The Catholic view on alcohol and drugs

An anonymous visitor asked this in the Q&A section of this blog:

Hi, I am a Baha’i who would like to know some more about Catholicism. The Baha’i Faith has clear, strongly worded teachings against alcohol, psychoactive drugs and tobacco. I’m not aware of Catholics having any code of conduct in these areas. If I’m wrong about that, can you please quote Bible and Catholic teachings on these subjects, so that I can quote those teachings to my Catholic friends to help them to improve themselves.

Unfortunately most members of the Catholic Church neither know nor care what the Church teaches. The Church is a “big tent” that includes many people whose Catholic identity is no more than an extension of their family or ethnic identity. So what the Church says may or may not matter to your friends.

There are many references to alcohol in the Bible, mostly wine. The upshot of it all is that wine is okay to consume in moderation, but one must never become drunk.

I’m not aware of the Bible saying anything about psychoactive drugs, and tobacco was not yet in use when the Bible was written.

As you probably know, the Catholic Church does not base its teachings solely on what is written in the Bible. We believe that God entrusted the Church to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, which protects it from teaching error and allows it to apply the principles of truth to new circumstances as societies change.

We understand there to be seven fundamental virtues, upon which all virtues are based. Three have to do with God and our relationship with him (faith, hope and love), which we know about only through revelation. The other four (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) are earthly virtues accessible to all mankind through reason.

We believe that to indulge in alcohol, tobacco or drugs in a way that causes harm to one’s body transgresses the virtue of temperance. (Temperance is the virtue of moderation in all things.)

We also believe that the Ten Commandments are actually categories of sins, and every possible sin falls into one of these ten categories. Harming one’s health is a violation of the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”.

If you need a reference, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2288–2291. (The Catechism’s section on the Fifth Commandment may be found online on the U.S. bishops’ website and on the Vatican website.)


13 Responses

  1. Thankyou for your insights on this subject. Below are the anti-alcohol Bible quotations which I compiled from this web page:

    Bible References to WINE and STRONG DRINK
    (Vows of Abstinence, Warnings against abuse, Rules for Deacons)

    Vows of abstinence [14] Citation: LEVITICUS 010:009
    King James: Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:
    New International: “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.

    Vows of abstinence [16] Citation: NUMBERS 006:003
    King James: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.
    New International: he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins.

    Vows of abstinence [40] Citation: JUDGES 013:004
    King James: Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:
    New International: Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean,

    Vows of abstinence [41] Citation: JUDGES 013:007
    King James: But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
    New International: But he said to me, `You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'”

    Vows of abstinence [42] Citation: JUDGES 013:014
    King James: She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe.
    New International: She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine,

    Warnings against abuse [96] Citation: PROVERBS 020:001
    King James: Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
    New International: Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

    Warnings against abuse [97] Citation: PROVERBS 021:017
    King James: He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.
    New International: He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.

    Warnings against abuse [98] Citation: PROVERBS 023:020
    King James: Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh:
    New International: Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat,

    Warnings against abuse [99] Citation: PROVERBS 023:030
    King James: They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.
    New International: Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.

    Warnings against abuse [100] Citation: PROVERBS 023:031
    King James: Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
    New International: Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!

    Warnings against abuse [101] Citation: PROVERBS 031:004
    King James: It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:
    New International: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel– not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer,

    Warnings against abuse [115] Citation: ISAIAH 005:011
    King James: Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!
    New International: Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.

    Warnings against abuse [116] Citation: ISAIAH 005:012
    King James: And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.
    New International: They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands.

    Warnings against abuse [117] Citation: ISAIAH 005:022
    King James: Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:
    New International: Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks,

    Vows of abstinence [201] Citation: LUKE 001:015
    King James: For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
    New International: for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.

    Vows of abstinence [205] Citation: LUKE 007:033
    King James: For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
    New International: For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, `He has a demon.

    Warnings against abuse [215] Citation: EPHESIANS 005:018
    King James: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
    New International: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

    Deacons (rules for) [216] Citation: 1 TIMOTHY 003:003
    King James: Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
    New International: not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

    Deacons (rules for) [217] Citation: 1 TIMOTHY 003:008
    King James: Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
    New International: Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.

    Deacons (rules for) [219] Citation: TITUS 001:007
    King James: For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
    New International: Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

    Warnings against abuse [220] Citation: TITUS 002:003
    King James: The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
    New International: Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.

    Warnings against abuse [221] Citation: 1 PETER 004:003
    King James: For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:
    New International: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.

  2. I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at. Why did you compile these quotes?

  3. Thanks to Jonah for the helpful explanation!

  4. Your original question seems to be not wondering at differences in Bahai laws or Catholic (cannon) law, but seeking knowledge as to what is common in both. To my knowledge, the Bahai’ faith, similar as any other faith, recognizes that laws of human behaviour are governed by National and regional politics, and most Bahai’s accept a prohibition from becoming involved in politics. Catholic Priests respect and pray for political leaders, even if they regard them as corrupt. They may even encourage lay leaders to become involved in politics, if they agree that God is leading a lay person to seek election to a public office.

    I’ve been told by professing Bahai’s that they accept it as a mission to practice and teach their faith, within whatever laws and prohibitions they are bound to respect. Thus as tradespeople, teachers, doctors, or lawyers, they have to strive to obey policies and laws where they live. In that way, like their founder, Baha’u’llah, most Bahai’s profess the notion of gladly accepting imprisonment, rather than betray their faith, as from the inception of that faith, it was thought to be the only way to gain any influence, among Islamic governing leaders.

    The only similarities, between Bahai and Catholic belief’s, in my opinion, are respect for natural human reasoning, and marriage, as a “sacred” covenant (not merely a civil or legal contract) between one man and one woman. Writing imprisoned in Akka, Baha’u’llah drew from his knowledge of Zoroastrian and Islamic faiths where he lived, but it is very unlikely that he learned anything of the Catholic faith catechism, Sacraments, or the Apocrypha, because the only references in his works to the Bible (among those translated and studied by this reader) are from the King James (Protestant) version.

    As to alcohol and drug laws in religious social policy – Baha’u’lah prohibited his early followers from using alcohol and opium – “unless” prescribed by a doctor – those were the two things he knew of that were likely to be abused as mind-altering substances. Similarly, the Catholic faith does not prohibit licensed use of medical marijuana. Social policy as to different cultural practices required, or prohibited, was answered by Peter and Paul in writings to the early Church. Emphasis is on recognition of a difference between venial and mortal sin (refer to a Catechism for explanation) with the revelation that “all things created by God are good”, and are permitted, but not to be abused. Catholic faithful are similarly encouraged to always remain in control of their freedom of thought, word, and deed, so as not to give offence to others.

    Catholic faith is such that thousands upon thousands of martyrs and saints have followed Jesus Christ’s summary of the law and the prophets: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.

  5. “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, NOR ANY THING WHEREBY thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” Romans 4:21

    (emphasis added)

    If the meaning is not clear, take a look at the preceeding passages:

    14:19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

    14:20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.

    In my opinion, it becomes clear that the Bible discourages the use drugs and alcohol. But again, it’s just my opinion…

  6. James, when you take verses out of context, it hurts your credibility. Romans 14 says that all food and drink is okay in itself, but if eating or drinking something in particular would cause offence to your brother, then it is better to abstain — not because it is wrong in itself to consume the substance, but because showing charity to your neighbor is superior to claiming your personal right.

    Taking a verse or two out of context does not bring truth. It’s simply a way for biased people to confirm themselves in their bias. If you want to know what the Bible says on a certain topic, I advise you to look up terms relating to that concept in a Bible concordance and read every verse listed under those headings. In this case, check terms like “wine” and “drink” in the concordance. I did just that when I wanted to know what the Bible said about drinking.

  7. Most commonly Christian leaders teach their followers that it is okay to drink alcohol in moderation. Personally, I think that that is revoltingly inadequate to the point of being truly pathetic, considering what a horrendous social evil alcohol is in today’s world. Christ taught His followers to be moral perfectionists, not to be morally mediocre, and not to just copy the degenerate morals of the society around them.

    5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
    (King James Bible, Matthew)

  8. Personally, I think that that is revoltingly inadequate to the point of being truly pathetic, considering what a horrendous social evil alcohol is in today’s world. Christ taught His followers to be moral perfectionists, not to be morally mediocre, and not to just copy the degenerate morals of the society around them.

    Jesus drank wine.

    I agree that Jesus taught us to be moral perfectionists. I fail to understand, though, how abstaining from alcohol makes you more perfect. The social evil you’re talking about is caused by the overconsumption of alcohol – people getting drunk and acting like fools. No social evil has ever been caused by someone having a glass of wine with dinner.

    Jesus said that it is not what goes into your mouth that makes you righteous, but what comes out of your mouth. In Christianity there is no prohibited food or drink. People who want to be “religious” are attracted to arbitrary restrictions like not eating pork or not drinking alcohol because it gives them an easy way to feel righteous. All they have to do is avoid doing something, and already they’ve got a leg up. Don’t fall into that trap. Not drinking alcohol doesn’t make you a better person.

  9. Catholics believe alcohol is acceptable in moderation (which we would say is the biblical and traditional Christian view). We regard drunkenness as a sin. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns drunken excess and illegal drugs in #2290-2291:

    The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.

    The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

    In my understanding, the notion held by some Protestants that alcohol is intrinsically evil derives primarily (if not solely) from the temperance and prohibition movements in the mid-1800s and onward. Several denominations, such as the Presbyterians and the Methodists (maybe even the Baptists ?), changed at that time from serving alcohol (following the implied “wine” of the biblical description) in the Lord’s Supper / Communion, to grape juice, almost entirely on political grounds: they were caving in to the temperance activists, in my opinion; adapting and compromising the gospel and Christianity to the political / moral and cultural fashions of the moment.

    Lutherans and Anglicans have always used wine for Holy Communion. Neither Martin Luther (who was quite fond of wine) nor John Calvin (Institutes, 3:19:7; 4:13:9 – citing St. Augustine) opposed wine-drinking. Calvin casually assumes that wine will be used for Holy Communion (4:17:43), as it had always been used in the Church previous to that time. The third major Protestant Reformer, Zwingli, while rejecting the Real Presence altogether and adopting a purely symbolic view of the Lord’s Supper, nevertheless assumed that wine had always been used in the Christian celebration of the Eucharist, and kept on using it.

    The weak arguments from the Bible used by fundamentalists to oppose all alcohol use whatsoever collapse upon even cursory examination, in my opinion. They try to assert that the biblical “wine” is merely unfermented grape juice. The term “strong drink, ” however, in contrast to “wine,” is seen, e.g., in passages such as Lev 10:9, Num 6:3, Deut 14:26, 29:6, Jud 13:4,7,14, 1 Sam 1:15, Prov 31:4, Mic 2:11 (cf. Prov 20:1, 31:6, Is 5:11,22, 24:9, 28:7, 56:12, Luke 1:15). This Hebrew word is shekar, defined by Strong’s Concordance (word #7941) as “intoxicant, i.e., intensely alcoholic liquor – strong drink.” Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon (1st ed., 1847; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979) likewise defines it as

    strong drink, intoxicating liquor, whether wine, Nu 28:7, or intoxicating drink like wine, made from barley . . ., or distilled from honey or dates. It is often distinguished from wine . . . (p. 823)

    Note that God doesn’t outright forbid this “strong drink” as immoral in and of itself. It may be avoided (along with wine) by some for fasting or ascetic (voluntary self-denial) purposes (as in Lev 10:9, Num 6:3, and Deut 29:6), but that is not a sweeping prohibition. In fact, in Deut 14:26, Moses (see Deut 1:1) says in so many words that it is perfectly acceptable to drink it. The writer of Proverbs advises giving “strong drink” to the dying, and “wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more” (31:6-7; NRSV). This is similar to the Apostle Paul’s suggestion to “take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23; NRSV).

    In many of these passages, it is implied, however, that excessive drinking of this intoxicant, or drunkenness, is a bad thing, characteristic of the wicked. Thus, the Bible (and the Catholic Church, following it) condemns drunkenness, but not all use of alcohol or wine (e.g., Deut 21:20, Prov 20:1, 21:17, 23:20-21,29-35, 26:9, Is 5:11-12, Rom 13:13, 1 Cor 5:11, 6:10, Gal 5:21, 1 Tim 3:3,8, Titus 1:7, 2:3, 1 Peter 4:3).

    Many OT passages praise wine (e.g., Jud 9:13, Ps 104:15). Having “plenty” of wine is a divine blessing (Gen 27:28). Wine was used at the ancient Jewish festivals (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles), and on the Sabbath, and was offered as a libation in Jewish rituals (Ex 29:40, 1 Sam 1:24), which may account for its later use in the Passover Seder. The Talmud called for red wine to be used. The Last Supper was a Jewish Passover (see Mt 26:17 ff., Mk 14:12 ff., Lk 22:15 ff., Jn 13:1 ff.); hence Jesus undeniably used wine as the example of what was to become the Christian Eucharist.

    Jesus partook of wine and was absurdly accused by His critics of being a drunkard (Matt 11:19, Lk 7:33). He turned water into wine (not grape juice), in His first miracle (Jn 2:1 ff.). Jesus drank wine on the cross:

    A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:29-30; cf. Mt 27:48, Mk 15:36; NRSV)

    This word, oxos in Greek, is translated as “vinegar” in the King James Version. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (4th ed., 1901, rep. by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1977) defines it (Strong’s word #3690) as follows:

    . . . used in the NT for Latin ‘posca,’ i.e., the mixture of sour wine or vinegar and water which the Roman soldiers were accustomed to drink. (p. 449)

    In fact, the Roman soldiers offered this drink to Jesus before the crucifixion, and He refused (Mt 27:34, Lk 23:36, Mk 15:23). But the interesting thing is that the best texts of Mt 27:34 have the NT word for “wine,” oinos (Strong’s #3631), rather than oxos, thus strongly inferring that what Jesus was given on the cross was indeed wine, not vinegar. Likewise, even the KJV manuscripts (older and now outdated) have oinos at Mk 15:23:

    And they gave him to drink wine [oinos] mingled with myrhh: but he received it not. (KJV)

    Jesus refused this drink because it contained myrhh, which – combined with alcohol – would have had a narcotic effect. But he accepted this same drink without the myrhh on the cross, just before He died (John 19:29-30; cf. Mt 27:48, Mk 15:36). Some might still dispute that it was (or contained wine, with alcohol), but several modern translations render oxos at John 19:29-30, Mt 27:48, and Mk 15:36 as “wine,” “sour wine,” or similar description:

    o John 19:29-30: “sour wine” (NASB, Living, Phillips, NEB, NRSV, NKJV, REB, Wuest, Goodspeed, Beck, Williams),
    o “cheap wine” (TEV),
    o “wine vinegar” (NIV),
    o “vinegar (a sour wine)” (Amplified),
    o “bitter wine” (Barclay),
    o “common wine” (Confraternity, NAB)
    o Matthew 27:48: “sour wine” (NASB, Living, NEB, NRSV, NKJV, REB, Wuest, Goodspeed, Beck),
    o “cheap wine” (TEV, NAB),
    o “wine vinegar” (NIV),
    o “vinegar [a sour wine]” (Amplified),
    o “common wine” (Confraternity)
    o Mark 15:36: “sour wine” (NASB, Living, NEB, NRSV, NKJV, REB, Wuest, NAB, Beck),
    o “cheap wine” (TEV),
    o “wine vinegar” (NIV),
    o “vinegar [a mixture of sour wine and water]” (Amplified),
    o “common wine” (Goodspeed, Confraternity)

    The conclusion is overwhelming: Jesus drank wine on the cross. It was the last thing He did before He died. Even modern revisions of the KJV and RSV change the “vinegar” to “wine” (e.g., NRSV, NKJV, NASB). Perhaps this was in part due to the sort of cross-referencing just examined.

    The NT oinos [“wine”] was a fermented drink, though probably less strong than our current wine. Fermentation is implied, e.g., in the mention of the bursting of the wineskins (Matt 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37). Eph 5:18 states that one can theoretically get “drunk with wine” and Paul commands us not to do that (cf. Jn 2:10). Wine is to be avoided if it stumbles a brother (Rom 14:21).

    This is the biblical teaching on wine and alcohol. The Catholic Church follows it closely, while the absolute anti-alcohol position of some Protestant fundamentalists cannot possibly be sustained on a biblical basis. There is no biblical evidence whatsoever that unfermented grape juice was ever considered as “wine” (see, e.g., Gen 40:11-12). No amount of wishful thinking or Puritanistic moralizing can change that fact (and the others above).

  10. “We believe that God entrusted the Church to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, which protects it from teaching error”

    HAHAHA! Thanks for the laugh!

  11. wow if you don’t like it don’t read it. . . but i find this very interesting

  12. This is a clear and true explanation.very interesting

  13. This is a clear and true explanation.

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