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Agonized Plea for Love
million Americans-many of them once sober-responsible
citizens-are today confirmed alcoholics. Why have they
sacrificed happiness for the tragic life of a compulsive
drinker? Here, in a remarkably frank report, are some
reasons that may surprise you.
by FARRELL AND WILBUR CROSS
don’t remember the exact time or place that I finally
admitted to myself that I was a problem drinker, an alcoholic,
a drunk. The realization just grew and grew until, finally,
it overwhelmed me-like a big breaker that rolls in relentlessly
when your swimming at an ocean beach.”
Arthur Johnson (all names used in this article are fictitious;
the situations are real) was thirty-seven. He’d been
drinking since college days, like most of his friends, in
a social way. Occasionally, he had really “tied one
on” and become high, if not outright drunk, at a big
party or a sales convention. Only in the last two years
had the drinking started to follow a recognizable pattern.
got so that I would look forward to weekends, not because
my wife and I had anything special planned or because I
would be with my two sons, eight and ten, but because there
would be some excuse for having drinks. WE could always
invite some neighbors in for highballs. Or, if my wife didn’t
feel sociable, I’d go off bowling-just so I could
have drinks with the boys afterwards. It wasn’t that
I liked whisky or even the glow of warmth that most people
feel after a cocktail. It was that there was something missing
if I didn’t start injecting my system with alcohol.”
Johnson soon found that his alcoholic hunger was extending
over into weekdays too. As a sales executive, he had many
opportunities for taking customers out to lunch. Soon he
was doing this every day, along with frequent stop-offs
for drinks at bars in the late afternoons, after leaving
of the time, I wouldn’t get home until two or three
in the morning. My relationships with my wife and kids got
pretty rough. I kept making promises. And sometimes I’d
keep them for several weeks. I found that I could resist
that inner compulsion as long as I stayed on the wagon.
No drinks at all. But then I’d get annoyed at myself
and almost deliberately set out to prove to myself I could
have two drinks-no more.”
a Chain Reaction
found that it did not work. Once he downed a single drink,
something in his system was triggered off, and he had to
keep right on until he was drunk. He began to have blackouts,
waking up with piercing hang-overs, and not being able to
remember where he had been the night before.
really hit me when my wife packed up and left with the two
boys. I arrived home in an alcoholic haze, long after dawn
one day. I had no idea where I’d been. My clothing
was all wrinkled and stinking of whisky. I had a big bruise
on my cheekbone. The house was empty. There wasn’t
even a note.”
Arthur Johnson tried to do something in the face of this
new crisis. He cried. He made deep resolutions. He decided
to call his wife-not to plead with her to come home again,
but to tell her she was right in leaving. To tell her that
he was going to straighten out now, to get a new job, to
give up drinking, to become a proper husband and father.
He started to reach for the phone again and again, the message
composed on his lips. But it was too hard. One drink would
help him get over the shakes. He remembered where he had
part of a pint hidden down in the cellar. As he stumbled
down the back stairs he walked right back into the problem,
with no end in sight but another blackout, and another….
Jane Byers took the same kind of downhill slide, But on
a different route. A housewife, thirty-five, with a six-year-old
daughter and an eight year old son, she had never done any
drinking at all until after the birth of the second child.
Then, for two or thee years, her drinking was extremely
light. She disliked the taste of liquor, in fact, and was
often kidded because she “ruined” good whisky
by mixing it with fruit juice or other concoctions to hide
by Domestic Tensions
drinking problems really started just after my husband was
transferred and we moved into a brand-new community,”
she later recalled. “I had always been a very careful
housekeeper, but now I wanted everything just right, to
let the neighbors see us in our best light. It got so that
I was forever screaming at the children or nagging my husband.
Whenever neighbors stopped by, it was sure to be at a time
when the children had just tracked mud into the hall or
had let the dog get hairs all over the new couch, or there
would be clothes strewn all over the place.”
Jane found, however, that there was one escape from this
burning fear that the neighbors would get a bad impression:
A big gulp of sherry would calm her nerves. “Then
I found that a second gulp would give me a kind of rosy
feeling that my visitors were very impressed with my home.
It wasn’t long before the ‘sherry treatment’
was solving all my problems. Within a year or so, I had
reached the stage where I was drunk several days a week.
I had switched to vodka, so that my husband would smell
no liquor on my breath. And if I was too tipsy to get dinner,
I’d just crawl into bed before he came home and say
that I had a terrible headache. By this time, however, he
knew what was going on. I had to hide bottles all over the
house. I was using up all the money I could get-part of
the food money, refunds on clothing I sent back to department
stores, things I could sell at a local secondhand store.”
By this time, Jane and her husband were having bitter arguments,
night after night, sometimes until almost dawn. “He
wanted me to join A.A. But I kept promising, pleading, saying
that I’d come around and I wasn’t ‘that
far gone’ that I had to join a group of alcoholics.
Jane is still on the way down. Not long ago, she almost
set fire to the house. Her husband is afraid to leave her
alone with the children when he goes to work. He talked
her into going to a psychiatrist, but she stubbornly clings
to the idea that she isn’t “far enough gone
to join AA” or any other group. For her, as with most
alcoholics, there is a “rock bottom,” a point
at which she will give up and admit defeat. How far down
her own low point lies is impossible to predict.
Than a Social Problem
should it be that two people like Arthur Johnson and Jane
Byers, apparently intelligent people, both with good families
and from well-educated back grounds, would seek escape through
alcohol? Their cases are neither new nor uncommon. Of the
75,000,000 people in the United States who are “social
drinkers,” some 5,000,000 are alcoholics. Each year,
about 200,000 more are added to the growing list of those
who cannot handle alcohol in any form: cocktails, highballs,
wine, beer-or even cough medicine. Alcoholism is holding
fourth place in the list of top health problems in the country.
It ranks only behind mental health, heart disease, and cancer
as a destroyer of mankind.
says Dr. Marvin Block, Chairman of the American Medical
Association’s Committee on Alcoholism, “is an
attempt to escape reality by the use of a socially accepted
The word “escape” is important. We all need
some form of escape from daily living, from time to time.
We take our escapes in the forms of vacation, travel, dining
out, music, or sleep-to name a few methods. For some people,
escape becomes compulsive and may end up in extreme forms,
such as gorging on candy, taking dope, having incessant
sexual cravings. This is what happens to the problem drinker.
“The one trait that potential alcoholics have in common,”
says Dwight Anderson in his book, Other Side of the Bottle,
“is a maladjustment towards life. Usually they have
let one element of their personality get so out of hand
that it is distorted out of all proportion to reality.
Drank to Fight Hunger
Johnson’s maladjustment was an incessant, though unrecognized,
hunger for love. His mother had died when he was quite young;
his father had been a brilliant, but dispassionate, professor
who never evidenced much affection; he had disliked his
only brother; and when he was married, he selected a girl
more because he was “impressed” with her looks
and background than because he felt any urgent love for
her. Sociologists William and Joan McCord stated, last year,
in a report on origins of alcoholism, that “the typical
alcoholic is unsure of receiving love from other people;
he may also be very unsure of how to give love. The result
might often be hesitation to make affectionate overtures
to his family.”
When this hunger becomes too much to bear, the alcoholic
turns, progressively, to alcohol. When alcoholism has taken
over fully, it completely blocks out all other forces-love,
sex, success drive, desire for food.
Jane Byers, married to a man whom she felt did not understand
her, had this same love hunger, though it was revealed in
a different form. At first, Jane was what has been called
a “dry alcoholic.” Her form of excess was her
perfectionism. She had to see everything right in its place
in her home. When the children were young, this had been
easy. But as they became older, she could no longer confine
them to the nursery. They were constantly scratching furniture,
moving carefully placed ash trays, rumpling up the beds,
streaking her new carpeting with dirt. At that point, Jane
began her new era-“wet alcoholism.”
Is the alcoholic then a type? Not exactly. Since the causes
of alcoholism are not fully known, experts do not always
agree on who is, or is not, a potential problem drinker.
It is only after the drinking has started to follow a pattern
(the pattern itself is similar and recognizable) that the
finger points to the alcoholic. But alcoholics do seem to
have many tendencies in common. Most authorities seem to
agree that they have in their make-up some deep-seated need
(such as “love-hunger”), some compulsive trait
(such as acute perfectionism), or some deficiency (such
as extreme sensitivity or shyness). Escape to the bottle
neutralizes the problem for them, at least temporarily.
Of all the methods of escape from life-from problems, hardships,
labors, personality conflicts, environment, personal fears
and inadequacies-alcohol ranks among the oldest. It is referred
to in various forms in the earliest historical records.
Anthropologists have found evidence that some kind of intoxicating
drink was known as far back as the Stone Age. Ancient stills
have been found in such widely separated lands as Peru,
Tibet, Tahiti, and India. Some three thousand years ago,
the inhabitants of Ceylon were drinking toddy and arrack,
and before that the Chinese were happily escaping the toils
of life via alcoholic beverages known as tchoo and sautchoo.
Japanese sake goes far back in that countries history. Mesopotamian
history contains accounts of drunkenness, as does many a
detailed hieroglyphic from ancient Egypt.
In the United States, the history of alcohol is erratic.
It was banned by many of the early settlers, but used by
others for trading with the Indians. The first real distillery
in America was set up around 1640 by one William Kieft,
a Dutchman, on Staten Island, New York. A rum distillery
was established in Boston in the 1650’s. Before this,
rum was imported from the West Indies.
The attitude towards drunkenness has always been that it
represents outwardly in inward disintegration of spirit,
morals, and intellect. Around 300 B.C., Diogenes referred
to drunkenness as “an expression identical with ruin.”
The Old Testament states that “the drunkard and the
glutton shall come to poverty.” The pages of literature
of all nations are well salted with inebriated characters
who represent varying degrees of social and mental decay-all
the way from utter fools to wicked monsters who tortured
their wives and beat their children.
men, however, looked with any sympathy at all on the drunkard.
When Edinburgh physician Thomas Trotter wrote about alcoholism
in 1778, he was way ahead of his time in stating, “In
medical language, I consider drunkenness, strictly speaking,
to be a disease produced by a remote cause…A disease
of the mind.” Although Dr, Trotter’s book received
considerable acclaim, its message did not gain wide public
By the middle of the nineteenth century, alcohol itself
was becoming the target of various groups, ranging from
mild dissenters to angry fanatics. One of the most dramatic
evidences of the attitude towards alcohol in the United
States was the antisaloon war waged by a group of determined
women in Ohio in January 1874. The crusaders paraded through
the streets, blocked the entrances to saloons (which they
referred to by such names as “Hell’s Half Acre,”
“Certain Death,” and “Devils Den), and
smashed bottles and kegs in the gutter. One group commandeered
a locomotive and stationed it so that the brilliant headlight
shone on a saloon near the tracks, where any patron who
dared to enter was caught like a moth in a flame. Another
group organized 40 little girls from a private school into
a platoon. Each afternoon, the girls were led to selected
positions in front of the town’s saloons, where they
repeated a shrill and dismal chorus which began, “Say,
Mr. Barkeeper, has father been here?”
The result of this publicity was that saloonkeepers closed
shop and quit by the dozens. Spurred on by these methods,
and their success, other women rallied together to form
the famed WCTU (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union)
and the various Antisaloon Leagues. Many of the women were
fanatical to the point where they were a more disruptive
force than the so-called drunkards they were attacking.
In his book, Other Side of the Bottle, Dwight Anderson wrote
that one of the most noted temperance leaders “had
the temperament that would have led inevitably to alcoholism
if she had drank at all.”
kind of excess (sometimes referred to as “dry drunkenness)
is seldom seen today. Many religious faiths either disapprove
of, or forbid, the drinking of any form of alcoholic beverage-notably
Christian Scientists, Quakers, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists,
and Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, they do not try
to force their viewpoint on others. We seldom see any devastating
crusades against liquor like those waged during the late
nineteenth century, and again right after World War I, when
the era of Prohibition was launched. But, the kind of warfare
waged against the alcoholic today is more long lasting in
its effect than any hatchet ever wielded by a member of
the Antisaloon League.
Public opinion and the shocked attitude of misinformed people
sometimes make it impossible for spouses and families of
alcoholics to do anything except try to cover up the drinking
problem and hide it from the neighbors. It is the reason
why the wife and husband, respectively, of Arthur Johnson
and Jane Byers went through their own personal hells while
trying to find a solution for the alcoholics they had married.
It is the reason why many an alcoholic goes down and down
to absolute rock bottom in his drinking before he can finally
face his problem squarely.
Mrs. Marty Mann, whose New Primer on Alcoholism is one of
the most widely recognized books on the subject, says that
when the National Council on Alcoholism was founded in 1944,
it began “in an atmosphere of almost total darkness.
The word ‘alcoholism’ was a taboo word. The
public attitude was compounded of ignorance, fear, prejudice,
and hostility; and the public attitude included many professional
attitudes as well. The ‘drunkard’ was considered
hopeless, and wholly to blame for his condition.”
That was only seventeen years ago. More advances have taken
place since then than during the previous one hundred years,
in the study and treatment of alcoholism, but there are
still vast areas to cover. Mrs. Mann, executive director
of NCA, says that even though alcoholism is recognized as
the fourth major health problem in the United States, the
funds devoted to the study and towards educating the public
are still less than one one-hundredth the amount devoted
to cancer or heart disease.
of our most important jobs,” she says, “is orientation-telling
people exactly what alcoholism is, why it should be accepted
as a serious illness rather than as an evidence of immorality
or weakness of character."
NCA and its affiliates have conducted some interesting tests,
which prove the value of educating the public. Though these
are not comprehensive or conclusive, they do point up some
important facts. During Alcoholism Information Week, NCA
affiliates throughout the country interview people-on the
street, in stores, or wherever feasible-to see what a town’s
attitude seems to be about alcoholism. There are frequent
references to drinkers as “bums” or “degenerates”
or “people with no sense of responsibility.”
After a week or so of intensive educational work with local
civic, health, and church groups, interviews are again conducted.
The change in attitude has, in most cases, been astonishing.
“Almost overnight, people in the community come to
realize,” Mrs. Mann says, “that the problem
drinkers needed as much sympathy and help as a patient with
heart trouble or cancer or any one of the other major diseases.”
Group Is Immune”
problem drinking has been veiled for so long in secrecy
and shame, certain myths have developed. One is that some
occupations breed inebriates (“He always has three
Martinis for lunch-that’s because he’s in advertising.”).
Another myth is that alcoholism hits certain income groups
more heavily than others, such as rich playboys or common
Jack “Stewart,” a long time member of Alcoholics
Anonymous, who daily comes into contact with active and
recovered alcoholics, told us that alcohol is no respecter
of race, class, or occupational group. No group is immune.
“Among the alcoholics I know,” he said, “Are
a religious leader, a truck driver, a college professor,
a banker, an old maid, an Army officer, a housewife with
four children, a carpenter, a millionaire-almost any kind
of person you want to mention.”
different types of personalities are capable of becoming
addicted to alcohol,” says Dr. Ruth Fox, Medical Director
of the National Council on Alcoholism. “When tested
after their addiction, however, they show a surprising similarity
of character traits. Some of these are: an extremely low
frustration tolerance, inability to endure anxiety or tension,
feelings of isolation, devalued self-esteem, a tendency
to act impulsively, a repetitive ‘acting out’
of conflicts, often an extreme narcissism and exhibitionism,
a tendency towards self-punitive behavior, sometimes somatic
preoccupation and hypochondriasis. In addition, there is
usually, consciously or unconsciously, marked hostility
Although it would be impossible for an observer to recognize
an alcoholic before his drinking becomes a problem, there
are certain well-marked steps. These have been listed by
the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies as follows:
Abnormal drinking behavior, not always in regard to quantity,
but typified by attitude or actions.
Blackouts-losses of memory about events of the night before.
Sneaking and gulping drinks.
Chronic hang-overs, increasingly severe and painful.
Loss of control. Unable to “take it or leave it alone.”
Alibis, with plenty of excuses for why a drink is needed.
“Eye openers”-drinks in the morning as hang-over
Changing the pattern-trying beer or wine instead of whisky,
but not for long.
Solitary drinking, and other antisocial behavior.
Loss of Job and friends.
Seeking medical aid for drinking.
Benders-drunks lasting several days.
Shakes and tremors.
The bottle-hiding stage, protecting the needed supply.
Resentments and other unreasonable dislikes.
Nameless fears and anxieties.
Complete collapse of the alibi system. No more excuses are
The surrender process-giving self over to someone else for
the alcoholic progresses, his family-frantically trying
to halt his downward slide-often takes completely wrong
steps. Threats, pleas, pouring drinks down the drain are
of no use and frequently serve to complicate the problem.
Alcoholics need great love and understanding-even though,
paradoxically, their drinking is known as a “strangler
of love.” Wives and husbands of alcoholics can learn
best what to do about their problem by getting in touch
with the nearest branch of a group called Al-Anon, made
up of nonalcoholic relatives or friends of problem drinkers.
is usually a long, difficult pull. The alcoholic cannot
expect recovery until he faces one fact: the only cure for
alcoholism is to give up drinking entirely!
represents a complete cure, in the sense that the alcoholic
can return to a normal life. But it is not a cure in the
sense of destroying whatever the unknown element is that
causes alcoholism. Periodically, claims are made that some
new scientific method or drug has been developed that will
permit alcoholics to become normal, social drinkers. So
far, these claims have not been valid. There are, it is
true, drugs like Antabuse which are used in the treatment
of alcoholism. But these are only to help a drinker stay
away from alcohol while undergoing treatment. And they should
be taken only on the advice of a medical doctor.
For the past few years, the fight against alcoholism has
received a tremendous boot from a few large companies which
have been willing to stick their necks out and say, “We
recognize that from 3 to 6 per cent of our employees have
serious drinking problems, and we are doing something about
notable examples are DuPont, Allis-Chalmers, General Motors,
Eastman Kodak, Con Edison, Standard Oil, and the New York
Telephone Company. Other companies are reluctant to face
the problem-particularly some in the transportation field,
who blanch at the idea of having the public know that there
could be such a thing as an alcoholic pilot or railroad
engineer or bus driver. (The New York Transit Authority,
which does have such a program, is one of the notable exceptions.)
By and large, companies have found that there are three
types of plans feasible for rehabilitating problem drinkers:
1) The community-oriented plan.
The problem drinker, after reporting to the company medical
department, is referred to the local Alcoholism Information
Center or clinic. These facilities are completely separated
from-though may be partly supported by-the company. He then
receives counseling and referral to AA, medical or psychiatric
treatment, as indicated.
2) The Alcoholics Anonymous plan.
Here the problem drinker is first referred to the medical
department for a complete physical checkup. After hospitalization,
if necessary, he is turned over to members of AA, who urges
attendance at several meetings. The man’s participation
is purely voluntary, but since he has his company behind
him, he is more likely to take action than if the suggestion
came from either an outsider or a relative whose urgings
might strike “too close to home.”
3) The company-integrated plan.
This works best with a large organization having many facilities
at its disposal, not only medical, but recreational, legal,
counseling, ties with community hospitals, loan services,
rest homes, and other resources. Had Arthur Johnson belonged
to such an organization, his drinking problem would have
been recognized earlier; he would then have realized that
others had the same troubles, that it was an illness that
he could not fight alone. He could have been helped more
all problem drinkers can be rehabilitated, but most companies
with active programs report success in well over 50 per
cent. Company plans have one strong advantage over family
efforts to help a drinker. Many alcoholics are not ready
to admit their problem until they have hit absolute rock
bottom, when they find themselves in the gutter (literally),
in danger of losing homes and family, or in such poor physical
condition that the next real bout may kill him. Companies,
however, can provide a “false bottom”-usually
the threat of firing the drinker from his job. This has
proved effective in a countless number of cases-particularly
when the alcoholic is detected early, and when the chances
for his recovery are best.
If you are concerned about your own drinking habits, check
yourself by taking the test which appears on page 49. If
a friend or a member of your family is a problem drinker,
do not wait until the situation gets out of control. Visit,
or write to, any one of the agencies listed above, right.
Even the children of an alcoholic parent can receive help,
particularly through Alateen, a fast-mushrooming organization
founded in 1957 by the teen-aged son of an alcoholic. Remember,
above all, that love and understanding are needed in generous
quantities. Though the alcoholic may be so gripped by his
illness that his desire for the bottle has seemingly shoved
aside all affection, responsibility, ambition, remember
that, even more than ever, he needs the devotion and the
help of his family-despite the many injuries and humiliations
and hardships he may have inflicted on them.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a prayer, which is appropriate
not only for problem drinkers but for families who have
to share the problems:
grant me the serenity to accept the
I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can
the wisdom to know the difference.”
you have no drinking problems whatsoever, the agencies that
deal with alcoholics still have some sensible advice for
you: enjoy your drink-whether it be beer, wine, or liquor-in
moderation. Recognize that alcoholism is a disease, not
Still to Be Broken
no problem will be solved until it is recognized,”
says Dr. Selden D. Bacon, one of the country’s outstanding
authorities on alcoholism, “It is essential to view
the barriers of irritation and mistrust commonly met in
introducing the problem. The first barrier is that of traditional
concepts…That alcoholics are weak-willed, morally
disgraceful, and disgusting characters.”
Above all, remember that there is just as much need for
good taste and etiquette in serving alcoholic drinks to
others as there is with any other social activity engaged
in. “Don’t force your guests to drink,”
pleads the American Medical Association. “It is important
for a host or hostess to realize that a certain unknown
percentage of guests face the problem of alcoholism, and
these people should be able to mingle with other guests
, without self-consciousness or embarrassment.”
you are fortunate enough to be numbered among the 70,000,000
or so “social drinkers” in the United States
who have no drinking problems, then alcohol can be a socially
acceptable means of escape from normal tensions. In small
quantities, such as a daily highball or cocktail, it is
occasionally even recommended for healthy, nonalcoholic
people by their doctors.
you, as a nonalcoholic, have to remember,” says AA
member Jack “Stewart,” that we problem drinkers
cannot touch the stuff at all. Some of us are struggling
heroically-particularly at the very start of abstinence-to
avoid taking that first drink. Just one cocktail will set
us off again, no matter how many years we have been on the
wagon. For you, a drink is an escape to a world where we
can never follow. For us, it’s a passport to nowhere.”
Cosmopolitan, July 1961)
Thorough, Practical Test
you are worried about becoming a problem drinker, here is
a test recommended by the National Council on Alcoholism,
which will all but prove whether or not you are an alcoholic:
For six months, stick to a certain number of drinks a day,
not less than one and not more than three (standard, one-ounce
size). If you are not a daily drinker, then confine the
test to the days when you do drink (such as Friday, Saturday
and Sunday). Under no conditions should you exceed the stated
number, regardless of what kinds of special occasion arise.
The NCA says that even a heavy drinker should have no trouble
passing the test, but that “The chances are a hundred
to one, however, against a true alcoholic’s being
either willing or able to undertake the test.”
You a Potential Alcoholic?
the years, Alcoholics Anonymous, the National Council on
Alcoholism, Inc., and other interested groups have prepared
questionnaires to help a person decide whether he or she
is a problem drinker. Here are some of the most important
questions asked. How do you rate? ***
Is drinking making your home life unhappy?
2) Does drinking make you careless about family responsibilities?
3) Do you drink to escape from worries or troubles?
4) Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
5) Is drinking affecting your reputation in the community?
6) Is drinking lowering your efficiency in your daily
7) Do you crave a drink at definite times?
8) Do you want a drink “the morning after?”
9) Have you ever felt remorseful about drinking?
10) Do you have financial problems at home because of
11) Does drinking cause you to have difficulty sleeping?
12) Have you ever had a complete loss of memory because
13) Do you drink alone?
14) Have your ambitions decreased because of drinking?
15) Do you have to make up excuses about drinking too
If you answered just one or two questions yes, watch yourself
carefully. If you answered three or more yes (or if you
found yourself thinking “well, sometimes”),
you have definite reason to worry and might do well to talk
with somebody who belongs to Alcoholics Anonymous.
You Can Get Help
are groups all over the country, most with telephone directory
listings. Look them up or write: AA, Box 459, New York 17,
you cannot find a local branch in your community, write:
Al-Anon Family Groups Council, 40 East Fortieth Street,
New York 17, New York
COUNCIL ON ALCOHOLISM (NCA)
East 103rd Street, New York 29, New York; has sixty-seven
local affiliates which maintain Alcoholism Information Centers.
Look in your phone book, or write NCA.
can obtain information on alcoholism and how to get help
from many sources near your home: there are 164 alcoholism
clinics and counseling centers throughout the country; thirty-eight
states have official alcoholism programs, many with information
services; your Health Department may have an alcoholism
service; your minister, doctor, and many social agencies
can direct or help you.