Adventist Alcoholics Anonymous

No longer can the church hide its head in the sand and ignore what is becoming an increasingly serious problem alcoholic Adventists.

L. A. Senseman, M.D., is an associate professor of the Department of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.
The Adventist doctor who has related his experience in connection with this article raises some painful questions for us as fellow Seventh-day Adventists. Often in the past we have not been willing even to admit that we have an alcoholic problem in our church. We wish we didn't, but we do—and in ever increasing numbers.

As a psychiatrist who has spent years in the care and treatment of the alcoholic, I find these poor sufferers in all religious faiths. Alcohol is no respecter of persons or creeds. It is well known that one of every eight persons who begin drinking alcoholic beverages will become an alcoholic. This figure applies to social drinking as well. Apparently there is a factor in some individuals that makes them susceptible to the habituating effects of alcohol, and as yet we cannot determine beforehand who these people are. In today's permissive society, drinking is an accepted way of life. Almost any social activity involves alcohol. The abstainer feels uncomfortable in such settings in spite of the fact that non-alcoholic drinks are served as well.

It is time for us as Seventh-day Adventists to recognize that we too have a problem among us with alcohol. In too many Adventist homes alcohol is being served, not only at parties, but as a refreshment at the dinner table! Wet bars can be seen in some Adventist homes. Nor should we think that only professional people are involved in the problem.

Some of our own young people are growing up in this tolerant atmosphere regarding alcohol. They are using alcohol and other drugs and thus getting into the same problems as other students in spite of the church's influence. Peer pressure, of course, is very strong, but so is parental example. Young people today are not deceived by their parents' attitude. What can we expect of young people when their parents take a social drink or have beer or wine in their refrigerator? Or what can we expect if their Adventist minister agrees privately that "a little wine is all right," using Paul's advice to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23) as his Biblical authority?

Need we be reminded of what Ellen White has to say on this subject? "The only safe course is to touch not, taste not, handle not, tea, coffee, wines, tobacco, opium, and alcoholic drinks." —Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 488. "Moderate [social] drinking is the school in which men are educated for the drunkard's career." —The Ministry of Healing, p. 332.

If parents, teachers, physicians, and ministers in our churches are not totally committed to abstinence, how will students under peer pressure to take a drink of beer or wine react?

In my profession I am appalled at the lack of applied knowledge on this very important human problem by well-educated and knowledgeable people, both in and outside the church. The liquor industry would like nothing better than to have its potential victims not to apply their knowledge but to heed the clever and misleading ads that are present everywhere. Unfortunately many Seventh-day Adventists are also succumbing to the delusion that it can't happen to them—but it is, and in alarmingly larger numbers.

It is time for Seventh-day Adventists to recognize that we too have a problem among us with alcohol, and to begin to do something about it as other denominations have done. We may ignore it, hide it, deny it, but it doesn't go away. Like the individual alcoholic, we must, as a church, first recognize it as a problem and then take action before it is too late.

I have treated many Adventist members both in and out of the church who have an alcoholic problem. I find them coming reluctantly to an Adventist physician or hospital. Many would rather go secretly for help elsewhere. Is it possible that our attitude toward drinking and the alcoholic needs to be changed? Can we accept the alcoholic and provide support while maintaining our high standards? Can we assume enough maturity to accept the fact that we have a growing problem, and take a realistic look at it? Or shall we let others assume the responsibility for our alcoholic members? Surely there are many like the doctor whose experience is given here who, after a sincere and complete return to sobriety and church attendance, long for and are pleading for a constructive attitude of acceptance among their fellow church members. Shall we continue to exclude them from real fellowship with us?

Each Seventh-day Adventist hospital should have a special service area for the care and treatment of the alcoholic patient. Alcoholism has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and there seems to be no way to change this trend in the foreseeable future.

Seventh-day Adventists have the expertise to make a contribution in this area of human woe. As Adventists mix more and more with alcohol, we will have an increasing need to apply that expertise—physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually.


Hooked on the first drink—the testimony of an Adventist doctor

I was invited by a friend to an evening at his home with his wife. It was a pleasant occasion; his lovely wife served some delicious punch that neither she nor her husband bothered to iden tify, nor did I ask. I had no idea what she served. It was something I had never tasted before, but it was delicious, and when she asked whether I cared for more, I eagerly accepted another and another.

"This beverage really did something for me that I had never experienced. It made me feel good and very relaxed. I can't remember how many glasses of the wonderful punch I had, but later, when getting up to leave, I had difficulty standing and couldn't walk straight. My hosts laughed at my predicament and told me I had had too much alcohol. I remember driving home and laughing because I felt so good and self-confi dent. I knew that I had found something that could make me feel so wonderful and that I had to have more. From that time on, I pursued alcohol. It seemed that I became an alcoholic from the very first drink. It became a habit, a consum ing interest, and a constant pursuit that led me on. I couldn't stop finding an endless solace in the bottle. I was hooked.

"Yes, I was raised a Seventh-day Ad ventist. I was aware that alcohol was taboo in my family, in our home, and in my church, of which I was so very fond. I had attended Loma Linda University Medical School, after graduating from a fine Seventh-day Adventist college. I was married and had three children. It was very clear to me that I was on a downward trip, but I couldn't seem to stop. My wife left me; the bottom fell out of my life. I was discouraged, but self-pity merely became an excuse for further drinking, and I mean really drinking. I couldn't get enough; in order to get the feeling I had learned to enjoy so much, I had to keep drinking more and more. I got into all kinds of trouble. I was guilty of every vice imaginable, but the degradation didn't seem to bother me as long as I had a bottle.

"I have now found sobriety, thanks to a period of hospitalization and to Alco holics Anonymous. I have found peace with God and my conscience. My AA sponsor, also a recovering alcoholic, has been very helpful and is a great human being. I love him for what he has done for me, and it has been plenty.

"Right now I am attending a nearby Seventh-day Adventist church, but I have a problem that others like me have experienced upon their reentry into their church. It seems to us that we are not accepted. In fact, our sincerity is looked on with some suspicion and skepticism. Of course, the pastor is pleasant, even reassuring and helpful, but the impres sion of caution is present. I have the feeling of being a second-class citizen looking in from the outside and not really a part of the action. I know that work for the church and for God is important for my sobriety, but how to go about it is the question. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of church members to accept me, to believe in me, or to respect me as in the past. I admit I made some grave mistakes, but I have made amends as far as I am able; what else can I do?

"There are many others like me who are alcoholics and who are now sober and trying to get back into the church. I know a group of Adventist doctors who have been through an experience with alcohol similar to mine and who are try ing to reestablish themselves in the Sev enth-day Adventist Church but who are meeting with the same uncomfortable feelings that I have met.

"Yes, it could be my own guilt feel ings or uncomfortable associations in the church that cause me to feel as I do, but my medical friends have shared with me similar feelings, and we have tried to deal with them on a rational basis. We all have a desire to get back into the church and to be in good standing with our fellow believers, and thus be both benefited and beneficial.

"I believe I've been born again; my experience means a lot to me. How can I, an ex-alcoholic, be fully accepted in the Adventist Church? Christ came to earth that sinners might be saved, and that surely means alcoholics as well as all of us. He did not come to judge us, but to save us from our sins. Alcoholics, too, can have full salvation by our faith in Him."

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L. A. Senseman, M.D., is an associate professor of the Department of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

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