Christian Living: What Is Alcoholism?

It is common to speak of drinking problems in terms of drunkenness or alcoholism. What is not generally understood is that five definable types of alcoholic abuse have been known for decades, of which three are characterized by loss of control and addictive behavior. All five types the Bible broadly classifies as sin (Galatians 5:21 and 1 John 3:4). Each is characterized by some kind of consequent illness.

The problem drinker has only a psychological dependence on alcohol to relieve emotional or bodily pain. His or her drinking is excessive, but noncompulsive, and damages marital and other interpersonal relationships. Problem drinkers show no evidence of physiological addiction nor loss of the ability to control or to determine their intake of alcohol.

The hard drinker is characterized by nutritional deficiency diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver, gastritis and noninflammatory degeneration of the nerves. Such people have no loss of control, no withdrawal or other addictive manifestations. Hard drinkers often have poor nutritional habits. Damage to the body is primarily physiological, with reduced earning capacity and consequent reduced family stability and reduced life expectancy.

The periodic drinker is usually abstinent between binges, but suffers from manic-depressive mood swings. He or she may begin a binge when skidding into such painful depressive moods. The periodic drinker suffers from loss of control and has temporary addictive behavior.

Progressive Phases

Most—but not all—alcoholics go from controlled social drinking to complete addiction in seven phases.

1 Controlled social drinking

2 Purposeful occasional drinking to escape from tensions

3 Frequent escape drinking in which tolerance to alcohol steadily increases

4 Early alcoholic phase with first blackout

5 Progressive preoccupation with alcohol

6 Complete alcohol dependence, danger of withdrawal symptoms

7 Social, medical and spiritual help needed. or death occurs.

The steady alcoholic, a type characteristic of the vast majority of American alcoholics, has true physiological addictions, withdrawal symptoms, loss of control of intake and a craving for alcohol. He or she has increased body tissue tolerance for alcohol, suffers from progressive impairment of all areas of the person’s functioning, including health.

The plateau alcoholic is identified by the need to maintain a certain minimum level of inebriation much of the time. The plateau alcoholic is prevalent in France and among women and Skid Row alcoholics in America. They may seldom be obviously intoxicated and may be able to hide the problem for many years. The social life of the plateau drinker disintegrates subtly and gradually. Such individuals also suffer from declining health, from addiction and an inability to exercise positive control over alcohol intake.

This general classification was developed by the E.M. Jellinek, the father of scientific alcoholism research. Other types of alcoholism are also known through medical research.

Herman L. Hoeh

Psychological and physical effects of alcohol

1 .02-.03% No overt effects, slight feeling of muscle relaxation, slight mood elevation
2 .05-.06% No intoxication, but feeling of relaxation, warmth. Slight increase in reaction time, slight decrease in fine muscle coordination
3 .08-.09% Balance, speech, vision, and hearing slightly impaired. Feelings of euphoria. Increased loss of motor coordination.
4 .11-12% Coordination and balance becoming difficult. Distinct impairment of mental faculties, judgment, etc.
5 .14-15% Major impairment of mental and physical control. Slurred speech, blurred vision, lack of motor skill.
7 .20% Loss of motor control — must have assistance in moving about. Mental confusion.
10 .30% Severe intoxication. Minimum conscious control of mind and body.
14 .40% Unconsciousness, threshold of coma.
17 .50% Deep coma.
20 .60% Death from respiratory failure.
For each one-hour time lapse, subtract .015% blood alcohol concentration, or approximately one drink. One drink = one beer (4.0% alcohol, 12 ounces) or one highball (1 ounce whiskey, 4 ounces ginger ale). Source: Drug Education, Content and Methods, Girdano and Girdano. Copyright 1972, 1976 Addison, Wesley Publishing, Inc.


Alcohol content and metabolization rates of various liquors



Beer (4.5%), 12-ounce can
.54 oz
.38 oz
Dinner wine (12%), 4 ounces
.50 oz
.42 oz
Dessert wine (22%), 4 ounces
.80 oz
.31 oz
80 proof whiskey, gin, etc., 1 ounce
.40 oz
.28 oz
100 proof whiskey, gin, etc., 1 ounce
.50 oz
.28 oz
Highball: 1 oz. whiskey, 4 ounces of ginger ale
.80 oz
Manhattan: 1.5 ounces whiskey, .75 oz. vermouth
.75 oz
Martini: 1.5 ounces gin, .5 oz. of 12% vermouth
.75 oz
Tom Collins: 1.5 ounces gin, lemon, sugar, mix
.75 oz
*Carbonated mixers increase the absorption rate of alcohol into the bloodstream. Source: Drug Education, Content and Methods, Girdano and Girdano. Copyright 1972, 1976 Addison, Wesley Publishing, Inc.

Author: Herman L. Hoeh


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