-have. I know my friends are frequently pressed, “Why aren’t you drinking? Here, have one with me!” Our fellowship settings are pre-set to discourage them from being open and successful in their battle.
Here are just a few ways Christians can create an atmosphere of support:
- Let’s consider how we talk about alcohol. We often frame it as a reward for a hard day or a requirement for a good time.
- Let’s consider how we share images of alcohol online. Would our social media feeds encourage or discourage a brother or sister who will wrestle the temptation to drink for the remainder of the day after seeing an alcohol-related post?
- Let’s consider how we host gatherings, making ample space for those who prefer to abstain. Let’s consider where we place alcohol and make non-alcoholic drinks abundant and prominently placed.
- Let’s consider being a safe, abstaining friend to others. There are a few women who know I will not drink alcohol if we attend the same function. They say it’s a relief to have an abstaining friend in a culture so fixated on drinking.
- Let’s consider how our friends who are trying to quit might be triggered. How can we help them make necessary changes? Perhaps exercise together instead of drinking together. Find a new hobby or read a book on habit formation together. Help them find a counselor or support group. Alcohol addictions are tenacious, so creative and untiring support is a must.
- Let’s consider how we can create a gospel atmosphere for our friends. For many who are trying to quit there will be relapses. As followers of Jesus, we will need to be full of grace and truth (John 1:14) and ready to respond to our friends when they fall. Each friend has unique needs and stumbling blocks, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all response.
In 2022, may we find our deepest delight in Jesus, and seek to be ministers of healing and hope to others.