By Don Umphrey
(Scriptural references from the NIV.)
What should we tell our children and teens about alcohol and drugs?
Perhaps you can’t share first-hand experiences about them, but I can. I boozed myself to the brink of suicide at age 27, despite growing up going to church. Through God’s grace, it’s now been 49 years since my last drink.
Based on my experience and what I read in the Bible, here’s what I would tell pre-teens and early teens: “If you try alcohol or drugs, there’s a good chance that you will like them.”
That’s probably not what you were expecting. But it’s the truth, and the way it worked in my life.
The Seeming Upside of Alcohol
I was shy about talking to girls in high school and concerned about what I perceived as my lack of popularity. These problems disappeared when I started drinking beer after football season my senior year. Suddenly, I was the wild-and-crazy guy I wanted to be and invited to all the in-crowd parties.
Alcohol seemed to do for me what I could not do for myself. In other words in was my false god—my idol!
Here is the biblical basis for my recommendation that alcohol and drugs may be first bring effects that seem positive. Hebrews 11:25 notes that it is better for the people of God to be mistreated rather than to “enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Proverbs 23:31 warns, “Do not gaze a wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly.” Though it may both look and taste good… “In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Proverbs 23:32).
Believing the Lie?
Jesus called Satan “… a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Is the source of evil going to tell the truth, and say, “Here is some poison for you to drink?” No, he’s going to make is seem wonderful at first. But if we keep on using or drinking, the final result can be disastrous and/or deadly.
If Satan didn’t put a chocolate coating over poison, how could he get anyone to willingly swallow it?
Everyone wants desperately to say the right things to young people who may be led astray. But sometimes we try so hard to dissuade that we lose credibility with them, and our words may have the opposite effect.
How to Lose Credibility
Following are a series of statements we as adults, might feel like saying. And after each statement is a possible result.
“Christians just don’t do that.”
The young person hearing this subsequently experiments with alcohol or drugs. Since he or she is doing something Christians don’t do, the young person may conclude that it is necessary to make a choice between Jesus Christ and the mind-altering substance.
“People who use alcohol or drugs are sorry. Their lives are filled with trouble. “
What does the young person think when he or she sees the most popular, most socially desirable people from school drinking beer or smoking marijuana? It leads to one of two possibilities: 1) The most socially desirable people at school are sorry and their lives are filled with trouble, or 2) Adults who say these things don’t know what they’re talking about.
"If you try that, you may become an alcoholic or drug addict.”
What happens if the young Christian tries the alcohol or drug and doesn’t feel like an alcoholic or addict? You may be viewed as another ill-informed person using scare tactics.
“If you do those things and drive, you may get in a wreck and kill yourself and others.”
What does the young Christian think if he or she knows people at school who get drunk or use drugs and makes it home safely in an automobile.
What About Denial?
On one occasion I was telling my first-person story of alcoholism to a group of Christian high school students. One young man piped up, “If that was happening to me, I would just stop drinking.”
What he didn’t understand is that addicted people go into denial about the cause of their problems. That’s what I did. In spite of escalating depression and anxieties when not drinking, I continued to turn to alcohol right up ’til the time I was in the parking lot of a mental hospital before entering.
Ongoing Dialogue Needed
Rather than a single message about the dangers of drugs and alcohol as I have written above, it would be much more effective to have a series of conversations over a period of time, starting when the child is quite young. These could be prompted by something the child observes first-hand or incidents from movies and television programs.
Added to that is the example set by the parents as to what the child sees being used at home or stored in the refrigerator or cupboard.
“Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands” (Isaiah 5:11-12).
Copyright 2022 by Don Umphrey