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there hope for habitual drunkards?
A cure that borders on the miraculous-and it works!
Magazine, September 1939, by Morris Markey
This was the first National article about A.A.
twenty-five or thirty cents we buy a glass of fluid which
is pleasant to the taste, and which contains within its
small measure a store of warmth and good-fellowship and
stimulation, of release from momentary cares and anxieties.
That would be a drink of whisky, of course-whisky, which
is one of Nature's most generous gifts to man, and at the
same time one of his most elusive problems. It is a problem
because, like many of his greatest benefits, man does not
quite know how to control it. Many experiments have been
made, the most spectacular being the queer nightmare of
prohibition, which left such deep scars upon the morals
and the manners of our nation. Millions of dollars have
been spent by philanthropists and crusaders to spread the
doctrine of temperance. In our time the most responsible
of the distillers are urging us to use their wares sensibly,
to a certain limited number of our countrymen neither prohibition
nor wise admonishments have any meaning, because they are
helpless when it comes to obeying them. I speak of the true
alcoholics, and before going any further I had best explain
what that term means.
a medical definition of the term, I quote an eminent doctor
who, has spent twenty-five years treating such people in
a highly regarded private hospital: "We believe . . . that
the action of alcohol in chronic alcoholics is a manifestation
of an allergy-that the phenomenon of craving is limited
to this class and never occurs in the average temperate
drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol
in any form at all."
are, he goes on, touched with physical and mental quirks
which prevent them from controlling their own actions. They
suffer from what some doctors call a "compulsion neurosis."
They know liquor is bad for them but periodically, they
are driven by a violent and totally uncontrollable desire
for a drink. And after that first drink, the deluge.'
these people are genuinely sick. The liquor habit with them
is not a vice. It is a specific illness of body and mind,
and should be treated as such.
far the most successful cure is that used by the hospital
whose head doctor I have quoted. There is nothing secret
about it. It has the endorsement of the medical profession.
It is, fundamentally, a process of dehydration: of removing
harmful toxins from all parts of the body faster than Nature
could accomplish it. Within five or six days-two weeks at
the maximum- the patient's body is utterly free from alcoholic
poisons. Which means that the physical craving is completely
cured, because the body cries out for alcohol only when
alcohol is already there. The patient has no feeling of
revulsion toward whisky. He simply is not interested in
it. He has recovered. But wait. How permanent is his recovery?
doctor says this: " Though the aggregate of full recoveries
through physical and psychiatric effort its considerable,
we doctors must admit that we have made little impression
upon the problem as a whole. For there are many types which
do not respond to the psychological approach.
do not believe that true alcoholism is entirely a matter
of individual mental control. I have had many men who had,
for example, worked for a period of months on some business
deal which was to be settled on a certain date.... For reasons
they could not afterward explain, they took a drink a day
or two prior to the date . . . and the important engagement
was not even kept. These men were not drinking to escape.
They were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental
classification of alcoholics is most difficult. There are,
of course," the psychopaths who are emotionally unstable....
They are overremorseful and make many resolutions -but never
is the type who is unwilling to admit that he cannot take
a drink just like the rest of the boys. He does tricks with
his drinking- changing his brand, or drinking only after
meals or changing his companions. None of this helps him
strengthen his control and be like other people. Then there
are types entirely normal in every respect except in the
effect which alcohol has upon them . . .
these, and many others, have one symptom in common: They
cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon
of craving.... The only relief we have to suggest is complete
abstinence from alcohol " But are these unfortunate people
really capable, mentall, of abstaining completely? Their
bodies may be cured of craving. Can their minds be cured?
Can they be rid of the deadly " compulsion neurosis "?
physicians the general opinion seems to be that chronic
alcoholics are doomed. . .
the last four years, evidence has appeared which has startled
hard-boiled medical men by proving that the compulsion neurosis
can be entirely eliminated. Perhaps you are one of those
cynical people who will turn away when I say that the root
of this new discovery is religion. But be patient for a
moment. About three years ago a man appeared at the hospital
in New York of which our doctor is head physician. It was
his third "cure." Since his first visit he had lost his
job, his friends, his health, and his self-respect. He was
now living on the earnings of his wife.
had tried every method he could find to cure his disease:
had read all the great philosophers and psychologists. He
had tried religion but he simply could not accept it. It
would not seem real and personal to him.
went through the cure as usual and came out of it in very
low spirits. He was lying in bed, emptied of vitality and
thought, when suddenly, a strange and totally unexpected
thrill went through his body and mind. He called out for
the doctor. When the doctor came in, the man looked up at
him and grinned.
doc," he said, "my troubles are all over. I've got religion."
you're the last man . . ."
I know all that. But I've got it. And I know I'm cured of
this drinking business for good." He talked with great intensity
for a while and then said, " Listen, doc. I've got to see
some other patient- one that is about to be dismissed."
doctor demurred. It all sounded a trifle fanatical. But
finally he consented. And thus was born the movement which
is now flourishing with almost sensational success as Alcoholics
Here is how it works:
member of the group-which is to say every person who has
been saved-is under obligation to carry on the work, to
save other men. That, indeed, is a fundamental part of his
own mental cure. He gains strength and confidence by active
work with other victims.
finds his subject among acquaintances, at a "cure" institution
or perhaps by making inquiry of a preacher, a priest, or
a doctor. He begins his talk with his new acquaintance by
telling him the true nature of his disease and how remote
are his chances for permanent cure.
he has convinced the man that he is a true alcoholic and
must never drink again, he continues:
had better admit that this thing is beyond your own control.
You've tried to solve it by yourself, and you have failed.
All right. Why not put the whole thing into the hands of
though the man might be an atheist or agnostic, he will
almost always admit that there is some sort of force operating
in the world-some cosmic power weaving a design. And his
new friend will say:
don't care what you call this Somebody Else. We call it
God. But whatever you want to call it, you had better put
yourself into its hands. Just admit you're licked, and say,
`Here I am, Somebody Else. Take care of this thing for me.'"
The new subject will generally consent to attend one of
the weekly meetings of the movement.
will find twenty-five or thirty ex-drunks gathered in somebody's
home for a pleasant evening. There are no sermons. The talk
is gay or serious as the mood strikes. The new candidate
cannot avoid saying to himself, "These birds are ex-drunks.
And look at them! They must have something. It sounds kind
of screwy, but whatever it is I wish to heaven I could get
or another of the members keeps working on him from day
to day. And presently the miracle-But let me give you an
example: I sat down in a quiet room with Mr. B., a stockily
built man of fifty with a rather stern, intelligent face.
tell you what happened a year ago." He said. "I was completely
washed up. Financially I was all right, because my money
is in a trust fund. But I was a drunken bum of the worst
sort. My family was almost crazy with my incessant sprees."
took the cure in New York." (At the hospital we have mentioned.)
"When I came out of it, the doctor suggested I go to one
of these meetings the boys were holding. I just laughed.
My father was an atheist and had taught me to be one. But
the doctor kept saying it wouldn't do me any harm, and I
sat around listening to the jabber. It didn't register with
me at all. I went home. But the next week I found myself
drawn to the meeting. And again they worked on me while
I shook my head. I said, 'It seems O.K. with you, boys,
but I don't even know your language. Count me out.'"
said the Lord's Prayer, and the meeting broke up. I walked
three blocks to the subway station. Just as I was about
to go down the stairs-bang!" He snapped fingers hard. "It
happened! I don't like that word miracle, but that's all
I can call it. The lights in the street seemed to flare
up. My feet seemed to leave the pavement. A kind of shiver
went over me, and I burst out crying.
went back to the house where we had met, and rang the bell,
and Bill let me in. We talked until two o'clock in the morning.
I haven't touched a drop since, and I've set four other
fellows on the same road.
doctor, a nonreligious man himself, was at first utterly
astonished at the results that began to appear among his
patients. But then he put his knowledge of psychiatry and
psychology to work.
men were experiencing a psychic change. Their so-called
"compulsion neurosis" was being altered-transferred from
liquor to something else. Their psychological necessity
to drink was being changed to a psychological necessity
to rescue their fellow victims from the plight that made
themselves so miserable. It is not a new idea. It is a powerful
and effective working out of an old idea. We all know that
the alcoholic has an urge to share his troubles. Psychoanalysts
use this urge. They say to the alcoholic, in basic terms:
"You can't lick this problem yourself. Give me the problem-transfer
the whole thing to me and let me take the whole responsibility."
But the psychoanalyst, being of human clay, is not often
a big enough man for that job. The patient simply cannot
generate enough confidence in him. But the patient can have
enough confidence in God-once he has gone through the mystical
experience of recognizing God. And upon that principle the
Alcoholic Foundation rests.
medical profession, in general, accepts the principle as
Anonymous" have consolidated their activities in an organization
called the Alcoholic Foundation. It is a nonprofit-making
enterprise. Nobody connected with it is paid a penny. It
is not a crusading movement. It condemns neither liquor
nor the liquor industry. Its whole concern is with the rescue
of allergic alcoholics, the small proportion of the population
who must be cured or perish. It preaches no particular religion
and has no dogma, no rules. Every man conceives God according
to his own lights.
have grown up in other cities. The affairs of the Foundation
are managed by three members of the movement and four prominent
business and professional men, not alcoholics, who volunteered
Foundation has lately published a book, called Alcoholics
Anonymous. And if alcoholism is a problem in your family
or among your friends, I heartily recommend that you get
hold of a copy. It may very well help you to guide a sick
man--an allergic alcoholic-- on the way to health and contentment.