Staying Sober: One of the Many Benefits of the LDS Word of Wisdom

I’ve never understand why so many people feel that they have to numb larger portions of their brain in order to party. Shaving off a handful of IQ points with ethanol has not made anybody I’ve ever met become a better friend, a more interesting conversationalist, or a more valuable person. But it has made some smart people stupid, a lot of stupid people even stupider. Yet these people think alcohol is ab absolute necessity for partying. “Dude, it was an awesome party! I woke up on somebody’s floor and can’t even remember what happened. You should have been there … uh, were you there?”

As with marijuana, the juiced-up drug-deluded mind feels like it is more creative and interesting. This reminds me of a story from Polish literature told my some Polish immigrants to my son (let me know if you know the author). In this story, a man experiments with liquor and drugs. While stoned, he has a remarkable idea that he knows can change the world. His mission in life becomes clear, and he will pursue this idea and revolutionize society. When he becomes sober, he can’t remember what the idea was, but knew it was brilliant. He gets stoned again, and the idea returns, so clear and exciting. After he sobers up, all is forgotten. The third time, he gets a notebook so he can write down his revolutionary vision. He gets stoned again, the idea returns, he writes it down, and when he awakes later, he looks at his notebook to see what he has captured: “If I stand on a chair, I can touch the ceiling.”

Of course, at some parties, when people start standing on chairs and tables, it’s usually not the ceiling they will be encountering next. When they wake up, they are always somewhere lower than where they began.

In Wisconsin, we have one of the nation’s finest schools, UW Madison. Tens of thousands of students from all over the world come to this huge and really wonderful campus, where billions of dollars have been invested to provide some of the most outstanding educational opportunities in the world. Parents are thrilled when their children get accepted and go to this campus for four years. And parents like to think that their children are becoming highly educated. That happens for many, but the tragedy is that the campus, like so many in the nation, is plagued with alcohol abuse. Students I know there explain that alcohol use is disgustingly rampant among those staying in the dorms. Adult guidance of students to protect them from sex, booze, and other drugs is so desperately needed there but seems relatively absent. 59% percent of students in one recent survey admitted to binge drinking (five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting) during the previous two weeks. Ouch.

The University takes federal grants to better deal with the problem and says a lot about helping students live healthy lifestyles, and many officials are working to help kids be more responsible and wise, but the reality seems to be that almost anything goes in the dorms, as with most universities. (Part of that is the influence of Federal regulations and the efforts of the ACLU, but that’s another story.) A lot of kids try to be responsible, and some stay out of trouble and focus on education. But the alcohol problem is hard to escape for many, and is more severe in Madison than in typical universities. What a disservice to education, to the students, and to their families when our universities condone the party lifestyle on campus.

At UW Madison, I know of two non-LDS students from Appleton, two courageous and wonderful young women, who have decided to simply stay away from alcohol. In their on-campus dorm, it is extremely difficult to do this. (I can sympathize with those who yield to the pressures, for the pressure is great and relentless, but how much better it is to strengthen rather than weaken your mind and body while pursuing education.) These two girls may be the only ones on their entire floor with that level of self-control, and I salute them for their courage. I have no doubt that they will be among the most intelligent graduates a few years from now.

As a parent, though, I’d rather send my kids to a place like BYU where they won’t be pressured by most of their peers to engage in binge drinking or any kind of alcohol use, and where they won’t be as likely to be viewed by their peers as refugees from the Dark Ages if they aren’t promiscuous. There’s more to education than the height of the money pile your school gets from Uncle Sam, or the number of publications faculty members have. I’m glad there are at least a few schools in this nation that encourage mental acuity by actively prohibiting drugs and alcohol.

Wherever you are, why not retain some of the benefits of education by avoiding alcohol from now on? In the LDS view, it’s not just a good idea, it’s a valuable tip for success revealed by God.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

17 thoughts on “Staying Sober: One of the Many Benefits of the LDS Word of Wisdom

  1. This post is written from a non-LDS perspective.

    I went through four years of college without touching alcohol at a school with “values” similar to the University you describe. My reasons for teetotaling were numerous, but chief among them is alcoholism runs in the family. I didn’t want to go down that path.

    So I never touched an adult beverage, and I never once engaged in unmarried sex. I never tried to hide my beliefs; I stood up for what I thought was right.

    An interesting thing happened. I made many “jock” friends who engaged in a lot of the activities I avoided. They didn’t view me as something out of the “Dark Ages.” Instead, they actually admired and respected me for it. The key was being friendly to them, stating my beliefs so they knew where I stood, and then going on about our lives. Some of them remain friends almost twenty years later.

    That the two girls you describe are treated like outcasts is unfortunate, but not necessarily the way things have to be. Maybe there’s an LDS dimension that I’m missing – perhaps they are treated as they are because they’re thought of as those “nutty Mormons” (not that I would agree with that view) rather than their desire not to drink and sleep around. But I honestly think that if they make an attempt to be engaging without embracing the lifestyle, everyone might be better off.

  2. Wonderful comment – thank you for a great example.

    The two girls I praised are actually not Mormons. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. But they have earned some serious respect from my Mormon sons and I’m very proud of them. I wouldn’t say that they are treated like outcasts – they may be winning a lot of respect from others, as you did – but the pressure is intense. Saying “no” is not the way to gain instant acceptance among your peers, but as you noted, over time that can change.

    Thanks again for sharing your views, and many thanks for the example you have set!

  3. Thank you for your kind comments.

    “…two non-LDS students from Appleton…”

    Don’t know how you could have made that clearer to me! Just goes to show that alcohol avoidance doesn’t necessarily mean stellar reading comprehension. 🙂

  4. Drunk Driving is such a serious issue, I often wonder why more people aren’t having ‘stop drinking’ marches or ‘stop drinking’ rallies. Drunk driving deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. People’s lives are ruined every day by drinking from losing their jobs to family violence.

    in 2005 16,885 people were killed in drunk driving accidents alone.

    Here is a link from the Centers for Disease Control for the statistics:

  5. I agree with so much of this thread I don’t know where to start.

    Jayleen, I agree that it’s strange how there is no outcry on this issue, considering far more people die due to drunk driving than die in terrorist attacks (the same can be said of homicide, by the way).

    My wife’s biological dad was an alcoholic so I’m familiar (well, as much as I can be without going through it myself) with the negative effects of alcoholism, particularly on children. My wife made a similar commitment as Anonymous to avoid alcohol, and she was not a Mormon at the time. It’s comforting to know that there are people of different faiths that stand by their principles, and we Mormons are not alone.

    I too live in WI and my wife grew up here. There is definately a culture of drinking here. That’s not to minimize the problem in other places. But sometimes Mormons like to paint the picture as black and white. Either your stone-cold sober or you’re a drunk. My wife’s parents (her mom and adopted dad) drink, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them drunk. Personally (and may I emphasize that this is my own view and I don’t know how doctrinal it is), I don’t think that it’s a sin to drink if you haven’t made a commitment (such as by becoming a Mormon) to not drink, assuming that you don’t get drunk (However you want to define that, I suppose). Maybe that’s just my way of enabling myself to be around my wife’s family without judging them.

    (I apologize for all the parenthesis. It’s a bad habit of mine)

  6. There is nothing like contempt for the good people of Wisconsin.
    When you take surveys of kids you have to expect a lot of “stretching” of the truth.

    I have not stood on a table in years.

  7. This comment is “out of line”.

    Of course, at most parties out here in Wisconsin, when people start standing on chairs and tables, it’s usually not the ceiling they will be encountering next. When they wake up, they are always somewhere lower than where they began.

    At most parties?—–I have lived here 55 years and never seen the above. I deer hunt with 6 non-members of the Church. I will ask them how many have attended parties like that.


  8. Look, I love Wisconsin, but we have to admit that our campuses, like most places, unfortunately, have a serious alcohol problem. The weekend binge drinking is pathetic. 59% in the past 2 weeks??

    I softened a couple of statements. Sorry I so offended you!

    But I’m surprised at the offense you took to the comment on parties. I think you misinterpreted it and took unnecessary offense.

    Consider this sentence: “In most democracies, when an an elected leader suddenly starts talking about assuming total power in the event of any kind of emergency, the democracy is about to become a dictatorship.” That’s a very reasonable statement. It does not mean that this kind of thing is happening or has happened in most democracies, but indicates what the result would be in most cases WHEN (like IF) it happened. That kind of thing is NOT happening in most democracies right now – just in the United States. Please, Britain, don’t be offended.

    My statement about most parties was a joke that you misinterpreted. At most parties in Wisconsin or anywhere else, “WHEN” people get so juiced up that they are dancing on tables and chairs, they are more likely to hit the floor than the ceiling. That doesn’t mean that this happens at most parties! I’ve been to many parties here, LDS and non-LDS, and it’s only happened at about 60% of them. Well, I can’t remember anything about the others, so the number may be higher.

  9. And DJ, the statement expressing concern about the peer pressure to engage in immorality was a general one, not about Wisconsin per se. Talk to some students in the dorms. Look at the national stats. There are serious problems. Students in coed dorms who resist the pressure are in a minority by any measure.

  10. Here’s a sample comment from a student at UW Madison regarding the Sellery and Witte dorms: They are fondly known to students here as “the projects”. They have the smallest rooms on campus, noisy parties going on M-F until 3am, are generally pretty dirty (stains on rugs, walls, ect.) and I’ve never gone a weekend without seeing people passed out on the stairs.

  11. Drinking is a problem no matter where it is. I have been to many a work Christmas party where at least one person has been so plastered they embarrass themselves, once to the point of quitting the next week.

    Growing up a non-member, and parting lots in high school (since all my friends had graduated when I was in grade 10) I lived the “high” life. Substance abuse of both drugs and alcohol did nothing but destroy my life and relationships I had.

    Even after joining the church, my wife and I are still close friends with many of those friends, but now having a sober view see how much those things ruin lives. Perhaps in moderation alcohol is not such a destructive tool, but in the society that we live in today, nothing is ever taken in moderation. The nation’s obesity rate is a great example of that.

  12. Of course learning that Joseph Smith never followed the WOW always made me wonder why we had to. I guess in retrospect, it was a great lesson to us to “Do as I say, Not as I do”.

  13. I couldn’t let that comment go without responding. The WOW is not an eternal principle. It was not made a commandment until long after Joseph Smith died so there’s no hypocrisy, no matter what he did. Jesus also drank wine (I don’t buy the argument that it was non/low-alcohol). The WOW is a commandment given to us in our time for reasons specific to our time.

  14. Hey bro…if you stand on a chair, you CAN touch the ceiling.

    This idea seems to be funny or easily dismissed to you. Do you think perhaps this could be a simple expression of a more profound insight someone had about life, or themselves?

    you’d better consider the lilies and be careful about making light of seemingly simple insights. you seem to have it all figured out though.

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