Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers

Why is an addiction to caffeine acceptable while addiction to nicotine & alcohol are seen as wrong?

Question:

Caffeine is addictive but widely accepted even though it can cause similar problems that any substance can.  With that said Christians often discuss this addiction as if it were acceptable.   

Why do we look at one as ok but others such as smoking, drinking, etc as wrong?

Answer:

This is a great question!  Let me start by quoting an article from the Mayo Clinic regarding caffeine consumption. 

"If you rely on caffeine to wake you up and keep you going, you aren't alone. Caffeine is used by millions of people every day to increase wakefulness, alleviate fatigue, and improve concentration and focus."  "Heavy daily caffeine use — more than 500 to 600 mg a day — may cause side effects such as: Insomnia, Nervousness, Restlessness, Irritability, Stomach upset, Fast heartbeat, Muscle tremors."  "If you're like most adults, caffeine is a part of your daily routine. And most often it doesn't pose a health problem. But be mindful of those situations in which you need to curtail your caffeine habit."  (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678?pg=1)

I want to address 4 ways of looking at this question:

1) Caffeine VS Smoking, Drinking, Recreational Drug Use, etc:

From the above Mayo Clinic article there seemed to be some extremely important facts missing. One would be the fact that while caffeine may become addictive for some, it is not addictive to all.  The fact that while caffeine may become addictive for some, it is not known by the medical world to "pose health problems."  The fact that while caffeine may become addictive for some, I have never personally heard of anyone becoming such a slave to their caffeine that they needed to rob or kill someone to quench their addiction.

Yet, the FDA requires the following 9 warnings to appear on cigarette packaging and advertisements:

"Cigarettes are addictive.  Tobacco smoke can harm your children.  Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.  Cigarettes cause cancer.  Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.  Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.  Smoking can kill you.  Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.  Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health." (http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/Labeling/ucm259953.htm)

You see comparing caffeine to a habit such as smoking is not an "apples to apples" comparison.  Cigarettes are addictive to everyone that partakes for any length of time.  Cigarettes do harm children.  Cigarettes do cause fatal lung cancer, strokes, heart disease, death.

Also trying to compare caffeine to drinking or recreational drug use is not an "apples to apples" comparison.  The following is quoted from WebMD, "It's no secret that alcohol consumption can cause major health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver and injuries sustained in automobile accidents. But if you think liver disease and car crashes are the only health risks posed by drinking, think again: Researchers have linked alcohol consumption to more than 60 diseases."  "Alcohol does all kinds of things in the body, and we're not fully aware of all its effects," says James C. Garbutt, MD, professor".  (http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/12-health-risks-of-chronic-heavy-drinking) 

The cited article goes on to list 12 medical conditions that come from excessive drinking of alcohol.  I think it would be redundant to continue with this point in regards to recreational drug use.  The point is that medically speaking, it is not fair to compare those who drink soda/coffee to those who are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or drugs.

2) Idolatry:

"Addiction" is defined as "a strong and harmful need to regularly have something or do something." (Merriam Webster)  Any and all things we place above God are considered idolatry.  When we begin to love ourselves, children, work, hobbies, entertainment, etc more than we love God there is a word for it... idolatry!  Without knowing it we can become addicted to these earthly things.  You may disagree with this, but I ask you to consider giving up selfishness, work, entertainment, etc for more time with God in study or service.  If we are unwilling, then perhaps we are addicted to modern day idols.

Back to your question.  Instead of work, entertainment, etc now let's ask ourselves if we are truly addicted to caffeine, smoking, drinking, etc.  If we truly have a "strong and harmful need to regularly have" caffeine, smoking, drinking, etc... then God would consider that a sin.  May each of us decide with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) if we are truly "addicted" to something more than our heavenly Father.  

3) Judging Someone Else to Justify Our Sins.

Point #2 naturally leads me to the heart of the matter.  Romans 2:1-11 reminds us to not judge others and then practice the same things.  It is a temptation for everyone of us to justify our sins in comparison with others.  Instead we need to heed the words of God such as "who will render to each person according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:6), or "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10). 

It is natural for us to compare ourselves to others.  However, two wrongs never make a right and just because one may be addicted to a substance doesn't make it ok for the next person to do the same.  The only standard we should measure ourselves to is the word of God.  When we ask "why does X seem acceptable but my Y temptation is frowned upon" shows that we are judging/justifying our weakness against others instead of the Bible.  As stated previously, anything we become "addicted" to becomes an idol.  Idols can come in the form of shopping, sports, hobbies, entertainment and even food and/or other substances via caffeine, nicotine, etc.  A sin is a sin.  No matter if fellow Christians deem something acceptable or unacceptable the real question to be asked is, Is This Acceptable to God!  Within that question we should find our true answer.

4) God's Command to Be Sober.

Finally may I offer a fourth way to consider your question.  1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  The context is not a reference to drinking/drugs, but rather a command for Christians to be "serious" about their relationship with God.  It is a command for us to keep temptations as far away as possible so that we will not give in to our weaknesses (Prov. 6:27-28).  1 Peter 4:7 in the ESV reads as follows, "The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers."

May I suggest that instead of worrying about what men accept or don't accept; we should all simply do our best to obey these commands from God.  The commands discussed in this article are: do not allow yourself to become addicted to earthly things (idolatry), do not justify personal sins because of the sins of others and in all things "be sober."

May God bless each of us in our efforts to overcome our temptations!