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of seven articles on alcohol
In personal and public health
in Alcoholics Anonymous-more than 60,000 men and women-have
found a way of life that for us has solved the problem of
To some of us the word “alcoholic” presented
a problem almost as great as our abnormal drinking. Our
picture of the alcoholic: The stumbling creature of the
skid roads of our bigger cities; the town drunkard, half
clown, half bogy man, of our smaller communities; or the
hapless, hopeless, desperate “repeater” of the
state and private hospitals, the “cures”, the
The majority of us weren’t that kind of drinker. We
maintained a home. We supported our families. We had a position
in the community. True, we drank more than most people but
that didn’t make us fit our concept of the alcoholic.
For such of us Alcoholics Anonymous said: We believe that
an alcoholic is simply an uncontrolled drinker. We believe
that the alcoholic is one whose life has become unmanageable
because of his drinking. We believe that, if a man’s
drinking is interfering seriously with a normal way of life
in his domestic, social or business affairs, that the man
might well examine himself honestly, objectively, to determine
if he has passed the thin line that separates the uncontrolled
drinker from the controlled drinker.
To others of us, the word “alcoholic” and the
AA definition of an alcoholic, came as a blessed relief.
The thought had nagged us that no sane man would continue
to drink as we were drinking. We had drifted into the twilight
zone of the mind where the real and the fancied were becoming
tangled. We were beginning to fear that out-and-out insanity
lay just around the bend.
To both groups bitter experience lent credence to the suggestion
that certain human beings were allergic to alcohol; that
certain persons were so constituted as to make them hypersensitive
to the effects of alcohol; that alcohol was a disease or
a symptom, perhaps, of a deeper disease.
This put a new light on alcoholism. We were not wrestling
merely with a moral problem. We were not simply afflicted
by darkness of intellect, weakness of will and sheer orneriness
The next step was the attack on the obsession common to
alcoholics-that somehow, somewhere, sometime they will be
able to drink in a controlled manner. Despite the alcoholic’s
past, despite the facts of the record, there is in the alcoholic
this obsession that tomorrow, the next time he can drink
The true nature of the obsession began to appear when a
cold and analytic examination of the alcoholic’s record
was made in company with men and women whose own records
presented a startling parallel. And what did the record
show? That over no considerable period had the alcoholic
been able to drink in a temperate manner; that despite the
devices he had tried-some elaborate, some ingenious, some
just plain silly-and despite the seeming safeguards he had
set up, there was always but one ending to his experiments
with alcohol-he had drunk to excess.
There was the further attack on the obsession in the testimony
of the group experience of Alcoholics Anonymous and in the
findings of the physician and the psychiatrist, that once
a man had passed the line that separates the uncontrolled
drinker from the controlled drinker, there was no returning;
that never again could he hope to drink in a controlled
Here is the stark factual picture for the alcoholic; That
never can he hope to drink except to excess; that as the
years go on the little enjoyment becomes less and, if he
persists in drinking, the material suffering, the physical
suffering, the mental anguish grow worse. If there is any
semblance of sanity left in the alcoholic, he sees the need
for a decision. With the help of men and women whom he recognizes
as having been through the same meatgrinder he has experienced,
the alcoholic is aided in arriving at the one proper decision-to
put alcohol out of his life.
When a man embraces the way of life of Alcoholics Anonymous,
he makes no promise, he takes no pledge that never again
will he drink.
We say to him:”Can you quit drinking for twenty-four
he says. “Anybody can quit drinking for twenty-four
we say, “that’s all we want you to strive for-to
quit drinking for twenty-four hours.”
And then we add: “Twenty-four hours at a time.”
To the alcoholic the prospect of living out his life with
never another drink opens a dim and dubious vista. It seems
an endless, difficult trail.
But the thought of staying dry just for today, that seems
simple, comparatively easy. And it is.
This may strike some as a childish device, a playing with
words, a paltering with a problem.
What we in Alcoholics Anonymous are interested in is the
result. And what is the result of this twenty-four hour
program and how does it work out?
It cuts down the problem of alcoholism from a hugh complex,
bewildering, life-long problem to the simple task of here
It closes the door on the past with its sighs over what
might have been, its dolorous regrets over lost opportunity,
its rankling remorse.
bars the door to the future with its daydreams of easy conquest,
its castles in Spain, its substitution of the wish for the
It introduces order into the life of the alcoholic. It demands
an end to procrastination.
Because it is a chain of his own forging, a chain he is
at liberty to toss aside if he will, the alcoholic finds
the chain easy to bear. The days slip by. And the weeks.
Then the months.
The alcoholic realizes of a sudden that he has achieved
a term of sobriety. Meanwhile his mind has cleared. He sees
the benefits of a life without alcohol. His will to remain
sober is strengthened by each day of dryness.
He has found a formula for cutting life to a size he can
grapple with and he adopts it for all his affairs.
He has found new friends, close friends, friends who understand
him better than those of years standing. As one alcoholic
tells it: “The difference between being in Alcoholics
Anonymous and trying to stay dry by myself is the difference
between being at liberty and in solitary confinement.”
This group therapy is important, highly important.
But the driving force of Alcoholics Anonymous is spiritual,
a belief in and a dependence on a Higher Power-God, as the
alcoholic understands Him. No attempt will be made here
at amplification of this statement because this phase of
the Alcoholics Anonymous program is a highly individualistic
one, a concept and a relationship that each alcoholic works
out for himself.
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded 12 years ago in Akron,
Ohio, in a providential meeting between an Akron surgeon
and the New York investment counselor who had the thought
of the program.
The New Yorker was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t
persuade other alcoholics to accept the means by which he
had achieved sobriety after a spectacular career in alcoholism.
The surgeon suggested maybe the New Yorker had been operating
in the belief that in talking with other alcoholics, he
was conferring the favor; that he was Lady Bountiful with
the basket of groceries visiting the poor. Out of their
discussion came the recognition that the sober alcoholic,
in talking with the drinking alcoholic, is conferring the
favor on himself.
This has become basic in AA procedure-that we seek to aid
other alcoholics primarily to aid ourselves. This has proved
out the adage that he who seeks to teach others convinces
It has put our whole teaching program on a selfishly realistic
basis. It has kept excesses of zeal to a minimum. It has
forestalled smugness with its fatal dryrot. It has tempered
the evangelistic spirit with humility and humor. It has
restrained more than one well meaning sobered alcoholic
from becoming a “reformer,” a fanatic or a plain
There is sound psychology in our work with other alcoholics.
Seeing an alcoholic on his bed of pain, fresh from the horrors
of a ringtailed, chandelier-hanging binge emphasizes sharply
to the sober alcoholic the contrast between his present
well-being and his chaotic past.
And with each new man or woman the sober alcoholic brings
into Alcoholics Anonymous comes a heightened sense of responsibility,
a deeper satisfaction and a buttressed resolve to continue
living without alcohol.
Many a psychiatrist has suggested to the alcoholic that
interest in a hobby be one to which the alcoholic can devote
the rest of his life, a hobby in which his interest will
never flag. The hobby? Building himself into the kind of
personality he has always wanted to be. Seeking to live
his own concept of the perfect life.
We have seen alcoholics tackle lesser hobbies. We have seen
how, after the first flare of enthusiasm, there was a lessening
interest, finally a positive distaste-and then, more drinking.
Not so with the hobby which is himself. Nor does Alcoholics
Anonymous rest content with suggesting this hobby to the
new member. It provides a series of exercises in self-discipline,
the help and counsel of his new friends, experienced friends,
and the incentives of regained self respect, the sense of
achievement and of group approval by which this personality
change may be effected.
Man being a social creature hungers for companionship, for
fellowship. He reaches the fullness of his powers, the fullness
of his content in that society which is a larger picture
of himself. So it is for the alcoholic who comes into Alcoholics
Anonymous. There is complete understand of the suffering
he has undergone; there is sympathy, without condescension;
pity, without the alloy of superiority; a fellow feeling
which preaches most forcibly by example.
walks of life” is an ancient and hackneyed phrase.
Yet in truth there is no phrase to describe the 60,000 men
and women in Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcohol is no respecter
of persons. Which is why we number in our ranks members
from nearly every trade, every occupation, every profession,
every station and every class.
In the early days of the movement most of the men who came
to us were 40 and over, most of the women in their 30s.
As word of our program spread, the average age of entrants
began to drop. We started to attract men in their 30s, women
in their late 20s.
Since the end of the war there has been an influx of younger
men and women, just two, three, four years past their majority.
Confirmed alcoholics at that age? Certainly. These young
folk have found they can not drink in a controlled manner.
Rather than waste years in a vain struggle with alcohol,
they have courageously accepted the fact of their alcoholism
and are building lives in which alcohol will play no part.
The war didn’t make alcoholics of them. It simply
speeded up the process. Young men away from the restraints
of home began their alcoholic careers at an earlier age.
Young women, bored with a comparatively manless existence,
turned to drinking at “hen parties,” and the
customary percentage found they were alcoholic.
How does one become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous? In
most of the 1,200 communities where we have groups, there
is a listing in the telephone book. If no telephone is listed
in your community, a telephone call to the city editor or
your local daily paper usually brings the information. Or
interested persons may address the Alcoholic Foundation,
P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Annex, New York City.
For the relative or friend who wishes to help an alcoholic
and who hesitates at bringing up the subject, we suggest
the family physician or clergyman as an effective agent
in directing the alcoholic to consult our group.
Sometimes desperate wives or parents have asked that members
of our group call uninvited on the alcoholic, engage him
with conversation about baseball, the high cost of living
or the threat of the atomic bomb, and then, presto, switch
the subject to alcoholism.
This subterfuge just does not work. We are not slight of
hand performers nor high-pressure salesmen. Such a procedure,
we have found, may well antagonize the alcoholic and set
his mind against Alcoholics Anonymous as a band of meddling
All that we ask of the alcoholic is that he know the reason
for our coming, that he give us a few minutes that we may
tell our story.
We know that most alcoholics have long since ceased to enjoy
drinking. We know that most alcoholics are seeking a way
out of their alcoholic trap.
The comic verse about the over-whelming love of “one
drunken gent for another” has a deal of truth in it.
There is a bond between alcoholics. Within minutes the alcoholic
and the AA members are “talking turkey.”
Often the prospect admits his alcoholism but is fearful
it will become known he has joined Alcoholics Anonymous.
We can assure him, and with honesty, his fears are groundless.
It is accepted group practice that no member divulges the
membership of another member unless he has definite and
specific permission to do so, and then only under unusual
circumstances. Anonymity is observed and preserved.
Many times the first visit brings the alcoholic into our
group. Again it may be the alcoholic’s obsession persuades
him that he can handle the problem. Or it may be that he
is not ready to make a decision to quit drinking. But the
seed has been planted, and usually we hear from him later-if
he doesn’t die meanwhile.
If the alcoholic is not yet ready, he is not badgered to
join us. We have learned that the man who joins under duress
has small chances of success. We are content to wait until
he makes up his mind. When that comes, we know he is well
on his way to victory.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a group of people bound together
by their interest in solving a problem common to them. It
is a fellowship rather than an organization in the formal
sense of that word. It has no officers, no initiation fees,
no dues. It is open to anyone who has an alcoholic problem
and a sincere desire to solve it.
It is a matter of record that our program can solve the
alcoholic’s problem. As a footnote, we’d like
to add that it’s fun, too.
Hygeia, July 1948)