Last week’s Wall Street Journal featured a troubling report suggesting that when it comes to the prevalence of “problem drinking,” women are catching up to men.
Data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions has found that female drinking has been rising for decades, and with it, all the problems associated with alcohol addiction: accidents, emergency hospitalizations, and death, to name just a few of its tragic consequences.
Dawn Sugarman, a research psychologist at McClean Hospital and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, told the Journal, “There used to be a large gender gap in alcohol use and alcohol use disorder between men and women. That is shrinking.”
Men still drink more than women and are more likely to die from their addiction, but the narrowing chasm is disconcerting and begs the question:
One suspect is the rise of the “mommy drinking culture” – a phenomena that is seen by many as an enjoyable, culturally cool and even a carefree way to wind down and socialize. But for some, one drink leads to two and then three – and the addiction sticks and eventually stings.
The COVID pandemic is also seen as a source of the rise of women’s problem drinking. Whether due to stress, a coping mechanism, boredom, or opportunity, “heavy drinking” days for women increased by 41 percent between 2019 and 2020. It seems many began drinking earlier in the day and never slowed down.
Christians, of course, hold to a broad array of opinions regarding alcohol. Some denominations and individuals advocate for outright abstinence, while others suggest the Bible doesn’t prohibit its use in moderation. By this perspective, it’s not the actual drink, but drunkenness that’s the problem.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery,” wrote the Apostle Paul. “But be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The warning is even more blunt in Proverbs: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine” (Proverbs 23:29-30).
What constitutes “lingering” and even drunkenness is somewhat a matter of debate. It’s because of this subjectiveness that people like Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, suggests avoiding alcohol altogether is the safest route – though not biblically mandated.
During a forum some time ago, Dr. Mohler said of those who try and biblically defend abstinence, “I believe it is exegetically unsustainable. You simply cannot make the argument that the Bible binds the Christian conscience and all Christians of all times everywhere for a total abstinence position.”
Often left unsaid, though, are medical and health considerations. The Wall Street Journal piece quoted the University of Michigan’s Dr. G. Scott Winder, a psychiatrist who works in the school’s hepatology department. Noting that women’s higher levels of estrogen lead to more alcohol-related liver problems, Dr. Winder reported:
“This gradual scarring of the liver that used to be a disease stereotypically of men in their 60s now is a disease increasingly of women in their 30s.”
It’s unlikely there will ever be a consensus among Christians on the subject of alcohol use, but as the old saying goes, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
Whether an abstainer or imbiber, Christians can agree that anything that impairs one’s health or judgment is a bad thing. The troubling trends concerning the rise in problem drinking for both women and men deserve our attention, consideration, and prayer.
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