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Alcoholic Beverages and Alcoholism

by Joseph Lynn Lyon

Active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages. This practice of abstinence derives from an 1833 revelation known as the Word of Wisdom, which states "that inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father" (D&C 89:5). The harmful effects of ethyl alcohol (the active ingredient in all alcoholic beverages) on human health are also noted in the Bible (Prov. 31:4-5; Isa. 5:11). Although the Word of Wisdom was given originally to show the will of God and not as a commandment, abstinence from alcohol was expected of fully participating Church members by the early twentieth century and faithful observance is virtually prerequisite to temple work and leadership callings in the church (see Doctrine and Covenants: Section 89).

Ethyl alcohol is produced by yeast fermentation in grains and fibers containing sugar. The amount of alcohol in wine and beer is normally less than 10 percent because fermentation stops when the ethyl alcohol concentration reaches this level. In modern times, however, the amount in alcoholic beverages has been increased by distillation.

The availability of beverages with higher concentrations of alcohol has increased the number of social and medical problems associated with ingesting it. Some conditions that are increased among those who use alcohol include cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, and esophagus; cirrhosis of the liver; degenerative diseases of the central nervous system; and higher accidental death rates (both automobile and pedestrian accidents).

The proscription on alcohol ingestion has reduced the incidence of all of these conditions among Latter-day Saints. The number of alcoholics in any population is usually estimated from the number of deaths caused by cirrhosis of the liver. An unpublished study conducted at the University of Utah in 1978 found that the number of deaths from alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver among LDS people was about half that of the non-LDS in Utah and other areas of the United States. This suggests that while the Word of Wisdom does not prevent alcoholism entirely, it has been effective in reducing its incidence.

[See also Social Problems; Daily Living home page; Attitudes Toward Health, Medicine, and Fitness home page.]


Gilman, A. G., L. S. Goodman, and A. Gilman, eds. Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 6th ed., pp. 376-86. New York, 1980.

Hawks, Ricky D. "Alcohol Use Trends Among LDS High School Seniors in America from 1982-1986." AMCAP Journal 15, 1 (1989):43-51.

Hawks, Ricky D. "Alcohol Use Among LDS and Other Groups Teaching Abstinence." In Drug and Alcohol Abuse Reviews, R. R. Watson, ed., pp. 133-49. Clifton, N.J., 1990.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Alcoholic Beverages and Alcoholism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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