A Christian Perspective of the Systemic Outcomes of Cigarette Alcohol and Drug Addictions Part 2

The nerve-soothing effect of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs becomes a way of hiding from the emotional or physical distress for many people, including those in the Christian community.

The prevalence of cigarette, alcohol, and drug problems in the American population as a whole is quite astounding. As Christians, we are not immune to these problems. Some Christians have jokingly said that coffee, chocolate, and colas (caffeine) are the Christians drug of choice. But alarmingly more and more Christians are turning to much more addictive substances. The nerve-soothing effect of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs becomes a way of hiding from the emotional or physical distress for many people, including those in the Christian community. Instead of seeking solace in the Word of God and from Christ, they often seek comfort futilely elsewhere. Addiction results from a prolonged use of and too much use of the substance of choice in an attempt to escape the underlying discomforts of life. Some of the effects of these addictions are depression, tolerance, withdrawal, sickness, overdosing, and sometimes even a life of crime to support the habit. When users constantly think about the substance, their frame of mind and actions in both family and occupational settings upsets their family life and their employee effectiveness. It also separates them from God because of their habitual lifestyle and unrepentant behavior choices. Addictions begin and end with a choice of behavior. Only when Christians and others connect their behavior choices with the consequences of those sinful behaviors, can they make the choice to end it. Overindulgence of any kind can become a sinful behavior when it becomes more important to us than doing what we know God wants us to do. Often Christians began their sinful behavior before they became Christians, and continue to struggle with their addictions afterwards. Becoming a Christian does not negate the desire for or the consequences of addictions, but does give us a spiritual outlet to help us deal with and become free of our addictions. The first step in overcoming addictions is to recognize that it is a problem both to themselves and others around them. In light of this, Christians especially need to be more aware of the consequences of addictions.

Addiction to nicotine from cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco is one of the United States main public health concerns. Tobacco use continues to be the most common cause of avoidable disease and death here in the United States. As Christians, we believe our bodies are the place of worship of the Lord, and as such, we should take care of our bodies. We need to choose to avoid these health problems by not smoking. Most adult smokers started smoking before eighteen years of age. Over a third of these adults will die early of a smoking related disease. Smoking is highly associated with cancer and is the main cause of lung and heart diseases. Smoking makes existing medical problems even worse. The younger people are when they begin smoking, the worse it is on their health and the harder it is to quit. Tobacco is often the first step for many people, which often leads down the path of alcohol and/or drug abuse. Teens who smoke are more likely to make other dangerous decisions such as not using seat belts, getting into fist fights, carrying weapons, and having unsafe sex at an earlier age. Teenagers most at risk for tobacco use have family or friends who smoke, downplay its harmful effects, have fewer coping skills, use smoking to ease stress, have self esteem issues and frequent depression problems, drop in academic accomplishment (especially girls), and/or suffer from eating disorders. Girls are especially influenced by cigarette advertisements that relate smoking to being thin. As Christians, we need to defeat this false representation and teach girls that they are beautiful just like they are, thin or otherwise. As Christians, we also believe that our children are the heritage of the Lord, and should treat them as such, avoiding personal behaviors that would either set a bad example for them or endanger them. Women who smoke during pregnancy often have babies with lower birth weight and their infants may fail to thrive. Smoking also causes repeated and severe ear infections in young children who are often around secondhand smoke.

Christians also sometimes have trouble with the overindulgence of alcohol. Drinking alcohol is not sinful in and of itself, but the overindulgence of it is sinful. The Proverbs plainly tell us that strong drink is a trap and that overindulging in it is not for God’s people. There are three types of drinking behavior that are associated with social problems: intoxication, regular heavy consumption, and alcohol dependence. Intoxication problems are drunk driving, personal accidents, alcohol poisoning, and interpersonal violence. Some regular heavy consumption problems are health problems, family problems, absenteeism from work, and financial problems. Alcohol Dependence problems include psychological problems and withdrawal problems. Some people may not believe these alcohol-related problems happen within the Christian community, but there are certainly alcoholics and other heavy drinkers in our church roles. Though these kinds of drinkers tend to have many, often severe, problems, the total impact on society as a whole is the toll on regular, heavy drinkers, added to the results of their intoxication. There are so many heavy drinkers in the U.S. that together, they cause most of the harm done in our society, not to mention in our church families.

Christian young people are certainly not immune to the destructive influences of these worldly practices, either. The highest occurrence of alcohol dependence is found in young adults age 25 or younger. Though alcohol dependence is found more in young men, who live alone, alcohol dependence is also high among female adults, who still live with a parent, and who often enable them to continue in their behavior. Drug dependence is high among adult men and women, who still live with a parent. Single parents with children also have fairly high rates of alcohol dependence, probably because there’s little or no accountability to another person. As Christian parents, we should never enable our children to continue in this behavior without suffering the consequences, or the behavior will likely continue and get worse. A little tough love may be in order here. Alcohol and drug dependence are both considerably higher in the unemployed, so Christian parents who have an unemployed child still living with them should not give them discretionary money to support their addiction. We can provide for their basic necessities without supporting their addiction.

Work problems related to alcohol abuse include absenteeism, reduced efficiency and accidents. Problem drinkers take up to four times as much time off work than other employees, resulting in a cost to industry of several hundred million dollars a year. The workplace suffers a large part of the social cost of alcohol abuse through lost production. The total economic cost of alcohol and drug abuse includes substance abuse treatment and prevention costs as well as other health care costs, costs associated with reduced job productivity or lost wages, and other costs to society such as crime and social welfare. The government has to deal with most of these costs, with the abusers and their families having to deal with the rest. Churches and shelters often have to help the unemployable alcohol abuser and their families when they loose their jobs. There can also be other occupational problems and alcohol related accidents, including impaired work performance and judgmental skills, along with increased risk and severity of accidents. Accidents remain the most common cause of death in people under 30, and are also a leading cause of injury and ill health. Alcohol is a contributing factor in about a quarter of all accidents. It is a contributing cause in more than half of all fatal car accidents. Almost a third of pedestrians killed in road accidents are above the legal limit for driving and even more have been drinking some alcohol. Social attitudes to drinking are important to actions being taken to bring about a decrease in drunk driving. Alcohol may also be a contributory factor in one third of all domestic accidents. An unknown number of accidents to children happen when the adults responsible for their welfare have been drinking. A high proportion of fire deaths occur as a result of the combination of alcohol, smoking and inflammable materials in furniture, the alcohol both increasing the chance of falling asleep with a lighted cigarette and also impairing the victim's ability to escape once the fire has started. About a third to one half of all drownings are estimated to be alcohol related, rising in the 20-30 age group. Alcohol increases the risk of entering the water, while at the same time reducing the ability of that person to survive a potential drowning.

Alcohol abuse is also a contributing factor in many marital and family problems. At least a third of all divorces cite excessive drinking by one partner as a contributing cause of the marriage break-up. Close to one half of all problems brought to family court in the U. S. involve alcoholism. A third of problem drinkers report marital discord associated with their drinking. When marriage and divorce is concerned, it becomes a spiritual problem as well. Spouses sometimes feel trapped in a marriage, where alcohol abuse is a problem because of their religious and cultural viewpoints. The children placed on child protection registers as having been abused or neglected where alcohol is involved ranges from one third to over one half of them. Children of alcoholic parents have higher rates of health, behavioral and emotional problems. Truancy, poor school performance, anti-social behavior, delinquency, difficulty in forming relationships, and psychiatric problems including depression are just a few. They are also at increased risk of abusing alcohol or other drugs themselves in later life. Christian parents, who have spouses that abuse alcohol, need to be willing to lovingly confront their spouses with the truth of their alcohol problem and seek to get them help before going to divorce court. We should not help them hide their problem, while enabling them to continue in the behavior. The truth is what sets us free.

The physical and sexual effects of alcohol consumption on the individuals within our society are troublesome, as well. We, as Christians, need to be aware of the possible reproductive and fertility complications of drinking in both males and females. God told us to be fruitful and multiply, and most Christians do want to have a family at some point, so it would be wise to take note of these difficulties, as the reproductive system of both males and females are often affected. In men, there can be a loss of pubic hair, a loss of libido, reduced potency, shrinkage in size of testes and penis, decreased sperm counts and even infertility. In women, there can be sexual difficulties, menstrual irregularities, and shrinkage of breasts and external genitalia. Christian women should especially be aware that there can also be fetal deformities and fetal alcohol syndrome in infants born to even minimal alcohol drinkers and that there can also be physical, emotional, and behavioral developmental delays in children of alcoholics. Also young children who are allowed to drink or accidentally drink their parents’ alcohol may experience hypothermia, low blood sugar levels, and depressed respiration, and can also have interactions between the alcohol and their medications, with an increased likelihood of unwanted side effects, and a decrease in the effectiveness of their medicines.

Many Christians are adult children of alcoholics. These adult children are often considerably affected by their parents drinking, with one fifth of adult Americans having lived with an alcoholic while growing up. The Bible teaches us that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children up to the third and fourth generation. Children of alcoholics have a much greater risk for having emotional problems than those whose parents were not alcoholics. Alcoholism runs in families and children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics. Most adult children of alcoholics have suffered some form of neglect or abuse. They may have a variety of problems including guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, confusion, anger, depression, and the inability to have close relationships. They may even see themselves as the cause of their parents’ drinking. As a child they may have worried constantly about the situation at home, fearing the alcoholic parent would become sick or injured, and may also have feared fights and violence between the parents. Parents may have given them the message that it was an awful secret to be kept in the family. The child, being ashamed of the situation, likely did not invite many friends home and was probably afraid to ask anyone for help. The adult child often does not trust others, having an inability to have close relationships because of having been disappointed so much by the drinking parent. The alcoholic parent had likely inconsistently changed from being a loving parent to an angry one, no matter how the child behaved. The child probably felt lonely and helpless to change the situation. The adult child sometimes feels anger at the alcoholic parent for drinking, and may even be angry at the non-alcoholic parent for lack of support and protection. Adult children of alcoholics suffer from a lack of close relationships, withdrawal from their peers, frequent physical complaints, abuse of drugs or alcohol themselves, aggression toward their own children, and depression or suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Not only are children influenced by the examples their parents set for them, but today, most children have seen so many media presentations that encourage drinking, smoking, and the use illicit chemical drugs that they have come to believe that alcohol and drug use is acceptable. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs is all too common during adolescence, even with Christian young people. Unfortunately, teenagers don’t often see the link between their actions and the consequences of those actions. They also tend to feel immune to the problems that adults experience. Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the likelihood of using more dangerous drugs which can cause significant harm to themselves and others. Teens use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, to reduce stress, because it feels good, to feel grown up or to fit in. Teenagers most at risk for having serious alcohol and drug problems are those with a family history of substance abuse, those who are depressed, those who have self-esteem issues, and who feel like they don’t fit in. Teenagers abuse a variety of drugs, both legal and illegal. Legally available drugs include alcohol, prescribed medications, inhalants and over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications. The most commonly used illegal drugs are marijuana (pot), stimulants (cocaine, crack, and speed), opiates, heroin, and designer drugs (Ecstasy). The use of these illegal drugs is increasing, especially among younger teens. The use of marijuana and alcohol in the high school years has become much too common, even in the Christian community. Christian parents need to be aware that their child may face extreme peer pressure to try out some of these substances and they are not immune to this influence, just because their Christians. Drug use is associated with a variety of negative social consequences, including increased risk of serious drug use later in life, school failure, and poor judgment which may put teens at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide. Teenage alcohol and drug abuse and the related poor judgment often results in a cycle of self-esteem issues and irresponsible behaviors. More than half of the estimated costs of drug abuse were associated with drug-related crime. These costs included lost productivity of victims and incarcerated perpetrators of drug-related crime, lost legitimate work due to drug-related careers; and other costs of drug-related crime, including Federal drug traffic control, property damage, police, legal, and corrections services. Most of the remaining costs resulted from premature deaths, lost productivity due to drug-related illness, and health care expenses.

Some of the things that influence the levels of national consumption of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs include cultural and religious traditions and stigmas, the legal availability, the number of licensed premises, along with the cost of the substances and consumer buying power. The amount of harm caused by these ills in our society tends to rise and fall with the level of use in the U.S. The more these are used in our society, the higher the level of harm to our society. Their use is known to be associated with a wide range of social problems, from crime to absenteeism and inefficiency at work. Almost a quarter of all assaults occur near places of public entertainment where alcohol and drugs are present, with under-age drinkers often being involved in the violence and disorder. Both perpetrators and victims of violence tended to be young adult males in the 18-30 age range, who are manual workers or unemployed. Problem drinkers and drug users have a very high rate of deaths from violence, including suicide. But alcohol or drugs are not always noted as a contributing cause of deaths. The total number of deaths caused by alcohol and drugs is much greater than the number actually given to specific alcohol or drug causes. Alcohol and drugs contribute to deaths from a range of other causes, including accidents, suicide and other forms of violence. The suicide rate for problem drinkers is significantly higher than that of the general population. Almost a third of people who commit suicide are excessive drinkers and/or drug users. Suicide attempts are often indicative of deeper spiritual problems, with drinking and drug use being a way to dull the consciousness of what is truly the problem. Often this masks the emotional pain of some earlier abuse, such as childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse or rape. Christians should be aware of these underlying causes of alcohol and drug use, and be willing to help others explore these latent causes and heal from them both physically and spiritually. Often those who were abused in some way have deep spiritual issues, concerning their trust in God and other human beings. The Christian community needs to be willing to reach out to those caught up in the cycle of addiction and show them that they have a choice in their behavior and that they can know the truth and that truth will set them free.

Reference: Addiction and Grace, Gerald G. May

©2003 Kimberly Hartfield


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