Beware of Taking Your Sorrows to Alcohol Before God

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It wasn’t until I spent a week in the mental hospital that I heard the message loud and clear: “Stay away from alcohol.”

As I sat in the doctor’s office, preparing to re-enter the world with my new bipolar disorder II diagnosis, I finally conceded that even the slightest drop of liquor would act like fuel on a smoking flax. Intoxicating my sorrows was all harm and no good.

Some of us who battle depression know what it’s like to turn to alcohol—or any substance—for relief. We’re tempted to grasp at anything within reach to numb the pain, to quiet the voices, to tame the grief.

What starts as periodic self-medication can quickly morph into a reflexive habit. Whenever I felt undesirable feelings of sadness, I turned to liquor to manage the pain. But the bottom of the glass never marked the end of my troubles. The drink that promised much became a bitter salve, a Christ-less crutch that could offer no life, no remedy, and no rescue from the pit of despair.

Truth about Depression, Suicide, and Alcohol

Using alcohol intoxication as a coping mechanism for melancholia can quickly become a matter of life and death. It acts as a depressant, fooling our brains into thinking we feel “great” while simultaneously pressing us deeper into despondency. Since our bodies build up a tolerance to alcohol over time, we eventually require a steadily increasing supply to achieve the desired effect.

And the more we consume, the more we exacerbate the symptoms of many mental-health conditions such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and depression, all of which can contribute to suicide.

While it may not be the alcohol that pulls the trigger or tightens the noose, its presence in our system strips our desire to honor God with our choices and quenches the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 5:18). Drinking to drown our sorrows, contrary to the chart-topping songs, is a dangerous—potentially deadly—way to respond to seasons of excessive sadness.

Drinking to drown our sorrows, contrary to the chart-topping songs, is a dangerous—potentially deadly—way to respond to seasons of excessive sadness.

Though I wouldn’t have diagnosed myself with an alcohol addiction, even moderate consumption during a season of depression can be enough to spark significant physiological and spiritual effects. Only by God’s grace did I not become one of the 29 percent of suicide victims in America found with alcohol in their system.

Alcohol won’t lay its life down for us, but it can demand we lay down our life for it.

Alcohol’s False Narrative of Hope

For Christians who struggle with depression, hope can feel hard to come by. We may know in our heads that we have hope in Christ, but the experience of that hope may periodically elude us. This crippling sense of hopelessness can tempt us to find other, more immediate ways to ease the pain.

I was helped in my early days of sobriety by meditating on Elijah’s words to the prophets of Baal:

“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:21)

Elijah’s question pressed at the heart of idol worship, yet the prophets remained silent. Their stubborn reticence demonstrated allegiance to a false god. As they begged Baal to show himself by bringing a roaring fire to their altar, they realized their prayers were in vain. Their false god remained mute.

Alcohol offers an equally false narrative of hope to the depressed. We hope it will lighten our load, but it’s powerless to remove burdens. It can’t simplify our problems; on the contrary, it complicates our sorrows physically, spiritually, and relationally.

The drink has no voice to soothe us—for numb isn’t the same as healed. Wine offers no rescue—for disorientation isn’t the same as freedom. We seek in the glass what only the God of all comforts can supply: the all-satisfying love of our living hope, Jesus Christ.

Depression Is Hard. God Is Good.

Depression hurts, and while the desire to escape from its pain is understandable, crying out to Christ is the distinctly Christian response. Strong drink tries to muzzle our sorrow, but God in his kindness gives us instead the language of biblical lament. He invites us to speak honestly to him, to unburden our woes and complaints, to give utterance to the heartache within. As Mark Vroegop’s helpful book puts it, “Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promises of God’s goodness.”

Biblical lament allows us to acknowledge that depression can be hard and God can be good—both at the same time. This is why Vroegop also describes lament as “a prayer in pain that leads to trust.” God’s sovereignty and our pain is a real-life tension; therefore we must desperately trust in his goodness, even when living feels anything but good.

Alcohol won’t lay its life down for us, but it can demand we lay down our life for it.

Christians don’t lament to a manmade bottle of alcohol—but to the very God Almighty, who hears our cries and counts our tears (Ps. 56:8). The bottle or glass has no life-giving answers for the despondent soul. It lures us away from the light, settling our spirits into the confines of wretched darkness. But to choose to surrender a sadness to Christ is to believe—despite the depression—that he is walking us through and out of the miry bog, turning the darkness before us into paths of light (Isa. 42:16).

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