Alcoholics Anonymous

By J. McCarthy

Rev. Victor, Dear Sir, -- What is to be thought of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose avowed purpose is 'to help the sick alcoholic if he wishes to recover?'

VICTOR

Our correspondent has kindly sent us a number of leaflets and booklets in which are set out and explained the constitution, the aims and the methods of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. We have examined this literature carefully and have also read some independent descriptions of the work and history of the Fellowship -- which was founded in America in 1935, and now has a membership of over 100,000 scattered over thirty countries. We have been very favourably blessed by what we have read on this subject.

The Fellowship is a voluntary, non-sectarian, non-political society of alcoholics who have an honest and earnest desire to recover (and to stay recovered) from their unfortunate state. It is emphasized that this state is truly a disease in the case of the real alcoholic -- a disease which is partly a physical allergy but mainly a form of mental obsession. The aim of the society of Alcoholics Anonymous is to rehabilitate those so afflicted and diseased. The means are social therapy and a programme of recovery which is summarized in twelve steps. The psychological approach seems to be very sound and well-considered. We shall only mention a few points here. 

The alcoholic finds great human sympathy, understanding and strength in the company of those who have been afflicted as he is, and who are winning through. This fellow-feeling is very helpful. The alcoholic is asked simply to concentrate on keeping off one drink, the first, for one day at a time. He is not asked to take a pledge for life. Thus he is not from the outset frightened and depressed by the magnitude of the problem of his recovery. This problem has been reduced to and set out for him in manageable proportions. 

He is exhorted to realize his dependence upon God -- Whose help must be earnestly asked. As a final step, the twelfth, the alcoholic has set before him the motive of bringing help and hope to others similarly afflicted. This is a vital and most valuable part of the programme. The alcoholic is made to realize that he can help others. This realization serves to lessen and to destroy his sense of failure and uselessness and to restore his self-respect. It becomes also a powerful incentive to the alcoholic to persevere in sobriety. The Fellowship has made no extravagant claims for the success of the treatment provided. It does not claim final cures -- but rather the effective arresting of the disease. And there is abundant evidence to show that, by means of it and with due cooperation, very many so-called hopeless alcoholics have been rehabilitated.

Anyone who has experience of the great problem and heartbreak of trying to help and restore to normality and decency chronic alcoholics, will be grateful for the help which this Fellowship proffers. The emphasis of the programme is mainly upon the natural virtues of humility, sincerity, honesty with oneself, and then the need for the help of God. We see nothing in the programme which need conflict in any way with Catholic principles. There is, indeed, evidence that Catholics have, through Alcoholics Anonymous, returned, not merely to sobriety, but to the regular practice of their religion. This is as might be expected. Restoration of a sense of responsibility and self-respect should naturally lead to a conscientious realisation of religious duties.

There are just a few suggestions we would make. Firstly, we should like to see it admitted that, while alcoholism may easily enough reach the state of being a serious disease in particular cases, this is generally reached as the result of earlier and culpable excesses. This admission will have no deleterious effects. It would rather serve as a greater incentive to strive for recovery. Secondly, for the sake of Catholics, we should like to see a reference to the necessity and incalculable value of supernatural helps for the alcoholic in his struggle towards sobriety. These helps can be abundantly obtained by frequent reception of the sacraments. The difficulty about inserting such a reference into the general programme of recovery is that it is desired to keep this programme on non-sectarian lines. But, perhaps, priests who come into contact with members of Alcoholics Anonymous might make for those concerned the point to which we have referred. We are assured that suggestions and cooperation would be welcomed. Needless to say the use of the available supernatural means would serve to consolidate successes won along natural lines. The supernatural elevates, it does not destroy the natural.

THE IRISH ECCLESIASTICAL RECORD , Vol. 73: 258-259, March 1950


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