THINKING ABOUT DRINKING Some reflections on the use and abuse of alcohol


I’ve been interested in the news of the UK government’s revised guidelines on alcohol consumption which have cut the recommended drinking limits and even go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a safe level of drinking.

I don’t drink alcohol for several good reasons. For a start, there’s a history of serious alcoholism in my family – my grandmother was an alcoholic. So I’m going to play safe on this one and stick with good English Breakfast Tea. Then, of course, for much of my life I ministered in a part of the Christian Church that challenges its members to express their freedom in Christ by abstaining from alcohol. I’m more than happy to stand by that principle. And, as a canny Scot, I can think of better things to do with my money than – if you’ll forgive a crude use of the vernacular – pee it away against a wall.

Having said all that, I don’t want to be self-righteous or legalistic on this matter. I know many good people who enjoy a glass of wine with a meal. I don’t have a problem with that. I have no quarrel with them when they argue that the fruit of the vine is one of God’s good gifts and a source of legitimate pleasure when used in moderation. On the other hand, I have to confess that occasionally I have encountered some pious folk for whom abstinence from alcohol seemed to be the one litmus test of the holy life. They’d never dream of downing a jug of beer, but their critical spirits and gossiping tongues seemed to sit very easily with their religion. I’d rather spend a whole evening in a pub with some happy boozers then half an hour in the company of those pharisaical bigots.

But there are two things I feel strongly about. Firstly, the present culture of excessive drinking is a serious threat to the health of individuals and to the well-being of our society a whole. Clearly the country has a crisis on its hands and we cannot go on like this. Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s chief spin doctor and who has had to overcome his own problems with excessive drinking in the past, has warned of the dangers of ‘the normalisation of alcohol at all levels of society’. In a recent interview he goes on to say this:

‘Britain is a problem-drinking country. We need to stop and think which way we go because the problem is massive and we’re not facing up to it…Problem drinkers in this country? 1.6m. Number who get treated? 108,000. Drink-related hospital admissions? 1.2m. We spend more than £2bn on drug rehab but just 91m on alcohol treatment…It can’t go on but it’s getting worse. Liver disease is the only major disease that’s rising in the UK of all the OECD countries.’

Alastair Campbell is right. The nation needs to face up to this. And those who dismiss the government’s latest guidelines as a manifestation of the ‘nanny state’ are talking nonsense. They need to shut up, listen, and drink less for everybody’s sake.

The second thing is this. Things have changed dramatically among evangelical Christians on this issue in my lifetime. There was a time when you would find very few church leaders or even church members who drank alcohol. Now it’s unusual to have a meal with Christian friends where there isn’t a bottle of wine on the table. Again I need to say that I don’t have a problem with that. This is a matter on which individual Christians are free to make up their own mind and follow their conscience. But I’ll tell you what does get me angry – when I see some of my fellow-believers boasting about how much they can drink and forgetting that there are clear New Testament prohibitions regarding excessive drinking.

And what makes me mad – I mean really mad – is when those same fellow-believers accuse me of being bound by man-made rules and regulations and tell me I’m missing out on the freedom of the gospel. I remind them (very gently in my soft Glaswegian tones, of course!) that there has always been a place for a total abstinence witness amongst the people of God, that a society that is obsessed by alcohol needs to see from folk like me that it’s possible to be stone cold sober and still live a happy life, and that I’m expressing my freedom not to drink which, at the very least, deserves their respect.

There, I’ve got that off my chest. Now I need a nice cup of tea…

14 Responses

  1. Sheilagh Smith says:

    A welcome balanced read Chick. Thank you for being so ‘level’ and unbiased, accepting other people’s lifestyles and values. I, like you, have concerns about the culture emerging and the reputation we ‘Brits’ have abroad about overindulgence. Thank you for being honest, clear thinking and open. God bless you .

    • AnvildingChick says:

      Thanks for your comment Sheilagh. I think the boooze culture is a ticking time bomb in our society.

  2. Myra Dipper says:

    I am teetotal by choice, I don’t like alcohol

    However the booze culture needs to change, it causes so much damage to lives and property. I am not sure what will change attitudes to drinking to excess…….

    • AnvildingChick says:

      It won’t change easily or overnight. But whilst changing the law is not the whole answer, it is part pf the answer. We’ve seen what banning smoking in public places has done to improve life. Higher taxes on alcohol and stricter controls will make a difference

  3. Marilyn says:

    as usual Chick so well presented…thoughtful and non judgemental…tnx

    • AnvildingChick says:

      Thanks, Marilyn. Always good to hear from you. Keep checking out the site. I’ll try to make my weekly blogs interesting and relevant.

  4. Kim Whyard says:

    Until I worked as a Street Pastor I hadn’t realised just how serious and “mainstream” the binge drinking culture has become. Agree wholeheartedly that this is one of the most serious problems our society has yet isn’t being addressed.

    • AnvildingChick says:

      You’re right, Kim. And the problem is that isn’t like it was 50 years ago in a typical working class community where a man would get really drunk at the week-end and be sober the rest of the week. Now for too many people, the binging is happeninf much more frequently.

  5. Inga says:

    I agree with your comments in general. For Christians who drink alcohol, I guess the question I have always been interested in is, what is too much? How do you know you’re no longer under the influence of the HOLY spirit and you are allowing some other influence to be your marker? Conversely I suppose we could say that about food or anything potentially destructive in excess. For me, I’ve worked with alcoholics and watched their struggle even when they no longer want to drink, the destruction and devastation to themselves and their family is something I don’t think I want to risk for me and mine.

    • AnvildingChick says:

      Lot of sound sense in what you say, Inga. I would just reply that ‘what is too much?’ is a question we cannot escape in every area of life. I see people who would never dream of drinking alcohol but whose ample girth betrays the fact that they are eating too much food! And I’m forced to recognise that the Bible has as much to say about gluttony as about alcohol. I could go on – when I go shopping, how much is too much to spend, when I watch TV, how much is too much? etc. There are no easy answers to those questions.

      I take your point about the concern, sympathy and support we should show to those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism – an important duty for every Christian. But I think we need to be careful that we don’t label all moderate and disicplined drinkers as potential alcoholics

  6. Helen Rowland says:

    I do not drink alcohol by choice – because I like it.
    I thank God for the day I went to The Salvation Army (45 years ago). An amazing environment to give up drinking and enjoy serving God. There have been many wobbles along the way, and the devil is always laying in wait.
    The words for today are “The devil and me, we shan’t agree, Sing Glory Halelujah!

    • AnvildingChick says:

      I think you say something really important – that you don’t drink ‘by choice’. I’m always saddened when I hear Salvationists say, ‘I’m not allowed to drink’. That seems to me to deny the freedom of the gospel. Abstinence can only be a truly Christian virtue if it is a choice – an expression of our freedom in Christ. So a Salvationist abstains from alcohol not because TSA demands that they should but because she or he willingly chooses to accept that discipline.

  7. David Griffiths says:

    When I was a teenager I had a sip of a wide variety of alcoholic beverages – & enjoyed most of them! I then responded to an invitation at our Church Sunday school to ‘sign the pledge,’ & did so for the following reasons: I was upset & disappointed by seeing people I respected making prats of themselves when they had too much to drink. At that time I was thinking about going into Youth Work & felt this should have an impact on my lifestyle. Because I get thirsty very easily, I could see a very real possibility of developing an alcohol dependency. Nearly 60 years later, five decades or so have been spent in Ministry with the Methodist Church, I see no reason to change my position on this. I have spent a lot of time with people with alcohol problems- & taken the funeras of some of them. Like you, Chick, it distresses & disturbs me when Christians do not see this as an issue, & talk quite freely – often with humour – about their favourite tipples. I firmly believe 2 things are vital now in the current climate. (1) Alcohol-free ‘safe spaces’ in homes & Churches where people with alcohol problems are free from any pressures to have ‘just one.’ (2) Young Christians be invited to consider refraining from drinking alcohol as one of their disciplines of disciplship for their own & other people’s sakes

    • AnvildingChick says:

      I really like the two points you make at the end of your comment. Both have a lot of mileage in them.

Leave a Reply