I’ll Pass on the Bottle

In 1994, I joined with others in staging an intervention. My teen-age son was using drugs and alcohol, and we wanted him to get help. He responded to our concerns, took a leave of absence from high school, and entered the care of a hospital in Evansville, Indiana.


With my wife and two other children, I participated in the family program at the hospital, and in that process heard this report: “Your son has an addictive personality. He was born with it. This means when he engages in a particular activity, and this applies to much more than just alcohol or illegal drugs, he can become addicted immediately.”


This is a sobering assessment. It has shaped my relationship with him for the last quarter century. It has also confirmed my long-standing convictions about alcohol. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I don’t even like it.


Earlier in my life alcohol caused a terrible accident. A drunk man driving a car collided with a van driven by my uncle, the Rev. John D. Redden. My uncle was killed, and his son, my cousin, was irreparably damaged. I remember the funeral. A few months later, his widow gave to me, a young ministerial student, the core of my Uncle John’s ministerial library. Some of those books I still have.


Our intervention with my son worked only for a short time, and much of his life since then has been shaped by the chaos of addiction, both drugs and alcohol. He has tried to quit the drugs many times; it is always a struggle. But the alcohol—he gave it up several years ago. He realized the damage alcohol does to his life, and he had to will and way to say, No more!


I have never wanted to be a drinker, even as family and friends picked up the habit. It hard to practice abstinence these days. Alcohol is everywhere. It didn’t use to be that way, not in my life. I grew up in a dry county in west Kentucky. Alcohol was available, of course, discretely, and close by. But it was not a part of the social structure of my life. Not even at college, even though I knew people were drinking I was never, not one time, at a social engagement where my friends were drinking. Hard to believe, but true.


All that has changed. I cannot go anywhere now without sharing the space with alcohol. Even my ministerial friends have taken up the habit. Drinking, it seems, has taken on larger significance, as if the freedom to drink is a public expression of the open mindset, of throwing off the petty restrictions of repressive religion. Drinking is a new way of embracing Jesus, they assert without saying as much. Having church in a bar is trendy. Jesus preferred the wine to the water, to cite a particular biblical story; and adding alcohol to the meal is just one more way of embracing the new-found separation from restrictive rules that so dominated the religion of yesteryear. Or so they silently assert.


Not me. I don’t want it. Furthermore, I resent the ubiquitous push to drink that dominates the media—commercials during football games, cocktails in every television drama, and of course, the good times at the beach, on the yacht, after graduation, and before dinner—not possible without a fresh round of alcohol. So the advertisers want us to believe.


But there is another side to this story. Twenty percent of our population cannot handle their alcohol. They become addicted. Today, on the streets and under bridges, men and women live in poverty, much of it the direct result of addiction, including alcohol.


Last month, 512 researchers from 243 institutions published their conclusions from a 23-year, world-wide study: the optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none. “Current and emerging scientific evidence does not suggest that there are overall health benefits from moderate drinking,” said Robert Brewer, who directs the alcohol program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


I was glad to see the article appear on my Facebook feed, but I did not hear about it anywhere—no television program, no public speech, no private conversation. It got buried. Like my uncle.


I don’t drink. Alcohol is the most deadly and dangerous drug in America. It kills people and sabotages dreams. I’m glad my son has sworn it off, and I wish more of my friends would as well. Life is better without the stuff.


That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.