Alcohol Use and Abuse

Many people talk about needing a drink. But for the alcoholic, even one is too much. The misconceptions surrounding alcohol use and abuse can be confusing.

“I sure could use a drink.” This is often said at the end of a hard day’s work, a good fitness workout or when under emotional stress. An individual may say he needs a drink because he knows alcohol is a mood changer. And he knows the change is almost immediate.

If the reaction to alcohol were to take several hours, it would not be as appealing. In fact, it is the speed of mood change that increases the risk of alcohol abuse.

Being well-informed about the facts of alcohol use and abuse can go a long way in helping us use it properly. Understanding the common misconceptions may help you avoid the dangers of alcohol abuse.

Common misconceptions about alcohol use and abuse

Misconception: A couple of drinks can’t do me much harm.

Maybe not. But then, how much is too much?

Without getting into the scientific complexities of heredity, body weight, genetic background and tolerances, there are other signs you should consider:

  • Is drinking alcohol interfering with your marriage? (Ask your wife or husband—don’t just assume all is well.)
  • Is alcohol interfering in your family life? (Ask your children or relatives.)
  • Is alcohol interfering with your job?
  • Is alcohol involved in driving violations or seriously affecting your family budget?

If any (or all) of the above are true, then you are drinking too much! It controls you, you do not control it.

Can you go a day, a week or a month without a drink? Can you really take it or leave it? If the impulse is too strong and prevents you from exerting discipline over whether you drink, then it has become your master and you are its slave.

Alcohol abuse is destructive mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The sad experience of over 17.6 million American alcoholics proves this over and over again. While the Bible does not condemn the moderate use of alcohol (see our article “Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?”), millions of people make excuses and attempt to justify the abuse of alcohol.

Misconception: Big people can drink more. Right?

Not quite. Body weight is a factor, as the same amount of alcohol in the blood stream of a bigger person will be more diluted than in a smaller person. But the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level is what is important, not your body weight. It’s your liver that breaks down the alcohol, and it oxidizes about half an ounce an hour. This approximates a standard glass of beer, wine or spirits. You cannot control the rate at which your liver works. You can only control how much you drink.

Fear, stress, anger, fatigue or social gatherings with friends who are drinking heavily can make you more susceptible to drunkenness. Heavy drinking floods the system with alcohol, while the liver can only work at the same steady pace. The faster you drink, the greater the problem.

Misconception: Cheers. Here’s to your health.

Toasting to health may be popular and well-intentioned. But is drinking healthy? Perhaps not. While research shows that moderate use of alcohol will not damage good health and can even have certain benefits, constant overindulgence and going on drinking benders will create real physical damage.

Authorities say some of the following are health risks if we drink too much:

  • Ulcers. Alcohol irritates some stomachs, particularly if taken with medication or other drugs.
  • Irreversible liver damage and disorders like hepatitis.
  • Cancer. Abuse of alcohol increases the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • Malnutrition. Alcohol does have calories, so it generates some energy, but it provides very little nutrition.

Drinking to the point of drunkenness and the habitual abuse of alcohol can result in these and other physical problems, which are further complicated by the social, job and family problems mentioned above.

Misconception: I always know when to quit drinking—my speech slurs.

Do you realize how far this is down the road of intoxication? Consider these effects of different blood alcohol concentrations:

  • Up to 0.05 percent (one or two glasses), feelings may range from no effect to mild alterations of mood.
  • Between 0.05 and 0.10 percent, there are increased feelings of relaxation, sedation and euphoria. These feelings are “illusions,” because the attitude department of the brain has been put to sleep. Physical coordination is impaired and reaction time is longer.
  • Between 0.10 and 0.20 percent, there is further deterioration of motor control, judgment and reaction time. Speech may now slur, but the individual is now severely compromised by the alcohol.
  • Over 0.20 percent, the brain is well sedated. It is anesthetized, and the alcohol abuser has difficulty understanding what is going on around him and difficulty even standing or staying awake.
  • Over 0.40 to 0.60 percent, this much alcohol is usually fatal.

Misconception: Sure I can drive. No problem; it’s not far to go home.

Perhaps you’ve heard those statements before. Yet the facts are clear as to how severely alcohol does impair one’s ability to drive a motor vehicle. So why does the drinker still think he can drive competently?

First, the initial sensation of drinking dulls natural inhibitions and affects judgment. So he may feel relaxed, confident and fully in control. But it’s only an illusion, because alcohol has anesthetized the brain functions that control attitude.

With another couple of drinks, the next area of the brain to take a nap is the area that controls voluntary movement. By this time, the individual is at or well above the legal limits in most countries for driving a motor vehicle—0.05 to 0.08 percent. More drinks will further impair reaction time and judgment.

With a decreased ability to function comes an increase in bravado because natural inhibitions have been put to sleep. So, even though a person believes he can drive “as well as ever,” in reality he is entirely unable to do so. To get behind the wheel now is to endanger himself, his passengers and every other individual on the road. Remember—if someone has to comment on your ability to drive, there’s serious concern whether you should.

Alcohol can also:

  • Strip away inhibitions and ease social functions; yet too much can release aggression and pave the way for other social indiscretions.
  • Temporarily relieve pain; yet its toxic effects can result in even more painful health problems.
  • In the short term, alcohol may seem to help an individual deal with stress; yet in the long term, it will hinder the ability to deal with stress and will become a source of stress itself.

Misconception: I only drink a little when I am pregnant so it’s not a problem.

Do you know what even a little bit of alcohol can do to an unborn child? Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a disorder of permanent birth defects that occur in the offspring of women who drink during pregnancy. Studies reveal that even moderate consumption is linked with fetal damage.

Alcohol in the mother’s blood crosses the placental barrier. Since the fetus is only a fraction of the size of his mother, and since his organs, like the liver, are not fully developed, an amount of alcohol that the mother may not feel, or only slightly feel, can have a dramatic impact on her child.

Alcohol can stunt fetal growth, create distinctive facial stigmata, damage neurons and cause other physical, mental or behavioral problems. Fetal alcohol exposure is the leading known cause for mental retardation in the Western world. If you are pregnant, don’t drink—it is not worth the risks!

Misconception: I can sober up quickly.

Only time can sober you up. Food, coffee, a cold shower and fresh air only result in a well-fed, wide-awake and clean drunk! On average, the liver can only process about one standard drink each hour.

Since alcohol needs no digestion, moments after the first sip it passes through the walls of the stomach and small intestine directly into the bloodstream. A few minutes later it reaches the brain.

You may try any number of remedies or “old wives’ tales” about how to quickly sober up a drunk and make him fit to drive, but they won’t work. The only way a person can be free of the effects of too much alcohol is to allow the time needed for the liver to process the alcohol in his system.

Recognize the problem of alcoholism

The problem of alcoholism is widespread and affects people around the world. Alcoholism affects every race, socioeconomic strata and religion.

Figures from the World Health Organization put average alcohol consumption of U.S. adults at 7.3 liters a year. But Europe has the heaviest drinkers in the world. Central and Eastern European countries consume on average 14.5 liters of pure alcohol a year, with 12.4 liters in Western Europe and 10.4 liters in Nordic countries. Since many people drink moderately or not at all, the averages are skewed by those who abuse alcohol.

Millions of people are dominated by the bottle and reap terrible consequences to their health, family, friends and job.

Is there hope for the alcoholic?

Yes, there is hope, and there are many treatment and recovery programs available to provide the help an alcoholic needs. When combined with genuine repentance and the help of God, the alcoholic can overcome his addiction and work to repair the damage in his life.

The alcoholic also needs the loving support of family and friends. If you have a friend or loved one who is a slave to alcohol, how can you help?

  1. Don’t nag, complain, cry, beg, plead or berate the victim. Encourage him to make the necessary changes, and promise to walk beside him as he makes those changes.
  2. Do not keep the alcoholic’s life together by lying for him, covering up for irresponsibility, bailing him out and paying his fines or bills. Doing so prolongs the problem. Many times before an alcoholic can admit to his problem, he must hit “rock bottom.”
  3. As almost all family members are affected by the alcoholic, outside help should be found for everyone. Love toward addicted people must generally be “tough love” in order to help them make the imperative course correction to their lives.

It is vital to understand the facts about alcohol use and abuse—not the misconceptions. The proper use of alcohol in moderation can be enjoyable and acceptable. But the abuse of alcohol and drunkenness will always lead to pain, sorrow, shattered relationships and destroyed lives.

For the sake of your health and for the health of your relationships, if you choose to drink, be sure that you do so in moderation and responsibly.

For more about what God considers sin, see our section on “Sin.” For more on alcohol, see the articles “What Does the Bible Say About Alcohol,” “Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin,” and “Alcoholism.”

About the Author

Graemme Marshall

Graemme Marshall was a church pastor for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, before his death in 2015.

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