Teens and Alcohol

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Anne was a quiet girl—somewhat shy, but very committed to doing the right thing. She had a deep faith and belief in God, and her mother had taught her from a young age about God’s truth. She believed in the seventh-day Sabbath and therefore, although she was good in sports, she was unable to play for her school teams because the coaches would not allow her to miss Friday night games and still participate. She just assumed she would find acceptance at her local church since they had sports, talent contests and other activities that would not conflict with her religious beliefs.

 But somehow Anne never seemed to fit in. She wasn’t accepted by the “cool” group of teens, so she felt rejection both at school and at church. Then an event happened that seemed to change all that. The teens were having an activity and the pastor and youth leaders were hosting it. Before long the adults were offering the teens alcohol. Anne knew it was against the law to drink away from her parents, but everyone else was doing it, so she thought, “Why not? I can’t fit in any other way. Perhaps they’ll accept me if I do this.” So she gave in and began drinking. The teens soon began to find ways to get alcohol on their own. And the more Anne drank, the less shy she felt and it seemed she belonged to something after all—even if it was a group of teens breaking the law.

Anne (not her real name) felt those early experiences with alcohol were the answer to her prayers. Alcohol allowed her to fit in—to be the person she wanted to be. Suddenly that scared young girl seemed to fade behind her and she felt “cool” and accepted. When asked why the pastor and youth leaders would serve alcohol to minors, she said they thought the teens were going to do it anyway, so why not let them do it while the adults were there? The problem was, once some of the teens started drinking, they couldn’t stop. Anne didn’t really know what she was getting into and didn’t realize that she would be one of those who couldn’t stop. Once she started drinking, she found she couldn’t stop drinking until she became drunk.

As Anne headed into her late teen years, her drinking led to other things— marijuana, pain pills by the handfuls and other hard drugs. She gave no thought to the repercussions that would follow her actions. Before long she had dropped out of church, become agnostic and headed further down the dark road of addiction. Then as she headed into her 20s, her conscience began to work and she found she had to drink even more to cover her guilt.

Thankfully as she got older, married and had more responsibilities, she began to come to her senses. But it still took a couple of overdoses—potentially life-ending experiences—before she realized she had to quit or die. What an agonizing time she had getting off all the things to which she had become addicted! But with the support of a loving husband and a support group, Anne has worked her way back to sobriety, is drug-free and has rekindled her love for God. She has some scars from those years in the dark pit of addition, but she is grateful now for her sobriety and for her family.

Thankfully, Anne’s story has a happy ending. But not all stories of addiction end this way and she would be the first to tell young people that what you think can’t happen to you can and does happen—with all too much regularity.

Measuring alcoholism

 Alcohol is a volatile subject. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are reported to have cost the United States $148 billion in 1992 (National Institute on Drug Abuse). And any person who knows anything about what’s going on among youth in the United States knows that it’s not a question of whether teens are a part of that cost, but a question of how much. The situation is similar in many other countries of the world and is of great concern to those who work with youth.

In February 2002, a report was released by the National Center on Addition and Substance Abuse that said young people between the ages of 12 and 20 consume 25 percent of the alcohol in the United States, based on data from 1998. That’s a staggering figure, which was immediately challenged. A day or two later, the agency acknowledged that they had indeed made a mistake by not including an adjustment in their calculations. They revised the figure down to 11.4 percent—much better, but still cause for concern since it is higher than the 10 percent figure from past research.

Of course we shouldn’t determine what we do based upon the percentages of what others do. The Bible says this is foolish (2 Corinthians 10:12 2 Corinthians 10:12For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
American King James Version×
). What we need to do is learn what God says about alcohol and conduct ourselves accordingly.

God’s instruction

 God does not condemn alcohol. In fact, when giving instructions about keeping one of His feasts, He says to use funds saved for that occasion to buy “wine or similar drink” (Deuteronomy 14:26 Deuteronomy 14:26And you shall bestow that money for whatever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household,
American King James Version×
). The first miracle Jesus Christ performed was turning water into wine at a marriage feast in Cana (John 2:1-10 John 2:1-10 [1] And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: [2] And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. [3] And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine. [4] Jesus said to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? my hour is not yet come. [5] His mother said to the servants, Whatever he said to you, do it. [6] And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. [7] Jesus said to them, Fill the water pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. [8] And he said to them, Draw out now, and bear to the governor of the feast. And they bore it. [9] When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, [10] And said to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but you have kept the good wine until now.
American King James Version×
). And the night before He died, He included wine in the New Testament Passover service. If all alcohol consumption is wrong, the Bible would not contain these examples.

So why get concerned about teens and alcohol? What’s the big deal? Part of the answer to these questions is that God does soundly condemn drunkenness. The book of Proverbs has numerous passages that tell of the troubles that befall those who get drunk. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:18 Ephesians 5:18And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
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to “not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery” (Revised Standard Version). Drunkards are included in a list of those who will not be in God’s Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 [9] Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, [10] Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
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; Galatians 5:19-21 Galatians 5:19-21 [19] Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, [20] Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, jealousies, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, [21] Contentions, murders, drunkenness, revelings, 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.
American King James Version×

Not only does alcohol impair one’s ability to function and reason at peak condition, it also lowers inhibitions and is often associated with illegal or immoral activity. One report says 31.9 percent of youth under 18 in long-term, state-operated juvenile institutions in 1987 were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the arrest.

A survey of high school students in the United States found that 18 percent of females and 39 percent of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is stoned or drunk (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Web site). The same site says it has been estimated that the total cost of alcohol use by youth—including traffic crashes, violent crime, burns, drownings, suicide attempts, fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol poisonings and treatment—is more than $58 billion per year. That is nearly ⅓ of the total cost for all alcohol abuse and alcoholism in the United States, yet youth do not comprise that large a portion of the population.

The Focused Education Committee of the United Church of God has also prepared a series of videotapes on alcoholism. If you would like further information about the subject, you can view the video on-line at http://www.ucg.org/abc/alcoholism/

Research also shows that early use and abuse of alcohol is more damaging than similar abuse later in life. That does not condone abuse at a later age. However, people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin at 21. While alcohol itself is not evil, it takes a mature person to be able to say “enough.” It is often hard for adults to make that right choice. It is even harder for a teen. This is why the proper use of alcohol is best taught by the right example of parents in the home.

 Because alcohol can have such negative effects when misused, some groups have chosen to “demonize” all alcohol. Ad campaigns have been launched that use the term “drug” loosely in association with alcohol. The psychological association is made with illegal drugs. Ads like the one to the left are aimed at young children who cannot rightly make the distinction between alcohol and illegal drugs. It is admirable to want to help teens and adults avoid the problems that come with the misuse of alcohol and, in truth, alcohol is a drug just like aspirin and many other substances. However, such tactics that hide the distinction between legal and illegal use of alcohol conflict with the Bible’s instruction and can promote a phobia about all use of alcohol. It’s much better to simply tell the truth—that God approves of the proper use of alcohol, but condemns the misuse of it.

Treat alcohol with respect

Alcohol does not need to be demonized, but it needs to be respected and treated carefully. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are terribly destructive problems all over the world—and attack both old and young. Again, to put it simply, alcohol is dangerous when not used in moderation. It can kill you even if you are only around those who abuse it and don’t drink yourself. A few years ago a carload of teens from the high school where my children attended were coming home from a party where alcohol was being consumed. A girl who had not been drinking was sleeping in the back seat when the driver lost control of the car. The driver survived. The girl in the back seat was killed.

There is no way this article can cover all that could be said about alcohol. However, one more factor should be considered. One of the commands God recorded for His followers in the New Testament is to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1 Romans 13:1Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
American King James Version×
), which would obviously include obeying the laws about purchasing and consuming alcohol.

Young people who are concerned about building and strengthening their relationship with God will recognize this as another reason to not go along with any pressures others may put on them to break those laws. They will resist that peer pressure out of respect and love for God who offers them blessings and eternal life.

Anne struggled with the fact that people she respected broke the law and served her and the other teens alcohol. Thankfully, her faith in God is now restored and she understands that the wrong actions of those she trusted in the past did not mean God had changed or disappeared. Now that she is older, she better comprehends how to separate human shortcomings from the constancy of God. She has also realized that her abuse alcohol was a result of her feelings of insecurity and peer pressure.

Following God’s laws in such situations might make you think you don’t fit in at times, but they will help you avoid the problems and the anguish that Anne experienced. Her advice to teens facing the same issues? “Resist the temptation to misuse alcohol, and avoid the pain. You may feel out of place for a while as many teens do in the maturation process, but in the long run you will be much better off for your choice.” YU

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