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By John E. Russell



The United States is a drinking society. [Abraham Hoffer and Humphry Osmond, NEW HOPE FOR ALCOHOLICS (New York: University Books, 1968), p. 243]. Somewhere, between the casual social drinker and the drinker who is dying of ethyl alcohol poisoning, alcoholism begins. Where on this continuum does alcoholism begin?

Clinebell takes a psychological approach:

A person is an alcoholic if one or more of his major adjustments in living--health, vocational, social, or marital--is periodically or continuously hampered by drinking. ...alcohol is a neurotic solution to interpersonal problems, to the point at which the solution itself becomes the chief problem. [Howard J. Clinebell, UNDERSTANDING AND COUNSELING THE ALCOHOLIC THROUGH RELIGION AND PSYCHOLOGY, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1968), p. 40].
Clinebell views alcoholism as a sickness. He minimizes biological factors as causative and emphasizes psychological factors. He indirectly blames societal values for the perpetuation of alcoholism. (Ibid., pp. 73-74).

The terms "psychological" and "biological" tend to polarize thought and to confuse the issue. There are indications that these two conceptions are misleading, and therefore constitute a hinderance to understanding alcoholism. The brain is biological. Clinebell has done a commendable work, but appears to be overly influenced by "politically correct" psychology that does not place enough responsibility on the "sick" individual.

Biochemist Roger Williams adds a biological component in alcohol addiction:

There is, then, in my opinion, another reason why people may drink alcohol aside from their liking it or for its effects and aside from social pressure. This fourth reason is a deranged physiological urge or craving. Their "body wisdom" is impaired; it has turned into "body foolishness"; the body demands are no longer a safe guide; the more its demands are indulged the worse its condition becomes. This deranged physiological urge is made more acute if an individual who is subject to it takes even a small drink. This small drink, probably by acting as a specific poison to a weakened hypothalamus (a portion of the brain which is related to appetites), pulls a physiological trigger in an alcoholic which may lead to devastating results. .... Those who have never had this specific craving for alcohol are unable to understand the problem that an alcoholic has, just as those who have never been morphine addicts cannot understand the craving that dope addicts possess.

Of course alcohol is an unique substance, in that, unlike most drugs, it can serve as a fuel for the body. It is double-barreled in its activity; it serves as a source of energy --like sugar --but at the same time it (or substances to which it is transformed in the body) acts as a poison to derange the appetite mechanisms of the body, thereby destroying appetite for food and introducing a perverted physiological craving for alcohol. [Roger J. Williams, ALCOHOLISM: THE NUTRITIONAL APPROACH, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961), pp. 17-18].
Williams places his view in perspective,
We do not wish, however, to overemphasize biochemistry and physiology to the exclusion of psychology. We are convinced that people are not built in separate compartments--anatomical, biochemical, psychological--but that they are integrated in such a way that alcoholism, for example, has its roots in every aspect of an individual's make-up. (Ibid., p. vii).
The root cause of human problems, according to the scriptures, is a broken relationship with God. Sin has separated man from God. This primary broken relationship is further experienced in bad interpersonal (social) relationships and bad intrapersonal relationships. [Internal relationships between id, ego and superego--See my work on the conscience in HOW TO RAISE YOUR SELF-ESTEEM USING PROVEN BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES. (Garden City, MO: Russell Communications, 1994), Available for download here].

While working with drug users in Vietnam, it became clear that these that young soldiers were looking for God's love. One needs to look beyond the apparent conditions of (1) boredom; (2) a dysfunctional family (lack of STORGE, family love); (3) the need to be accepted by peers (need for PHILEO, friendship); (4) a bad romantic involvement (lack of EROS, romantic and sexual love); to the lack of God and his love (AGAPE). Drugs, including alcohol, are primarily a substitute for God. Clinebell concurs:

An understanding of any religious approach to alcoholism must include the RECOGNITION THAT, FOR THE ALCOHOLIC, RELIGION AND ALCOHOL OFTEN ARE FUNCTIONALLY INTERCHANGEABLE. Just before committing suicide, a seemingly "hopeless" alcoholic was asked by a psychiatrist, "Who can help you?" To this the alcoholic replied: "No person or institution. Only what I do not now possess--a belief, a faith in something outside myself, something stronger, more overwhelming than my weakness --some form of spiritual substitute that yet evades me." (Clinebell, op cit., p. 154).
Thank God we do not have to determine the culpability of the alcoholic relative to drinking. However, he does share culpable guilt with all mankind, in that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23).

In conclusion, we say that the alcoholic suffers from a sickness of the whole man superimposed on a basic sin problem:

There are social, psychological, and physiological reasons why a man becomes an alcoholic, but there is still one underlying cause. .... Alcoholism is a sickness of the soul--a sin sickness, and it must be considered such. (Dunn, op. cit., pp. 20-21).

Copyright © 1995-1997 by John E. Russell, Revised 1997
Internet Version Copyright © 1998 by John E. Russell