I hadn’t thought much about my seat mate as we buckled up to take off. She was frazzled and middle-aged and certainly didn’t look like the talkative type. “It’ll probably be a very quiet ride,” I mused to myself. However, when the stewardess asked her what she wanted to drink, her answer stirred my interest.
“May I please have two vodka’s and a tomato juice?” she said. “I’d like to make myself a Bloody Mary.”
Breathing a prayer I ventured, “May I ask you, what does drinking an alcoholic beverage do for you?”
My seat mate made a guilty grimace. “It takes all the tensions away that I have when I travel and have to face the crowds. In a few minutes I’ll get this warm and pleasant sensation inside and all my worries and troubles will just melt away,” she said. A dreamy look crossed her face. “You see, I have a disorder called agoraphobia. I lock up with panic and tension when I’m in a crowd.”
And she went on to tell me her story. As a teenager in Peru, she had been traumatized by being kidnaped and held hostage for ransom. She had come out of the experience without physical harm, but inside she had many emotional struggles.
It really felt like I was venturing further into dangerous territory, but I decided to risk it anyway... “Ma’am, I have a question. I am a minister of the gospel. Last night I preached from Proverbs 31. I was on the subject of where people turn for an ultimate resource when their emotions overwhelm them. I warned them about the dangers of strong drink and how it impairs judgment. I’d like to know from your experience if it is true?”
Taking my Bible, I offered her to read from Proverbs 31:4-9. She slowly and thoughtfully read the words,
“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”
After reading the passage she asked, “Now what was your question again?”
And so I explained. I told her we all need somewhere to go when our emotions bottom out or tie us up in knots, or when we feel life is almost too much to handle. “So here is my question, ‘Is it true that alcohol impairs and distorts our judgment; that in making us feel like we can handle life it keeps us from the larger reality of life, and keeps us from feeling other’s suffering?’ ”
“It most certainly is true,” she replied, “And what’s more, I shouldn’t be giving myself this little liberty today. It’s just I need the courage to face these two airplane flights and all these people.”
But then she turned toward me with her question, “Are you telling me, that in all your life you have never had a drink of beer or whiskey? That is really amazing!”
“That’s true,” I said. “Our people have been taught we should never even taste the stuff. But I will admit, that a number of our people are on psychotropic meds of different sorts.” Then I went on and risked yet another question, “Tell me, do you have any experience with meds, you know, those kind that help people deal with their emotional problems? You see, the reason I want to know is that so many of our people are told by doctors that they need medications to handle life. And I want to know if it affects them?”
“I sure do have experience,” she responded. “My experiences have taken me down that road where I have had about all the drugs out there that are supposed to help people. And I have to say they aren’t that much different than alcohol. They take effect in different ways, but they are to do the same thing. In fact, because of my experience I’ve become an advocate for those who are being medicated against their will.”
And then she went on, explaining how people use medications to control people who should be allowed and helped to work through their negative emotions. “Tell your people not to go down that road! There is no one out there who really needs medications” she asserted, “Except for those who are on them and just can’t stop taking them right away. Tell them that medications will impair their judgment of life.”
And so this conversation raised even more questions. Many doctors and even conservative ministers encourage people struggling with emotions to turn to prescription medications. May we look at the negative impact of this? What do experts know about medications? What are the long term effects with taking this route for our emotional struggles? The following is a brief summary of these findings.
Will we impair our brains?
Let’s ponder what Lemuel’s mother told him almost 3,000 years ago. Consider the words she chose to describe the effects of alcohol. “Forget, pervert, forget, remember no more.” It doesn’t say, “Give your brain enlightenment and balance.”
Like my seat mate on the plane, a person who uses alcohol to self-medicate can tell you that he chooses to drink because it makes him feel better about his problems. The tensions he feels inside melt away. Social awkwardness and other inhibitions disappear and the person feels good about himself. He will often admit that it doesn’t change reality but it makes him feel different about his reality. In fact using strong drink often makes reality much worse, but under influence negative reality no longer troubles him.
Sadly, it is also true that the new distorted reality narrows a person’s perception to other’s problems; troubles and needs are of no concern to them. Lemuel’s mother warned him that his ability to decide cases of judgment would be affected, especially where human suffering was involved. The sharp edge of living with eternal realities also fades; the will of God as written in the law subsides.
A psychology team put it this way. “If people do feel better when drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana it is because they feel better when their brain is impaired. Psychiatric drugs are no different. The people who take such drugs may feel less of their emotional suffering. They may even reach a state of relative anesthesia. But to the degree that they feel better, it is because they are experiencing intoxication with the drugs.”11
This thought often surprises people. We have been led to believe that medications are medicine. Medications that target the brain do not bring balance to brain chemistry, nor do they fill some void.
The following is a quote from foundationsrecoverynetwork.com. “Every type of drug, no matter how potent or addictive, has some type of effect on the person using it. These effects can range from mild to severe, and can include both physical and psychological symptoms. While each drug is different, one common effect of drug use is impaired judgment. Every drug side effect has the potential to be dangerous, but impaired judgment can be especially risky to a person physically, psychologically and socially. It is essential to use drugs with extreme caution, knowing that they can impair a person’s judgment in multiple and sometimes unexpected ways.”
Another quote from the same source: “The NIDA (National Institute for Drug Abuse) also describes the changes that occur in a person’s brain while on drugs. The chemicals in the drug disrupt the communication system of the brain, changing the way it processes information by either acting like the brain’s natural neurotransmitters, or by causing the brain to release too many neurotransmitters.”22
Choosing this remedy for internal suffering is sometimes described as closing out communication between the two worlds we all experience. Each of us has an ongoing dialogue between the sensations we gather from our bodies and what we tell ourselves about our world in our minds. When our bodies fail to respond the way they should, or when we evaluate that they are not doing what we want them to, we choose a corrective choice. For example, if we feel dizzy or shiver or sense we are not making sense to others - we stop - and choose a response to correct our problem.
When the brain is impaired by alcohol or mind altering meds, that self-dialogue and correction is minimized or stopped depending upon the dosage. An alcohol impaired person becomes decreasingly aware of his staggering steps or his self-centered conversation. He not only stops seeing full reality around him, he stops sensing it within himself. It is common for the alcoholic to resist treatment because he has lost perception about how the alcohol is affecting his actions. Not being aware of his actions, he is naive to his addiction to it. When he finally becomes sober he finds he has “wounds without cause”. See Proverbs 23:29-35. This same self-blindness is experienced to some degree across the spectrum of all medications.
How much of our impairment are we responsible for? Only God knows and only the judgment will reveal how all of this will look in the end. What is the soul accountable for when the brain is under an impairment brought on by alcohol or by meds?
If Lemuel had resisted his mother’s direction and chosen to self-medicate he no doubt would have left the oppressed in his kingdom suffer. He’d have chosen a life with few inhibitions like described in Proverbs 23:29-35. He’d have come to after a night of little or no self-awareness and wondered what all he had done. How much of this would he have been responsible for?
Another question about the impaired mind is this, “When our world is made smaller, what happens to self?” Is it true that a smaller world makes a larger self in comparison? Do any of us need to have a world where our journey becomes more and more important and other’s worlds are more insignificant?
So we observe that psychotropic meds create impairment. Many will raise the question, “Isn’t it right to treat emotional suffering like physical suffering?” We’ll look more directly at this theory in the next installment.
1. Your Drug May Be Your Problem, Pg 2.