Alcoholism / Drunkenness

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State of the Question

Alcoholism is a dependency on alcohol characterized by craving (a strong need to drink), loss of control (being unable to stop drinking despite a desire to do so), physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, and tolerance (increasing difficulty of becoming drunk). (  )

Different from alcoholism or alcohol dependence, there may be a pattern of problem drinking that results in health consequences, social problems, or both.

Alcohol is morally neutral in the eyes of God and the Church.

Temperance. Temperance, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, "is concerned with what is difficult for a man, not in so far as he is a rational being precisely, but rather in so far as he is an animal." It is the control of the desire for pleasure. When we practice the virtue of temperance, we call it by different names, depending upon the physical desire that we are restraining. The desire for food is natural and good; but when we develop an inordinate desire for food, we call that the vice of gluttony. Likewise, the inordinate indulgence in wine or other alcoholic beverages is called drunkenness, and both gluttony and drunkenness are combated by abstinence, which is temperance applied to our desire for food and drink. (


Divine Revelation


Tobit 4:15

Do to no one what you yourself dislike. Do not drink wine till you become drunk, nor let drunkenness accompany you on your way.


Luke 21:34

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise.


Romans 13:13

Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy.


1 Peter 4:3

For the time that has passed is sufficient for doing what the Gentiles like to do: living in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry.


Sirach 31:28

Joy of heart, good cheer and merriment are wine drunk freely at the proper time.


Sirach 31:29

Headache, bitterness and disgrace is wine drunk amid anger and strife.


Habakkuk 2:15

Woe to you who give your neighbors a flood of your wrath to drink, and make them drunk, till their nakedness is seen!


1 Corinthians 5:11

But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person.


1 Corinthians 6:10

. . . nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.


Ephesians 5:18

And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,


Catechism of the Catholic Church


2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.


1852 There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. The Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God."


2211 The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially:

-        the freedom to establish a family, have children, and bring them up in keeping with the family's own moral and religious convictions;

-        the protection of the stability of the marriage bond and the institution of the family;

-        the freedom to profess one's faith, to hand it on, and raise one's children in it, with the necessary means and institutions;

-        the right to private property, to free enterprise, to obtain work and housing, and the right to emigrate;

-        in keeping with the country's institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits;

-        the protection of security and health, especially with respect to dangers like drugs, pornography, alcoholism, etc.;

-        the freedom to form associations with other families and so to have representation before civil authority.

The Magisterium of the Church

Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, December 7. 1965

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction (alcohol?), whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. (27)


In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. (16)


Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and that it allow men as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it. (35)


Ecclesiastical Tradition


Didache,  Chapter 13

But every true prophet who is willing to dwell among you is worthy of his meat, likewise a true teacher is himself worthy of his meat, even as is a labourer. Thou shalt, therefore, take the firstfruits of every produce of the wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and sheep, and shalt give it to the prophets, for they are your chief priests; but if ye have not a prophet, give it unto the poor. If thou makest a feast, take and give the firstfruits according to the commandment; in like manner when thou openest a jar of wine or of oil, take the firstfruits and give it to the prophets; take also the firstfruits of money, of clothes, and of every possession, as it shall seem good unto thee, and give it according to the commandment.


 Clement of Alexandria. "On Drinking". The Instructor, book 2, chapter 2.


 Benedict of Nursia. (c.480–543) "Chapter XL - Of the Quantity of Drink". Holy Rule of St. Benedict. “Every one hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner and another after that' (1 Cor 7:7). It is with some hesitation, therefore, that we determine the measure of nourishment for others. However, making allowance for the weakness of the infirm, we think one hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each one. But to whom God granteth the endurance of abstinence, let them know that they will have their special reward. If the circumstances of the place, or the work, or the summer's heat should require more, let that depend on the judgment of the Superior, who must above all things see to it, that excess or drunkenness do not creep in."

Benedict of Nursia.  (c.480–543) "Chapter XLIII - Of Those Who Are Tardy in Coming to the Work of God or to Table". Holy Rule of St. Benedict. "If [a monk] doth not amend after [being twice tardy], let him not be permitted to eat at the common table; but separated from the company of all, let him eat alone, his portion of wine being taken from him, until he hath made satisfaction and hath amended."

Augustine (354 – 430),  The Writings against the Manichaeans and against the Donatists. Chapter 19, Description of the Duties of Temperance, According to the Sacred Scriptures.

35.  It is now time to return to the four virtues, and to draw out and prescribe a way of life in conformity with them, taking each separately.  First, then, let us consider temperance, which promises us a kind of integrity and incorruption in the love by which we are united to God.  The office of temperance is in restraining and quieting the passions which make us pant for those things which turn us away from the laws of God and from the enjoyment of His goodness, that is, in a word, from the happy life.  For there is the abode of truth; and in enjoying its contemplation, and in cleaving closely to it, we are assuredly happy; but departing from this, men become entangled in great errors and sorrows.  For, as the apostle says, "The root of all evils is covetousness; which some having followed, have made shipwreck of the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows." And this sin of the soul is quite plainly, to those rightly understanding, set forth in the Old Testament in the transgression of Adam in Paradise.  Thus, as the apostle says, "In Adam we all die, and in Christ we shall all rise again."  Oh, the depth of these mysteries!  But I refrain; for I am now engaged not in teaching you the truth, but in making you unlearn your errors, if I can, that is, if God aid my purpose regarding you.
36.  Paul then says that covetousness is the root of all evils; and by covetousness the old law also intimates that the first man fell.  Paul tells us to put off the old man and put on the new.  By the old man he means Adam who sinned, and by the new man him whom the Son of God took to Himself in consecration for our redemption.  For he says in another place, "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven, heavenly.  As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.  And as we have borne the image of the earthy, let us also bear the image of the heavenly," —that is, put off the old man, and put on the new.  The whole duty of temperance, then, is to put off the old man, and to be renewed in God,—that is, to scorn all bodily delights, and the popular applause, and to turn the whole love to things divine and unseen.  Hence that following passage which is so admirable:  "Though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day." Hear, too, the prophet singing, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."  What can be said against such harmony except by blind barkers?


The Teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church

Alcoholism, in Church documents, is considered mostly from the moral standpoint. It is a condition in which the brain is violently abused and its use harmed. It is considered objective evil, a serious sin (provided all other conditions are present).


Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), "Second Part of the Second Part, Question 149, Article 3 - Whether the use of wine is altogether unlawful?" Summa Theologica.  "A man may have wisdom in two ways. First, in a general way, according as it is sufficient for salvation: and in this way it is required, in order to have wisdom, not that a man abstain altogether from wine, but that he abstain from its immoderate use. Secondly, a man may have wisdom in some degree of perfection: and in this way, in order to receive wisdom perfectly, it is requisite for certain persons that they abstain altogether from wine, and this depends on circumstances of certain persons and places."

Human Reason

The Church teaches, and common sense corroborates, that wine, like food, sex, laughter, and dancing, is a good thing when enjoyed in its proper time and context. To abuse any good thing is a sin, but the thing abused does not itself become sinful. "Everything is lawful for me," writes Paul, "but not everything is beneficial. Everything is lawful for me, but I will not let myself be dominated by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12). 

If Jesus had shunned wine and wanted his followers to do likewise, why did he so frequently make use of wine in his parables and activities? Simple--he didn't disapprove of wine drinking, so long as it conformed to the biblical guidelines of moderation. The Bible tells us Jesus drank wine (Luke 7:34)--often enough, apparently, that his detractors accused him of being a drunkard--and that his first recorded miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-11). 


Whatever is opposed to life itself, . . . willful self-destruction (alcohol) . . ., whatever violates the integrity of the human person, . . . torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. The abuse of alcohol--willful self-destruction---is a poison to human society, dissolution of families, permanent scarring to children, a cancer to the person—clearly against the natural law of God, cannot be moral or ethical.


Catholic Spiritual Insight


The true Catholic perspective is to approach the problem of alcohol abuse by confronting the fact that unless you thirst for Christ—and the living water he offers—more than any pleasure in this world, you can never be healed from childhood emotional wounds. Overcoming an addition to any substance, therefore, is not a matter of constantly resisting the substance, it’s simply a matter of understanding that, compared to Christ, any substance (when used as a psychological defense) is about as desirable as putrid, muddy water.


My love so delights the soul that it destroys every other joy which can be expressed by man here below. The taste of Me extinguishes every other taste . . . (As told to St. Catherine of Genoa, 1447-1510, Spiritual Doctrine, Pt. III, Ch. VII)


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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


© 2012 Robert J. Schihl


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