The Neglected Tragedy of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is worldwide problem of enormous dimensions. It wrecks families, ruins health - and kills. There are definite Reasons why people become alcoholic. But also, there are specific steps an individual can take to rid himself of this curse.
by William F. Dankenbring
People are alarmed at the growing incidence of drug abuse and narcotics addiction. But meanwhile another silent killer receives little publicity as it stalks the lives of MILLIONS, leaving heartbreak and incalculable suffering in its wake. While lurid drug stories capture the headlines, alcoholism devastates the lives of far more millions.
FACTS About Alcoholism
Take a look at a few shocking facts
published by the National Council on Alcoholism.
Drunk drivers are responsible for about half the automobile fatalities in the United States each year-they cause over 25,000 deaths annually on the highways. Excessive intake of alcohol is also responsible for most of the deaths due to cirrhosis of the liver.
One in every 13 employees is an alcoholic. Losses in industry because of alcoholism have been computed at $6 billion (some say $7 billion) per year. The total cost including human loss to individuals, breakup of families, suffering and heartbreak, is incalculable.
Every problem drinker adversely affects an average of four other persons in his family, and more than 16 friends and business associates in the community. Therefore, at least 130 million Americans are directly or indirectly affected by alcoholism-in addition to the alcoholics!
Shockingly, the familiar, oft-depicted "skid row" alcoholic represents less that 5% of the total number of alcoholics-the other 95% are still functioning in society, and are found in homes, factories, offices, and communities-the neighbor next door or down the street, if not in your own home!
Every third arrest (or over 2 million arrests annually) in the United States involves public drunkenness.
More than 95% of short-term prisoners are serving time in jail because of drunkenness or alcoholism.
One in three suicides involves an alcoholic.
The blight of alcoholism ranks with heart disease, mental illness and cancer as a national health problem.
A recent issue of Medical World News called alcoholism "America's Most destructive Drug Problem." Alcoholism has been tied in with numerous other diseases. For instance, a study on 341 tuberculosis patients revealed that nearly half of them were alcoholics. Of a group of patients with cancer of the pancreas, 75% were alcoholics, compared to 14% of a matched control group.
CAUSES of Alcoholism
But why such a great tragedy? What leads a
person to alcoholism and how it can be avoided?
Declared Dr. Marvin A. Block, former chairman of the committee on alcoholism of the American Medical Association, "Many causes of alcoholism have been enumerated, but these are actually only suspicious of causes. The actual cause of the disorder is not known." He continues: "Many people would like to blame alcohol for alcoholism, but if this were true, everyone who drinks would become alcoholic. Alcohol cannot be considered the cause of alcoholism any more than gasoline can be considered the cause of automobile accidents" (Block, Alcoholism: Its Facets and Phases, p.40).
Says this world-renowned authority on alcoholism, many theories have been advanced-theories about hormone glands, the dietary regimen, and heredity-but none have been proved satisfactorily.
Recent research done by Dr. Halmuth H. Schaefer, professor of clinical psychiatry, and his associates at Lorna Linda University School of Medicine indicates that "alcoholism stems primarily from a conditioned response to anxiety, and therefore is NOT a psychological condition as many believe." Dr. Schaefer observed that contrary to the opinions commonly held, alcoholics are not "weak-willed" individuals; rather, they are self-willed people who are stubborn enough to do what they want.
What part does heredity play in alcoholism? Experiments by Dr. John Nichols, professor of psychology and social science at Penn State University, indicate that some inherited physiological constitutions are more susceptible to addiction if exposed to drugs such as morphine and alcohol. However, he pointed out, this does not prove alcoholism is hereditary. He emphasized that whatever it is that is transmitted is not necessarily bad-the addiction-prone animals he tested were also smarter than the others and learned mazes more readily.
Dr. Nichols agrees that alcoholic addiction
is primarily based on psychological factors. Drinking brings pleasure, euphoria,
reduces the biological drives of the individual. Some become through habit and
desire gradually conditioned to using alcohol to satisfy these basic human
drives. Alcoholism, he says, is the result of people using this means to gain
the "rewards" the "payoffs" which come from drinking excessively.
Dr. Halmuth Schaefer and Mark Sobell of Loma Linda essentially agree, calling alcoholism a psychological ailment, a learned response to stress. Alcoholics have simply learned to find "relief" through reaching for a drink!
Dr. Blyth Sprott, associate professor of health studies at Cal State declared that many physicians emphasize faulty metabolism as a primary culprit in alcoholism, especially a liver dysfunction. But says Dr. Sprott, "Metabolism is certainly involved in alcoholism, it is upset by drinking too much-but metabolic upset does not explain alcoholism." He also believes alcoholism is rooted in social and psychological conditions.
Said one man who had overcome alcohol addiction: "The alcoholic is an immature man or woman who takes the easy way out, alcohol, when he can't cope with reality." His comment strikes close to the heart of the problem of alcoholism!
The basic root cause of alcoholism was pinpointed by Elizabeth Whitney in her book Living With Alcoholism. She wrote: "A half century ago it was easy to find medical authority in agreement that alcoholism was hereditary. Scientific investigation has proved this incorrect" (pA). She adds that ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS are the key. "In recent studies it has been determined that the ways in which parents use alcohol have a profound effect on the drinking behavior of their children" (p.5)
The basic solution to the problem of alcoholism, then, lies in the realm of changing the way of thinking toward life and toward alcohol itself!
Declared Dr. William Terhune: "Certain
conditions and circumstances appear to make people more vulnerable to alcohol.
Poor motivation is a strong contributor. It is a sad fact that many human beings
have no compelling, constructive PURPOSE in school, in work or in any other part
He continued: "Some life situations encourage prolonged frustration and a sense of defeat, accompanied, in turn, by self-pity and anger. Marital, maladjustment is the greatest single cause of alcoholism in women" (The Safe Way to Drink, p.20).
He also listed lack of interests and hobbies, a dull, unrewarding job, competitive pressure, chronic emotional stress, interpersonal conflicts, and a host of similar factors.
Most heavy drinking occurs during middle age, when many people come to realize their lives haven't measured up as they thought they would-when they look back over life and see the great gap between what they aspired toward and what they achieved. Life seems a treadmill, full of endless, repetitive routine. They turn to alcohol to anaesthetize their feelings and the hurt in their lives.
Many elderly people, feeling unneeded and unwanted, lonely and cast off, turn to heavy drinking for solace. A little excess alcohol hits them especially hard and hastens senility.
Thus, part of the cause of alcoholism is, in a sense, our modern way of life itself. Many people, today, have no great personal goals to strive for; they are not driving themselves to attain some great GOAL; they are not motivated or inspired by some challenging PURPOSE in life. Rather, to them life has become meaningless, boring, tedious, tiresome, jaded, eroded, devoid of interest, vitality, and MEANING!
The Solution to Alcoholism
The factors in society" the home, and in a
person's personality which lead him to over-indulgence are the CAUSES of
alcoholism! Understanding this basic truth, then, we can see that there are two
approaches needed to stamp out alcoholism. PREVENTATIVE steps must be taken by
society-and by the individual.
What can society do? The WHOLE APPROACH toward alcohol in our modern, affluent Western world is wrong and contributes to the growing problem.
In other words, equating the use of alcohol with an atmosphere of surreptitious pleasure and delight is nothing more than a Madison Avenue sell Job. It is time the "mystique," the "symbol of virility," the image of alcohol, were changed from its false glamour to one which is realistic-that of a pleasant, relaxing beverage for social occasions and to be taken with meals-a beverage all right to drink in MODERATION!
Parents should be educated to have a balanced view of alcohol themselves, so they can set their children the RIGHT EXAMPLE of proper use. Parental misuse is a real factor in causing young people to imitate them and become alcoholics. On the other hand, if parents are teetotalers, and condemn the use of alcohol, then they run the danger of causing their children to REBEL, and become fanatical drinkers with a totally distorted view of alcohol.
Clearly BALANCE and moderation should be primary goals of an EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM for both children and adults.
Rupert Wilkinson, a sociologist who has studied the problem of alcoholism extensively, believes there is a distinct relationship between America's high rate of drinking and the way in which alcoholic drink is distributed, promoted, and generally treated by society. He shows conclusively that cultural drinking patterns influence the incidence of drinking problems. Says he, "Alcohol should not symbolize either sexual virility or the attractions of a forbidden fruit. For drinkers this means acceptance of drinking as part of everyday ordinary life .... rather than an exaggerated elixir .... " (The Prevention of Drinking Problems: Alcohol Control and Cultural Influences, pp.6-7)
If the plague of alcoholism is to be defeated, then society itself needs to be REORIENTED in its approach. Only then can alcoholism be prevented before it starts.
But what about individuals who are already alcoholics? What hope is there for them? If you have a problem with alcohol, what can you do? What if you have an alcoholic relative?
The Road Back
The consensus of modern opinion of
psychiatrists, medical doctors, and laymen alike is that the best overall record
in rehabilitating alcoholics is held by Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Gitlow told me
personally, "I think that the biggest success that we see today has been through
the auspices of Alcoholics Anonymous." Alcoholics Anonymous has anywhere from
300,000 to half a million members. Members claim that about 50 percent of those
who seek help find the road back to sobriety and sanity.
Declared Dr. Max M. Glatt, a British expert on alcoholism, in an interview with a PLAIN TRUTH representative in England, "I am a great believer in Alcoholics Anonymous. First, they have shown to the world at large that alcoholics are not a bunch of spineless weaklings, but that they are people who can find their way back, and they have done that without professional help, they have done that in the face of skepticism from professional organizations and from the world at large. They therefore have shown that the old notion of gloom and doom attached for so long to alcoholics is quite wrong. They have shown that these often despised people are able to make a comeback from the rock bottom stage without much outside help."
Why is A.A. successful when many other types of treatment have failed? Why do psychiatrists and doctors often recommend A.A. to the alcoholic?
There is a reason. Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes that to conquer alcoholism, the alcoholic must make a CLEAN BREAK with his former way of life-he must find new ideals, new goals, a new purpose in life!
Alcoholics Anonymous is able to help many alcoholics who have reached "bottom" because the members themselves have gone through the same ordeal, the same suffering. They know what it is like. They have experienced it themselves. They know how hard it is to conquer alcoholism. Therefore, they take the time and effort to provide the alcoholic seeking help with encouragement, friendly assistance and companionship-a helping hand over the difficult times.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not the only group that has successfully treated alcoholism. Other groups have also met with some success. However, all truly successful treatment procedures have certain things in common. IN all of them, the alcoholic must be brought to admit his problem, and must believe that he can conquer it. He must be motivated. He must be given friendly, compassionate, considerate help. He must not be treated as a lowly scoundrel or despicable bum, but as a fellow human being who needs help desperately. Moral guidance, or therapy, must be included in the program.
If YOU Are an Alcoholic
If you are an alcoholic, you need personal
help to conquer the problem. What you must do to overcome the problem will
depend largely on how serious your own problem is. If you are at a beginning
stage of alcoholism, then recovery is not so difficult, although it will require
strong effort on your part, self-discipline, and determination. You will have to
set your jaw to stay away from alcohol completely, don't touch it-because for
YOU it is a serious problem.
You must be decisive. Admit your weakness, and TURN AROUND; change your whole life pattern, if need be, so you can overcome the problem. You may have to change your friendships, possibly even change jobs and move to a new environment which is more conducive to sobriety and sanity.
Further, you must CONTINUALLY strive to exercise self-discipline and self-control. Use good judgment and NEVER FLIRT with temptation! Be on your guard constantly, and don't give in to the urge to "compromise/' to have "just a few drinks."
Dr. R. Kemp, author of Drinking and Alcoholism, explained to a member of The PLAIN TRUTH staff, "The real thing you have got to do is to try and persuade alcoholics that they must be able to lead life completely free of alcohol." He added, "Once you have become an alcoholic, this will remain for the rest of your life. This is an extraordinary fact, but it means of course that they can't at any time ever dare take another drink."
This, indeed, does sound severe, but the record does speak for itself-for most alcoholics to take just one drink is deadly.
A single drink sets off a chain reaction that leads to another and another until the alcoholic is either smashed, or the liquor runs out. Therefore, most alcoholics must determine to NEVER TOUCH the stuff-and mean it.
If you have a severe drinking problem, then you may need to contact a local society which helps alcoholics-a "half-way house," or a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, or a doctor who is skilled and experienced in dealing with alcoholism (most have very little knowledge of this problem, but there are some who are experienced). What course of action you take is completely up to you, of course. But sometimes friendly, right-thinking associations and special help are necessary to give you the impetus and stimulus to surmount your problem. Don't forgo any help which you might be in need of-but always remember, YOU are ultimately responsible for your condition, and you must be the one who fights it and conquers it.
YOU and YOU ALONE can overcome your particular problem. Nobody else can do it for you. There is no magic pill, or potion, which will "cure" you. The cure of alcoholism involves your own personal will, desire, effort, and tenacious, long-lasting, constantly vigilant determination.
ŠPlain Truth, October 1971
Return to the Newspapers, Magazines, etc. Page
Return to the A. A. History Page
Return to the West Baltimore Group Home Page