Several weeks ago, while in Ohio, I had the privilege of attending a Cleveland Indians ballgame with my father. At the start of the game, the announcer at Progressive Field said, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the two most important words in all of sports.” But before he could say, “Play ball”, the concessions attendant in front of me yelled, “Beer here.” Unfortunately, in the game of life, the consumption of alcohol is becoming more frequent – especially in so-called Christian circles.
The Bible, however, from its very first mention of strong drink shows the loss of decency and honor that is associated with alcohol (Genesis 9:18-29). The second story (Genesis 19:30-36) about booze shows even further degradation. The Bible is clear that there are mental problems associated with alcohol use (Proverbs 31:4-5), as well as physiological problems (Proverbs 23:29-35).
Whenever a chemical is taken into the body, there will be a physiological reaction. Beverage alcohol is still ethyl alcohol, called ethanol in chemistry. Alcohol is one of the few substances that does not go through the usual digestive process even when taken into the digestive organs. Rather, it is absorbed directly and unchanged into the blood through the lining of the mouth and esophagus in tiny amounts, more through the stomach, and 70 to 80 percent through the small intestine. Within two or three minutes after ingestion the alcohol begins to be circulated through the body, including the brain. This shows the importance of the first drink, which the recovered alcoholic seeks to avoid, since it almost immediately affects one’s ability to judge or control whether one should have a second drink.
Alcohol, even in small amounts, affects every organ in the body the minute a person takes one drink. The more a person drinks, the more damage is done to the body. Alcohol changes brain cells, causing impaired physical coordination, memory loss, dulled senses, and brain damage. A chronic condition, Wenicke’s disease, is common in which eye movement is paralyzed and rapid mental deterioration occurs.
Alcohol stimulates the stomach to secrete gastric acid, which inflames the stomach lining, causing painful peptic ulcers. Alcohol eats up the stomach and intestines, causing bleeding and stomach cancer. In the heart, deterioration of the heart muscle occurs, resulting in strokes, high blood pressure, and heart attacks.
Similar to the destruction of the immune system in AIDS, alcohol abuse prevents white blood cells from fighting infection, increasing the risk of viral or bacterial infections. Alcohol also prevents the manufacturing of red blood cells, causing anemia.
Heavy drinking has been linked to cancer of the liver, lungs, pancreas, colon, rectum, and breasts. Even women who drink moderately have a 30 to 50 percent greater chance over non-drinkers of developing breast cancer.
In about one-third of all heavy drinkers, liver cells are destroyed and the organ is no longer able to process the nutrients in food. This liver disease, cirrhosis, is usually painless until the damage is too advanced to be treated successfully.
Pharmacologically, alcohol is classified as a drug that depresses the central nervous system, much as barbiturates, sedatives, and anesthetics do. It is not, as most people believe, a stimulant, and the popular image of the Saint Bernard plodding toward a snowbound victim with a rejuvenating cask of rum hanging from his neck is more for cartoons than reality. There is no question that after a drink or two an impression of warmth envelops the drinker. This is why drinking often leads to immodesty, as it did with Noah. He was uncovered within his tent. The warmth that seems to flow through the body when one drinks, however, is really on the surface of the skin. As the consumed alcohol is oxidized, the excess is picked up by the blood and brought to the skin, where it is released by nerves and enlarged capillaries.
As far as the supposed stimulation is concerned, this occurs only because alcohol affects those portions of one’s brain that control judgments and restraints. What one regards as being stimulated actually amounts to a depression of self-control that manifests itself in loud and rapid conversation or aggressive and uninhibited behavior. Thus, the principal effect of alcohol is to slow down the brain activity, and depending on what, how much, and how fast one drinks, the ultimate result is slurred speech, hazy thinking, slowed reaction time, dulled hearing, impaired vision, weakened muscles, and fogged memory. It would be somewhat difficult, then, for a Christian to ask God to bless this beverage to the nourishment of his body. Alcohol is a toxin; it is a poison.
And yet in the United States today, millions of habitual users of alcohol beverages cannot say they have gone one week without booze. Each year the alcoholic-beverages industry spends a significant percentage of its multi-billion dollar advertising budget on beer and wine commercials advancing the proposition that social drinking may lead to relaxation, fellowship, and even sex. But God says, “Wine is mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
We learn from Noah’s fall the danger of using wine and the awful evils that attend intemperance. It is surely significant and designed as a solemn warning that the first time wine is referred to in Scripture it is found associated with drunkenness, shame, and curse. Christians should be aware of other Christians, even clergymen, who advance the use of such a dangerous substance.