Destructive Path – A Lesson for Teens that is Supposed to be about Alcohol

I’m leading our church’s high school youth group tomorrow in a discussion that seems to focus on the “destructive path” of alcohol. I’m having a tough time with some of it’s arguments, as I feel they are a bit more of a fear tactic than a a logical progression of thought involving the Bible’s complete perspective on the topic, alcohol’s real affects (especially on young bodies and brains), and more than anything else, personal convictions. While there is something to be said about statistics and slippery slopes, there is much more to to be said about real-life experiences and thought out decisions based on values, priorities, and convictions. These are my thoughts on the lesson as I prepare to both teach it, and move from simply talking about the dangers of alcohol to the importance of personal decisions in every area of life, from alcohol and drugs to cheating, lust, and anger.

[Note: This is still a work in progress. There are definitely some areas I want to add to on personal convictions and hopefully a testimony or two from someone who’s walked down the wrong side of this path.]

The question of the week, according to the literature, is “Why is drinking such a big deal?” The answer? According to the book, “Drinking alcohol can lead to tragic consequenses.” Couldn’t I present this same argument for any number of areas of teenage life, from alcohol and drugs to speeding, driving without seat belts, and fighting? How many things in life lead to tragic consequenses, when abused? And I think that’s where this lesson leaves something out in it’s argument. In every-single-point, it’s “Alcohol can.” Alcohol can do this. Alcohol can do that. Alcohol can kill you, you know. I’m all for presenting facts, figures, and accurately used proof-texts to support an argument, but I sure don’t see any Sunday School lessons entitled “why is having money such a big deal… because it can KILL you!” No, when it comes to money, we know it’s greed and misuse (abuse) that lead to the tragic consequenses. Used correctly, money is a tool. I don’t believe alcohol is a tool, especially in the hands of children and teens whose brains are still developing, who are confronted on all sides by peer pressure and inexperience. I also do not, personally, believe it is taboo.

So I’m going into tomorrow’s lesson by texting all teens whose numbers I have with that very question… “why is drinking such a big deal.” Here are the answers I received:

  • It’s a big deal because it boggles the mind.
  • It’s a big deal because anyone can drink it, and it more than often makes for bad choices.
  • It’s a big deal because it’s often a way to “prove” yourself.
  • It’s a big deal because it has a lot of bad effects on your liver.
  • I don’t think drinking is bad. I think getting drunk is bad.
  • It’s a big deal because some people feel like they can “escape” their life for awhile and others do it cause it’s fun for the rush.
  • Teenagers think it’s a big deal because it’s portrayed as something fun and exciting and they get a rush because it’s illegal and they know it. They want to drink to get back at their parents, the government, and anyone who thinks underage drinking is wrong. For the most part they drink at parties because “it’s fun” or simply because it’s there.
  • Drinking for me is a big deal because so many bad things happen, like unplanned pregnancies, DUI, murders, domestic abuse, fornication… in other words many of the things that we all talk about as terrible have a root in alcohol. I know that “if you don’t get drunk then it’s ok” to drink, by the Bible even, but for me I’m against it 100% because, even if it’s controlled, it only takes one mistake to ruin multiple lives and that’s not a chance I will ever take.

It’s clear to me that a good portion of the youth I’m teaching either have an understanding of the fact that “alcohol is bad for me,” at least in the stage of life they are in at this time. The argument made in this week’s Sunday School lesson, while legitimately factual, is not where I feel we really need to focus with our group. I want to spend time covering it with them for the sake of those who may not have any experience or knowledge:

1. ALCOHOL CAN LEAD TO TROUBLE

Proverbs 22:29-30 – Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has conflicts? Who has complaints? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has red eyes? Those who linger over wine, those whogo looking for mixed wine.

As we go through this lesson today, I want to spend the time we spend on the points covered in your book focused on alcohol as it relates to you, your friends, and your peers. I don’t feel that these arguments are the same you’d make in a group of college students, for example, or with adults. The facts are still the facts, but what motivates people does change over time. In a book I look to often for facts and figures, Youth Culture 101 by Walt Mueller, he lists his own “top 10” reasons teenagers use alcohol (and drugs). I’ll list them here:

  1. Curiosity and Experimentation: “I’ve never met a teenager who used drugs and alcohol with the intention of getting hooked.”
  2. Peer Pressure: “My own conversations with middle and high school students indicates that pressure to drink alcohol is one of the most intense pressures churched kids feel from their peers.” True or false in your world? Give an example. “With a constant desire to fit in, be accepted, and be loved, teenagers who feel insecure and unloved at home are more susceptible and will give in to the pressure more easily.” (“it’s worth the risk”)
  3. It’s Fun: Boredom… cheap, easy, fun to do with a group
  4. To Look Grown Up: Don’t want to look like kids, it’s a rite of passage
  5. Availability: More than 60% of 8th greaders and more than 80% of 10th graders say that alcohol is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get. Parents providing, or not limiting access.
  6. Advertising: What message does advertising give to alcohol (Homer quote: “Alcohol – the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”)
  7. Pop-Culture Presence: Where do you see it here – what’s the pressure?
  8. Family Problems: Divorce, sepratation, absenct parents… discord, pressure, expectations, poor communication… sends teens looking for relief.
  9. Escape: Get away from stress and problems, even if temporary.
  10. To Cope: “Self medicating” to perform better? Take the edge off?
  11. Addiction: Experimentation, social use, misuse, abuse, chemical dependency

I’m going to give these items to the teens in the form of 3×5 cards (probably do two people per card so they can think through it together) and let them line up in the order they think the pressure to drink comes from. I’m curious if it will match Mueller’s findings.

Look back to the proverb we read. Does that make sense when it comes to drunkenness? What about the “happy drunk” who seems to be the life of the party? What about your friend who “doesn’t get drunk?” What types of trouble can you imagine – types of sorrow, conflice, complaints – come from alcohol abuse?

What do you think of this Shakespeare quote:

O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! THat we should with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!

2. ALCOHOL CAN CAUSE LOSS OF JUDGEMENT

Again, I think it would be appropriate to put the word abuse between “alcohol” and “can” in this statement. Actually, if you did that, you could probably change “can” to “will.” Is it appropriate for us to kind of up the ante here and say it’s “a drop of” alcohol that will lead to that loss of judgement? That’s how that statement comes across to me. I think these teens can see through that. I’d think they can see that it’s a slippery slope argument… “you’d better steer completely clear of this, because if you don’t… you won’t be able to stop.” I don’t want my teens to be confronted with this type of argument, because in the initial stages, it simply may not ring true. If you accept the truth of that statement as “down the road” a bit and that keeps from doing anything, fine… but if you see past the statement to the fact that your initial experience with alcohol (or drugs, or sex, or whatever) may actually not have any of the “bad” consequenses anyone has warned you about, will it stop you? I’d rather my teens develop personal convictions for both this time of their life, and as they enter adulthood, based on more than just “I don’t want to go near it because it might reach out and hurt me.” Life is full of things that can trip us up and literally KILL us if we give them control, and alcohol is definitely one of those.

The book we’re using has a graphic that shows the different levels of blood alcohol content and the effect they produce on our brains and judgement. I went to www.bloodalcoholcalculator.org and plugged in some figures for my own weight to see just how much drinking it would take to get to these points (based on a  60 minute drinking timeframe). This is by no means an endorsement of “just one or two” but rather a realistic look at the “average” effect of alcohol on a brain like mine.

  • Euphoria (.03 – .12 %): 3 – 8 beers
  • Lethargy (.09 – .25 %): 6 – 16 beers
  • Confusion (.18 – .30 %): 11 – 19 beers
  • Stupor (.24 – .40%): 16 – 25 beers
  • Coma (.35 – .50 %):  22 – 31 beers

Wow, isn’t that a relief! I’d have to drink two 12-packs to put myself into a coma. Ha. What I find interesting is that the top level of “lethargy” is the same as the bottom level of “stupor.” The difference between (1) my body slowing down, losing coordination, and being obviously unfit to drive and (2) lapses in consciousness, possibility of alcohol poisoning, and loss of bladder control … the difference there can be quite negligable. I’m not totally sure what I learn from this.

Proverbs 22:31-33: Don’t gaze at wine when it is red, when it gleams in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a snake and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and you will say absurd things.

To be honest… that Proverb (written by the wisest man that ever lived) sounds like it is spoken out of experience, doesn’t it? And how many things are there in life that, unfortunately, we will only learn by experience.

I can look back to a specific day in my life that built much of my own personal conviction about alcohol and drug abuse (and even use). I used to live behind a strip mall, and almost every day I’d walk over to the Hook’s Drug Store to buy a candy bar or can of pop. I remember walking over there one day, and up by the highway, seeing a mangled mess of a car surrounded by fire fighters, a couple ambulances, and a large group of people. I went over to watch, and for 10 minutes looked on as the paramedics worked to cut open the car to gain access to the person inside, barely hanging onto their life. Rumor circulated that the driver was drunk and had crashed right there in the parking lot, and that he probably wasn’t going to make it. It only became apparent to me later on that this entire event was staged as an effort to show the dangers of alcohol. For me, it worked. Scare tactic or not, it was a reality check I can still picture in my mind. I think before we develop almost any personal conviction, we need some sort of reality check like this. We need to look the substance (or the action, or the emotion) in the face and say, “I don’t want you. You are not worth it.” I didn’t put it into words until years later, but as I look at my life now and my view on alcohol, that image played a part in my conviction: “I will not lose control. I will not come close to losing control.” What that means to me, is very personal, and even hard to explain. But I know it, I live by it, and it holds personal value to me.

3. ALCOHOL CAN LEAD TO ADDICTION

That thought, that “loss of control,” leads to this final point as outlined in the lesson. When do you cross that line of controlling yourself and your actions and your actions controlling you? Is it a black and white line? Will you see it before you cross it or do you need to head it off way beforehand?

Proverbs 23:34-35: You’ll be like someone sleeping out at sea or lying down on the top of a ship’s mast. “They struck me, but I feel no pain! They beat me, but I didn’t know it! When will I wake up? I’ll look for another drink.”

I’m not totally sure what this verse has to do with addiction, other than the last portion, where the man who’s drunk out of his mind sets out to reply the journey he just spoke of. But is that what an addiction truly is? Does it have to go that far, that we are totally under the control of the substance, habit, or feeling?

I like this definition of alcohol addiction: “Addiction is the repeated involvement with any substance or activity, despite the excessive costs of this involvement, because of craving (intense desire).” The key portion of that definition, I believe, is the words “despite the excessive costs.” In other words, it’s worth the pain. It’s worth the side effects. It’s worth the risk that I will get hurt or killed, or that I might hurt or kill someone else should I make just a few wrong decisions.

Take a look at this quote by Denzel Washington, one of my favorite actors:

I made a commitment to completely cut out drinking and anything that might hamper me from getting my mind and body together. And the floodgates of goodness have opened upon me.

Was it “worth it” to Denzel to competely remove alcohol from his life? Why? Why wasn’t a bit of social drinking with the risk for him?

WRAP IT UP

This is where I really wanted to wind up from this entire lesson. “Is it really worth it?” I don’t ask that just in the context of, “is it worth it for me to give into peer pressure” or “is it worth it for me to try just one?” I ask that in the sense of, Is it worth it for me to decide right here, right now, what I’m going to do with alcohol? Is it worth it for me to put into words my feelings of how it’s (1) not worth the immediate brain and body function risk, (2) not worth the long-term risks of addiction or the lifestyle.

The things we read today are something of truths. They are facts. They are statistics. They are true. But simply knowing they are true, acknowledging they are true, and even saying we “believe them” does not mean we will have the strength to stand when confronted with something uniquely designed to trap and defeat us.

Think about the areas of life where you’re confronted with something you don’t want to give into. It might be alcohol. It might be drugs. It might be the wrong boy or girl that’s trying to develop a friendship with you. It might be pornography. Or it might be something small that could LEAD to those areas. Is it worth it for you to take that “first drink” in terms of a first date, a first smoke, a first flip-through-a-magazine-in-the-grocery-store. Or will you say, here and now, that your allegience is with God, His word, and come up with a statement describing your feelings and commitment?

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