What’s Wrong with the Alcoholic?
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard . . . 1 Timothy 3:2-3
In my drug addiction, I had friends who told me it was shocking to see how dumb a smart person could be. I get it. I’m a physician. I’m supposed to be at least somewhat intelligent. Yet, I engaged in behavior that was absurdly irrational. I knew what my addiction might cost me, but I just couldn’t stop. It was insane behavior that could only be described as diseased.
Today’s passage shows that this pathologic behavior is nothing new. As long as man has made alcohol, there have also been those who struggle with it. In today’s passage, Paul continued his instruction on the necessary qualities for Christian leaders, saying that such a person must not be a drunkard. The word translates as one given to wine, which is an apt description. It does seem that the alcoholic has given over control of his life to alcohol. He no longer makes his own choices, but rather, the alcohol controls and consumes everything.
How does one get there? What’s wrong with the alcoholic? An addiction starts with an impulsive desire. I want to drink a beer. With the alcoholic, there is usually some genetic predisposition for that desire and the reward that follows. Through recurring reinforcement, as the alcoholic repetitively engages in alcohol consumption, the brain is rewired for this behavior. The body and mind grow dependent on the alcohol and soon, the act that was once an impulsive desire is now a compulsive behavior. Through repeating the drinking, the brain is transformed so that the alcoholic now can’t not drink. Though he may know he’s destroying his body, career, marriage, family, and his entire life, the alcoholic now cannot stop because he’s addicted. This in fact, is the definition of addiction – repeatedly engaging in a self-destructive behavior despite knowing the painful consequences.
This definition of addiction of course includes much more than just drugs or alcohol. Most of us have some self-destructive behavior that we wish we could stop, but with which we continue to struggle, despite painful consequences. Maybe it’s gluttony or maybe it’s worry. Whatever it is, we want it gone, but we keep doing it. That is perhaps the best way we can understand what’s wrong with the alcoholic – through our own life struggles. What’s wrong with the alcoholic is similar to what’s wrong with all of us. We all have self-destructive desires, and we all seek immediate gratification, relief, or release in some unhealthy way. The consequences may not be the same, but we all have something with which we struggle.