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Scripture’s Teaching Regarding Alcohol (6) The Effects of Drunkenness

Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.…
Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I yet awake? I will seek it yet again.
Proverbs 23:29-30, 34-35

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess;
Ephesians 5:18a

That God declares drunkenness to be sin, we noted in our last article. God’s Word prohibits the child of God to be drunk, not only in the extreme instance (being passed out), but also in the sense of being impaired (unable to function normally).

Because drunkenness is sin, God judges it. In this life, he judges it by leaving the drunkard to bear the effects of his sin in both his body and soul.

Drunkenness leaves one feeling miserable and sick. Habitual drunkenness destroys the body by causing liver disease and other physical problems.

Drunkenness also destroys one’s soul. One who is under the influence of alcohol is not living out of the power of the Spirit; so one who is drunk is susceptible to more sin. Habitual drunkenness destroys one’s ability to have a meaningful relationship with others (thus destroying marriage and family relationships), and one’s ability to perform meaningful work (thus leading to loss of income, and so to poverty).

Because it is sin, and because it leads to more sin, drunkenness is a picture of the spiritual drunkenness of one who is not in the kingdom of God, and who will bear God’s judgment to eternity. This explains why, under inspiration, the apostle Paul mentions drunkards as those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:21). It also explains why he calls us not only to physical sobriety, but also to spiritual sobriety (I Thessalonians 5:6-8).

The wise man will avoid the sin of drunkenness.

Proverbs 23:29-35 graphically depicts the effect of drunkenness on one’s body and earthly life.

At first, as you read this passage you might feel pity for the man described. He cries out in his misery and sorrow; the words “woe” and “sorrow” (vs. 29) refer to his cries of despair and grief. He has wounds without cause, and redness of eyes. He speaks of being stricken and beaten. Is not this a man of whom others have taken advantage, one who cries out for justice?

Then one realizes the cause of this man’s misery. He has tarried long at the wine (30)! His misery is his own fault! He is feeling the effects of drunkenness!

Verse 29 speaks of several effects of drunkenness on his body. First, he feels sick (“woe, sorrow”). Second, he cannot talk clearly; he babbles incoherently, or at least slurs his words (“babbling”). Third, he is full of bruises and other evidence of falling or bumping into things (“wounds without cause”). Fourth, his eyes are bloodshot (“redness of eyes”). Anyone who has ever seen a drunk person immediately visualizes what Solomon is saying.

Also verse 34 speaks of the effect on his body, in speaking of the sensation of dizziness that a drunken man feels. The verse emphasizes this, not only by speaking of one who lies down in the midst of the sea (lies down on a ship, thus becoming dizzy from the movement of the ship), but by referring to one who lies upon the top of a mast—near the very top of the sails, where the effect of the waves on the ship is felt all the more, and the sensation of dizzying movement is all the greater.

What misery! Who would intentionally inflict such trouble on himself?

No sane person. Only fools who tarry long at the wine.

Proverbs 23:29-35 also speaks of the effect of drunkenness on one’s soul.

Drunkenness leads to sexual sin, and to forms of sexual sin that one might otherwise have found repulsive; the strange women whom the drunkard beholds are the easy women and the prostitutes in whom a man might be completely uninterested, if sober (vs. 33).

Drunkenness leads one to speak perverse things (vs. 33). Especially, in light of the first part of the verse, one thinks of sexual perversity. But drunken people also speak like unbelievers. A professing Christian, if under the influence of alcohol, is in danger of transgressing all the commandments in his speech. Be warned, young people: if while drunk you blaspheme the name of God, or show your contempt of any holy thing, do not think that the Lord will hold you guiltless!

Drunkenness leads one to contentions (vs. 29)—that is, to strife and brawling, first with the mouth, then perhaps with his fists. The drunken man, no longer able to discern reality, views others as a threat and strikes out at them, or has some false illusion of grandeur, and thinks he has to show all around him that he is somebody by being quick to fight.

And drunkenness leads to habitual drunkenness, to alcoholism, even though this habitual drunkenness destroys him. In verse 35 we read of the drunkard asking “when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.” He desires to reach a certain point of sobriety, to be delivered from this trouble that wine has had on him. Good, you say? Not in this instance; he desires to be delivered so that he can drink himself drunk again! The effect of drunkenness on one’s soul, in other words, is that it makes one a slave to alcohol, both when drunk and when “sober” (if there is such a thing, in this instance).

To this effect of drunkenness on the soul, the inspired apostle Paul also refers when he says in Ephesians 5:18, “wherein is excess.” In drunkenness is excess.

The Greek word translated “excess” means literally “not saved,” and refers to a grossly immoral life of riotous wickedness. The text means to say that the drunkard acts like one who is not saved. One who is saved lives under the influence of the Spirit, governing all his thoughts, words, and actions in accordance with God’s law so that they manifest the life of Christ in him. By contrast, the drunkard lives under the influence of alcohol, so that not he, but the alcohol governs his thoughts, words, and actions, directing them in the way of sin.

No wonder God’s word says that the drunkard will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:21)! One who persists impenitently in drunkenness manifests that God has not delivered him from the power of darkness and translated him into the kingdom of God’s dear Son!

God and God’s undeserved grace are the drunkard’s only hope. God saves drunkards—not each, but some—by working in them the conviction of their sin, true repentance, and the desire to obey God’s law; and by giving them a new mind and a new heart, so that they now live as one who is saved.

Young people, these effects of drunkenness on your body and soul are inevitable; if you become drunk, these will happen.

Perhaps you think these things will not happen to you; you can experiment with alcohol, but you will keep all these harmful effects from coming upon your soul and body. Perhaps you take it a step farther: because you know that these are the effects, you will be better able to guard against them, as you drink! So you can get drunk, and drive! So you can get drunk, and remain a virgin! So you can get drunk, and avoid murder! So you can get drunk, and honor God! Armed with the knowledge that drunken people are in danger of doing these things, you will get drunk, and not do them!

Such thinking is foolish.

God’s word speaks of these effects as certain. In drunkenness is excess; notice that the Spirit does not lead Paul to say “might be,” or, “sometimes is.” Also Proverbs 23 indicates that these effects are certain. First, Solomon speaks of some effects as though they are—he describes a man who presently is suffering the effects of drunkenness. He is suffering them, because they are inevitable. Second, Solomon speaks of some effects as being future (vs. 33, 34)—but certainly in the future.

Read about Noah (Genesis 9:20-23)! And don’t forget about Lot (Genesis 19:30-38)!

How to avoid these effects? Simply this: do not become drunk!

But God requires more than bodily sobriety. He also requires spiritual sobriety. This one has, who is filled with the Spirit.

That is the gospel’s remedy against drunkenness. God sets it forth in Ephesians 5:18. And we will examine it, God willing, in our next article.