How Much Is Too Much?: Drugs and Alcohol
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The issue of how much exposure to drugs and alcohol a reader should experience is, for me personally, somewhat grayer than the issue of how much violence is too much. Which is not to say that I endorse the use of drugs and alcohol, but I think most readers are less likely to want to go out and try these substances after reading about them. I’m sure there are plenty of books that make drugs and alcohol out to be wonderful and claim through plot events that there are no repercussions for using them. Most movies and televisions shows I’ve seen portray them—or, at least, alcohol—in this manner. Dean Winchester (Supernatural; pictured in above screenshot), for example, can often be found drinking beer from the fridge or guzzling something at a bar while greasy truckers shoot pool in the background. In our day and age, drinking and even trying recreational drugs is (dare I say it?) commonplace.
So that brings us back to the question: for a Christian reader, how much is too much?
Once again, I think the answer can be found in the author’s intent for including these substances.
I’ll use two of my own books for examples. First up is Fallen Rose (because there isn’t any alcohol in Young Falcon). Roman, the oh-so-angsty and misguided younger brother of my twin assassin duo, can be found drinking several times in Fallen Rose. To warn you now, he probably ain’t gonna stop anytime soon. “But why?” you ask. “I thought these were books for young Christian readers!” Yes, they are, but I also aim for realism, and I imagine a young man who has been treated the way Roman has and continues to fail at everything he sets out to do might turn to a coping mechanism after a time. People who have endured less certainly have. It seems logical to me that drinking might be that coping mechanism, so I’m not going to skate over the fact that sometimes people become addicted to things that seem to help them cope with the difficulties of life (keyword: seem). And I certainly do not intend to make alcohol a positive presence in Roman’s life.
Which brings me to my next example, a book I have written that you haven’t read. In The Rat Race, one of my characters dealing with some post-traumatic stress turns to alcohol and actually becomes addicted, unlike Roman. His older brother spends a good portion of the book trying to help him struggle out of that pit—but sometimes, as in real life, he falls back in, and I am not shy about portraying the consequences for doing so. Why? Because (if I ever did get it published) I would want his fight to both warn readers of the cost as well as give them hope that it can be overcome.
But not every author is going to portray drugs and alcohol in this manner.
I don’t have any examples off the top of my head, but I assume that, like the television industry, there are books out there that present drugs and alcohol as fun, free of penalty, and needed for social acceptance. Why on earth anyone is convinced that this is true, I will never understand. But the fact remains that some books contains this message, as do many televisions shows. When faced with a scene that presents drugs and alcohol in this light, what’s a Christian reader to do?
My answer will remain the same: examine the author’s intent for including the scene.
If the author portrays drugs and alcohol as exciting, unrealistically free of consequences, and never mentions the effect it can have on the user and the user’s family / friends, please steer clear. That presentation is wrong and not of God. Now, if the character using drugs or drinking thinks this way initially and eventually learns that they are not fun, free, and necessary, I can understand that. I’ll all for characters seeing the error of their ways. But if this realization never comes and the characters remains blissfully unaffected by his addiction / use of these substances … you know what to do.
If the author portrays drugs and alcohol realistically and includes the many (familial, social, medical, emotional, spiritual, and mental) consequences that accompany use of these substances, they have done well. In this instance, I would say that it’s all right to keep reading, even if the details are uncomfortable—afterwards you’ll better understand the struggles of people who are caught in this web and can sympathize with them (maybe even present the Gospel, which will free them once and for all from their fight?).
I hope my solution wasn’t too redundant, but there ya have it: it’s all about author’s intent. My next post will examine ‘how much is too much?’ regarding books that contain sex (yikes!), so stick around, and thanks for reading! Have a lovely day, and go make good choices! :)