Catholic Morality


Is it Wrong to Drink Alcohol?

Among the evils which society suffers nowadays, the excessive number of road accidents is without a doubt worth remembering.  One of the causes of this evil is driving under the influence of alcohol.  If drinking is sometimes dangerous, is drunkenness always morally wrong?  Can we not admit that it is possible to drink in a reasonable fashion?

Is drunkenness always morally wrong?

Drunkenness is sinful only if it involves avidity and the immoderate use of alcohol.  The state of intoxication may be divided into three cases:
    First case:  If one drinks alcohol and is completely unaware that one is doing so to excess or that the drink is intoxicating, the consequential drunkenness is not culpable.  That is, the complete inadvertence excludes sin.  Such was, for example, the case of Noah after the flood  (Gen. IX 20-21).
    Second case:  If while drinking, one is conscious of an excessive intake of alcohol, but sincerely unaware that drunkenness could follow, there is therefore only a small or venial sin.
    Third case:  If one is perfectly aware of drinking in an excessive fashion and willingly accepts that drunkenness can follow, there is therefore a grave or mortal sin.  In this case the deliberation and consent are complete and entire.

Why such strictness over culpable drunkenness?

    First reason:  Drunkenness deprives us more or less of the use of reason.  Now reason is one of the faculties which distinguish human beings from animals.  To deliberately lose the use of reason reduces us to a level lower than that of animals because animals benefit from the instinct of self-preservation which the drunken person has lost.
    Second reason:  Drunkenness deprives us more or less of the use of reason.  Now it is through our reason that we adhere to goodness and avoid evil.  To deliberately lose the use of reason thus exposes us to the danger of committing a wide variety of evils, reason no longer being there to control our actions.

Consequence:  That is why anyone who dies after deliberately depriving himself of his reason through drunkenness goes directly to hell, as, for example, the apostle St. Paul teaches:  "Do not err: neither fornicators nor idolaters (...) nor drunkards nor railers nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God"  (I Cor VI 9-10).
Frequent drunkenness, besides, as a natural consequence, causes medically-proven detriments to health:

1.  Liver failure and cirrhosis,
2.  Brain atrophy and dementia,
3.  Diarrhea and Peptic Ulcers,
4.  Bleeding and Anemia,
5.  Delirious tremens from alcohol with withdrawal.

Is there a place for moderate drinking?

If voluntary drunkenness is condemned, it does not follow that the drinking of alcohol is absolutely forbidden.  Our Lord Jesus Christ made wine at Cana, and it was "good wine", as the Evangelist Saint John remarked (II 10).  Saint Paul even advised his disciple Timothy to take a little wine for his bodily infirmities (I Tim. V 23).  Moreover, the book of Ecclesiasticus informs us (XXXI 36): "Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart."

But moderation is necessary in drinking if we want to avoid sin.  Such is the object of the virtue of sobriety.  The word 'sobriety' comes in fact from a Latin word, 'bria', which means moderation, and one is called sober who maintains moderation.  This is why Sacred Scripture teaches that: "Sober drinking is health to soul and body.  Wine drunken with excess raiseth quarrels and wrath and many ruins"  (Ecclesiasticus XXXI 37-38).

What persons are particularly advised to practice sobriety in consuming alcohol?

Young people because the ardour of their age could easily lead them into worse excesses.
Women because of their lowered resistance through consuming alcohol.  That is why, as Valere Maxime tells us, in ancient Roman time, women did not drink wine.
Older people in order to instruct the young by example.
Political leaders in order to govern their citizens with wisdom.

"We say that we should shun drunkenness, which prevents us from avoiding grievous sins.  For the things we avoid when sober, we unknowingly commit when drunk" (St. Ambrose: De Patriarchis; Lib 1; Cap. 7).



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