1.1 Introduction


It’s time we faced up to the problem of alcohol in our community. Around 14 million Americans have alcohol problems (1); 43% of American families have an alcoholic member (2). More Americans have been killed by alcohol than in all the wars America has ever fought. 10% of America’s workforce have their performance affected by alcohol. And the figures are at least double this in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. If any other disease affected a nation as much as alcoholism does, a national emergency would be declared. The fact is, alcoholism is a huge and largely hidden problem. The fact we are committed Christians does not make us immune from these problems. This means that many Christians are struggling to live with alcoholics who are near and dear to them. This study is written for them, to help them in understanding alcoholics; it’s not directed at curing alcoholism in itself.

I am in some ways totally unqualified to write this study. I have never been an alcoholic neither have I had any problems with alcohol. I grew up in a home where alcohol was available and used, but never abused. I live with a wife who also uses alcohol in moderation. I have spent my life living and preaching in the poorer societies of the world, and for most of my adult life have lived in the ex-USSR. Here we have the highest incidence of alcohol abuse in the world. In dealing with people- and the focus of my work has always been upon the individual- the problem of alcohol has repeatedly arisen. I feel heavily the burden of the Slavic world especially, and here as nowhere else alcohol is our greatest curse. I have seen more than many, albeit from an outsiders view, the shame, pain and human damage which occurs in families which have to live with this problem. It was as a result of this that I decided back in 1990 that I would not drink alcohol. I had even then seen too much of the damage caused by setting an example to alcoholics of ‘drinking in moderation’. And it’s not been hard for me to keep that promise. Alcoholics can’t drink in moderation. They simply mustn’t drink. At all. I have so many fine Christian friends who are alcoholic. My act of love towards them, according to my conscience, has been to say: ‘Look. You can live without alcohol. Totally. I don’t drink; not at all. I don’t do it behind your back, when you can’t see, as I sit in some lonely roadside restaurant or when the girl brings the wine round on an airplane. I promise you, I don’t drink. I’m with you. So, never ever reason to yourself that you can do it ‘in moderation’ because I do. I don’t do it’. This is my personal understanding of Paul’s words about not doing things which are fine in our conscience, but may make others stumble. His reasoning in Romans and Corinthians seems to be that we shouldn’t do anything, privately or publicly, which may stimulate a believer to go back to former practices which were sinful. In the first century, it was idol worship etc. For us, or at least for me as I live my life out in Eastern Europe, it’s alcohol. So, better not to do anything that would encourage a believer “for whom Christ died” to turn back in this area. And it’s also my view of the Old Testament command not to put a stumbling block before the blind- i.e., don’t do anything that leads another into a fall. It takes “kindness...love unfeigned” to ‘give no cause of stumbling to others in any thing’ (2 Cor. 6:3,4). Even at my wedding, I was the only one there who didn’t drink alcohol- not even a sip of celebration. I say this not to in any way show off. It’s really been no sacrifice for me. I’m not arguing for total abstinence, even though that is my personal position (3). I’m telling you about it because I know that many alcohol-afflicted friends of mine (and their families) will read these words, and others too. And I want to remind you of  where I am coming from. This study is, however, not so much for alcoholics as for their families and friends. I want you especially to understand that I have seen, I have seen...the afflictions you are in. And like you, I care, and this is why I haven’t tasted alcohol  at all for 14 years [apart from the communion wine], and have prayerfully made this study.

I’d like to extend my thanks to the many brethren and sisters from various countries and backgrounds who have made major input into the revision of this manuscript, and who lift up the tragedy of alcoholism in fervent prayer. Especially am I grateful to Dr. Bob Korbelak, Dr. Roy Boyd and Ms. Lindsey Mason for their extensive work on this document.

Duncan Heaster

Riga, Latvia


1. Understanding The Alcoholic

1.1 Introduction

Firstly, we need to define whether someone is alcoholic, or simply fails in self-control with it occasionally. One indicator that a person is alcoholic rather than just drinks too much occasionally is whether they experience blackouts. These are periods of memory loss, which may last only a few minutes, but can also last an entire evening. The alcoholic genuinely forgets what they did. By ‘blackout’ I don’t mean that he loses consciousness. The alcoholic may speak and act normally, but nothing is written on his memory during this time. Another indication is what happens when the person goes without alcohol: “Tremors of the fingers and lips, slight twitchings, some motor restlessness, and sometimes delusions (not hallucinations). These symptoms are promptly relieved by more alcohol”(1).

All too often we focus merely on the symptoms of the problem. Your wife drinks. So the kids are uncared for, there are money problems, it’s an embarrassment, she’s focused on the bottle not on you nor anything else... But to save her, the husband has to attempt to understand her. Not necessarily to understand why she is an alcoholic- that’s beyond the finest psychotherapists, and Scripture is largely silent about this issue. But rather, to understand what she is going through as an alcoholic.


(1) R. Jellinek, The Disease Concept Of Alcoholism (New Haven, USA: College And University Press, 1960) pp. 145,146.

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