Conference 2017: Response to Alcohol question

Appendix 1

Introduction

Conference 2016 referred the following memorial to the Council on Social Responsibility;

“ In the light of recent medical reports on the impact of the consumption of alcohol on health, the Representative Session of the Belfast District Synod requests Conference to ask the Council on Social Responsibility to re-examine
the effects of alcohol use, and recommend guidelines as to the practice and response of the Methodist community.”

Alcohol Facts and Figures

Some key statistics around alcohol use in Ireland the United Kingdom are listed below. They outline harms associated with alcohol misuse, and will cause concern to the interested reader. The recent UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines on low risk drinking are listed in the reference section below, and these note that the previously reported health benefits of regularly consuming a small amount of alcohol have been over-estimated

  •   Just over seven in ten adults in Northern Ireland (72%) drink alcohol. Of these, 81% exceed the recommended daily limits, and this is particularly the case for younger people. (RCPsych NI report)

  •   The Irish Health Research Board report that more than 150,000 people in Ireland are dependent drinkers and more than a 1.35 million are harmful drinkers according to World Health Organisation standards.

  •   The Healthy Ireland Survey reports that 76% of the Irish population drink alcohol, with 53% of drinkers doing so at least weekly. It also indicates that drinking to excess on a regular basis is commonplace throughout the population, with almost four in ten drinkers (39%) binge drinking on a typical drinking occasion and a quarter of them doing so at least once a week

  •   The NHS estimates that 9% of adult men in the UK and 4% of UK adult women show signs of alcohol dependence. Only 1% of dependent drinkers access treatment in the UK. (Alcohol Concern).

  •   Globally, alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In the age group 20 – 39 years approximately 25% of total deaths are alcohol-attributable. (World Health Organization)

    Health Effect

  •   Alcohol misuse was a factor in 60% of patient suicides and this appears to have become more common over the past 10 years. Alcohol was a factor in 70% of suicides of young people known to mental health services. (Royal College of Psychiatrists NI report)

  •   The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, bowel, liver, throat and breast) increases the more one drinks on a regular basis. (CMO Report)

  •   4-6% of all new cancers in the UK in 2013 were caused by alcohol consumption. (COC Report)

  •   In the UK, in 2014 there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths. (Alcohol Concern)

  •   Alcohol is 10% of the UK burden of disease and death, making alcohol one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity. (Alcohol Concern)

  •   The alcohol-related mortality rate of men in the most disadvantaged socio-economic class is 3.5 times higher than for men in the least disadvantaged class, while for women the figure is 5.7 times higher. (Alcohol Concern)

    Detailed information on the physical and mental health effects of alcohol are available from the Institute of Alcohol Studies website: http://www.ias.org.uk/Alcohol-knowledge-centre/Health- impacts/Factsheets/Physical-and-mental-health-effects.aspxs

    Helping someone struggling with alcohol abuse

Most of us know someone who struggles with alcohol abuse and as social use of alcohol has become more common in evangelical circles, it could be someone within the church or within your family. People often ask, how do you help someone in this situation? Am I over reacting?

Here are some simple guidelines;

  •   If you are noticing problems in the person’s work, health, family, finances, relationships or social functioning, you are not over reacting.

  •   Early identification of alcohol abuse will make it easier to treat the problem.

  •   Waiting for someone to ask for help is a risky strategy. Without help the person is likely to hit a crisis with job loss, broken relationships, motoring offences, public embarrassment etc.

  •   Read about the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse/dependence

  •   Observe the persons behaviour over a number of days and note any concerning behaviours related to alcohol consumption

  •   Discuss your observations/concerns with others who care for the person’s wellbeing

  •   Discuss your observations and concerns with the person; do not initiate discussion when alcohol has been taken, ensure there is enough time available for discussion, make it clear that you are speaking out of concern, use open-ended questions, do not lecture, list the behaviours you have observed that give you concern that their drinking could be a problem. If they refuse to accept your advice ask if you can talk again another time

  •   Try to encourage cutting down. If this cannot be maintained it might help the person realise they have a problem.

  •   Encourage the person to seek professional help from their General Practitioner or one of the resource groups listed below

  •   Be prepared for the long haul. Often the person will be in denial or may react angrily to any intervention. There are no quick fixes.

  •   Experts recommend developing and repeating a consistent, positive message ”we care about you and want to help you”

Alcohol Advice

  •   Alcohol Concern have an online tool to assess the extent of a person’s drinking habits. https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/alcohol-audit They also have a confidential advice line if a person is concerned about their own, or someone else’s drinking. 0300 123 1110, https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/get-help-now

  •   TalkToFrank is a youth-orientated alcohol and drug information site. http://www.talktofrank.com/drug/alcohol

  •   http://www.alcoholicsanonymous.ie/Home The Alcoholics Anonymous website has information on alcoholism and details of frequent meetings held throughout the country, including educational meetings for interested people who do not suffer from alcoholism.

  •   https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/ A general alcohol information website.

    Christian-based support

  •   Dr Ed Welch’s book “Crossroads: A Step-By-Step Guide Away from Addiction” published by New Growth Press is a brief, accessible and recommended resource. https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Crossroads-Step-Guide-Away- Addiction-Edward- Welch/1934885940/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1483735242&sr= 8-3-fkmr0&keywords=ed+welch+addictions

  •   Stauros is a Christian charity helping people with alcohol addiction. They have staff in Northern and Southern Ireland. Their website has useful resources on addictions and helping someone from Christian perspective http://www.stauros.com/download_pdf_documents.htm

    The Bible and Alcohol.

    The Methodist church regards the divine revelation recorded in the Bible as the ‘supreme rule of faith and practice’. (Constitution of MCI, section 2)

    There are many references to alcohol in the Bible. Some of them are framed in a positive light such as the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine (Jn2) and Ps 104 which speaks of how ‘the Lord brings forth food from the earth, and wine that gladdens human hearts.’ More often though, the Bible warns of the misuse of alcohol and the misery that accompanies it. The first reference is in Gen 9 where Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk and the shameful consequences reverberate down through the generations. The book of Proverbs contains several graphic warnings on the abuse of alcohol and the misery, poverty and moral consequences that often follow.

The Bible leaves us in no doubt about drunkenness – it is forbidden (Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; 1 Pet 4:3). Every reference to drunkenness is either with disapproval or is part of a tragedy (e.g. Gen 19:32; Deut 21:20). 1Cor 5:11 lists drunkenness as one of the sins for which excommunication may be the necessary act of church discipline. Christians who acknowledge the Bible as their sole rule of faith and practice must never be drunk.

The definition of drunkenness may vary – the boys on a night out will have a different standard from the officer from traffic branch!

While drunkenness is forbidden, all use of alcohol is clearly not. One preacher said that Paul’s suggestion for Timothy to ‘use a little wine for the sake of his stomach’ meant that Tim was to use it as a rub! His interpretation is surely wrong!

Nevertheless, those who argue for total abstinence have some reasonable scriptural arguments. The journey to the promised land was alcohol free (Deut 29:6). Priests on duty were to be tee-total on duty (Lev 10:8f). There were those who would choose not to use alcohol, Daniel and his friends; the Nazarite (Num 6) – John the Baptist was one such. In Rom 14 Paul makes a very powerful argument that in love for a brother or sister it would be better to refrain from something legitimate rather than cause the brother or sister to stumble.

Alcohol and the Methodist Church

In times past Methodist ministers were required to preach a sermon at least once a year on temperance. We might wonder how often that was observed in the past but it is certainly not common now. One minister who has preached on the topic, not every year, but at least once in each circuit to which he has been stationed observed that the most frequent comment after the sermon was, ‘it’s a long time since we heard a sermon on that subject.’

For those who would like to better understand the history of Irish Methodism’s attitude to alcohol the November 2008 edition of the Methodist Newsletter will provide very helpful and interesting reading. For our purposes here only a very few and brief points will be made.

The editorial in that edition begins with this,

“There was a time when one of the things which people knew about Methodists was that they were against ‘drink’; indeed for some it was about the only thing they knew about the successors of John Wesley. It was not a bad reputation but it is one which is no longer reflected in the personal habits of a very large proportion of Methodist members.”

The attitude to alcohol has shifted several times in our history. In the time of Wesley, ale and wine were commonly consumed (in moderation) while distilled spirits (gin in particular which was cheap at the time) were roundly condemned.

Through the 19th century temperance became a more important issue for many. The word temperance is a ‘slippery one’ because to many it means moderation but to others (such as the Irish Temperance League, founded in 1850) it meant, and still means, total abstinence. At the end of the 19th century the Conference removed permission to use port wine in communion and insisted on the use of unfermented grape juice; communion should be accessible to everyone including those susceptible to addiction (We do not think that any conference sanctioned the use of Ribena!)

Into the 20th century the temperance / abstinence position still held sway though with less vigour. This is illustrated by the steady decline thorough the first part of the century in membership of the Irish Methodist Band of Hope.

Still, up until recent decades candidates for the Irish Methodist ministry were asked at the start of the process, “Do you use alcohol or tobacco?” If the answer was ‘yes’ they did not go on in the process. The present candidating process does not require this question to be put to candidates.

It is not known what proportion of Methodist ministers and members in 2017 drink alcohol. We might safely assume that it is a higher proportion than a generation ago. We might wonder if anyone now would say that Methodists ‘are against drink.’

Some would pose the question ‘has the pendulum swung too far?’ In our present society where the adverse medical and social effects of increasing alcohol consumption are causing ever more concern, the following recommendations are made for the prayerful consideration of all Methodists.

Recommendations
It is recommended that all Irish Methodists;

  •   Consider seriously the claims of total abstinence.
  •   Make a personal commitment either to total abstinence or to responsible drinking

  •   Consider carefully how the Church might be portrayed when members are seen in social media or social settings using alcohol

  •   Consider if personal behaviour/ conversation could give the impression that alcohol use is to be commended as a lifestyle and essential to having a good time

  •   Never drink alcohol when driving

  •   Give support wherever possible and by appropriate means to those who suffer directly or indirectly from alcohol misuse

  •   Unite to support pressure on government and public opinion for programmes designed to control consumption and reduce harm including the minimum unit pricing for alcohol

  •   Recognise the importance of example and education in family life

  •   Where they practise total abstinence, take special care to avoid authoritarian attitudes which may be counter-productive, being careful not to criticize those who practise responsible drinking

  •   Where they practise responsible drinking, take special care to demonstrate that this also involves self-controls

  •   That the Methodist Church actively engages in the promotion of responsible attitudes to alcohol and in the support (whether directly or indirectly) of those suffering the harmful consequences of their own alcohol misuse, or that of others. 


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