| print this
by Mrs. Marty Mann, New York, N.Y.
Director, National Committee for Education of Alcoholism,
Sponsored by the Yale Plan for Alcohol Studies
Chairman, Members of the Economic Club of Detroit and that
wider radio audience whom I cannot see: I stand before you
here today on behalf of two groups. One group is made of
free people, free because they have knowledge. The other
group is made up of prisoners, prisoners of their condition,
held prisoners by ignorance and fear.
The first group is that whom I officially represent, the
National Committee for Education on Alcoholism, made up
of men and women of science and medicine of the clergy and
of the arts, of business and of public life who are aware
of the nature of this problem and who are determined to
do something about it.
They have done me the honor of appointing me Executive Director
of that group and have made me the spokesman for their program.
other group has not appointed me. The other group is not
organized. It frequently does not know there is a group.
prisoners that I spoke of are the alcoholics of America,
three million strong.
of them are unaware of their own condition; are unaware
of its nature; and are unaware that there is anything whatsoever
to do about it.
did not need to appoint men; I belong to that group. I myself
shared their condition of being a prisoner until the truth
made me free.
First, I wish to speak to you on behalf of the National
Committee for Education on Alcoholism. Later, I am going
to speak to you on behalf of that other group who needs
The National Committee for Education on Alcoholism is exactly
what its name implies. Our objectives are implicit in that
title. We are interested solely in giving the public the
true facts about alcoholism, its nature and treatment, in
order that they may have the weapons of knowledge with which
to effect a solution of this terrible and growing problem.
We are not dealing here with a minor problem. We are dealing
with what an Assistant Surgeon General of the United States
Public Health Service has rightly called "Our greatest
unsolved public health problem." It is not unsolved
because it is a new problem. Indeed, it has been with us
from the beginning of time. It remains unsolved because
it is a problem we have never faced. It is something we
have never even discussed. The majority of people in their
ignorance and fear scarcely admit of its existence. Alcoholism
has for too long been a taboo subject; just as tuberculosis
used to be forty years ago. It has been hidden under a dark
cloud of stigma, made darker by fear of that stigma. Any
child can tell you that no problem can be solved by refusing
to recognize its existence. Equally true is the fact that
no problem can be solved while unaware of its nature.
Many groups have been concerned for many years with the
beverage alcohol. Millions of words spoken and written on
behalf of hundreds of organizations have dealt with this.
In the last analysis this concern has resolved itself into
a violent tug of war between the "wets" and the
"drys." In that tug of war it has been said that
the alcoholic has been the rope - and that rope has become
badly frayed. No organization until very recently has concerned
itself with the plight of the alcoholic or the nature of
his dilemma. That is where the National Committee comes
National Committee is not concerned with the problem of
beverage alcohol. We take no side in that ancient tug of
war. We state flatly in fact that this organization, the
National Committee for Education on Alcoholism and all of
its affiliated Committees - eighteen of them at this date
- are neither "wet" nor "dry." We go
further. We state that this organization shall not concern
itself in any activities designed to promote or prevent
the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages. Our concern
is with a disease called alcoholism and its victims, those
hapless, suffering human beings who are known as alcoholics.
We recognize, as did others concerned with the problem of
alcoholism, that practically nothing was known by the general
public of this disease. We realize that because of this
lack of knowledge, the public attitude ranged from utter
ignorance, through apathy and indifference, up to prejudice
and active antagonism. The public attitude reflects not
only a total lack of factual knowledge, but the presence
of a mass of misinformation and falsehoods. Out of this
attitude has grown the type of treatment which the citizens
of these United States have given and still give to that
segment of the population -their helpless fellow citizens
- who suffer from this illness. I think you all know what
that treatment is as well as I do. It is hostile, contemptuous,
and punitive. It is completely without understanding and
often without pity.
In most cities in this country there is nowhere to put the
alcoholic who is in the throes of this deadly malady, excepting
the local jail. We, as a nation, are not wont to treat our
sick in this fashion. We are not cruel and barbarous. We
are not medieval. We pride ourselves on being enlightened,
and we are, on the whole, a kind people. And yet to a great
body of very sick human beings we offer only punishment
for their illness. We behave as if we were still in the
situation must be changed. It is our belief that it will
be changed when the public is placed in possession of the
facts. That is the challenging task which we have accepted.
We wished to make these facts as simple and understandable
as possible that they might be understood by every man,
woman and child in this country. In order to do that, we
adopted three simple concepts which are printed on each
piece of our literature, and which our speakers reiterate
over and over again throughout the cities of this land.
They are simple, these concepts, but they are revolutionary
in content., for they embody an attitude which is exactly
the opposite to that shown by our actions in the past, and
I am afraid I must add, in the present. We believe that
when these concepts are accepted into the thinking of the
people of America a change in their actions must result.
We believe that repetition will help to implant these concepts
in the mind of the public, and so they are embodied - in
fact, they form the basis of every talk that is given on
behalf of the National Committee. The three concepts are
Alcoholism is a disease and the alcoholic is a sick person.
the alcoholic can be helped and is worth helping.
alcoholism is a public health problem and therefore, a public
these do not appear revolutionary on the surface, but stop
and think of the associations we all have been taught to
have with the words disease and sickness. We know, for instance,
that disease is no respecter of persons; it can strike anywhere,
high or low, rich or poor, men or women. We do not punish
sick people for being sick; we treat them. We go to great
lengths to establish treatment facilities and they are the
pride of our communities. We do not blame sick people for
their condition, even when, as often happens, it is brought
on by ignorance or carelessness or both. Once they are sick,
however this came about, we want them to have the kind of
treatment that will help them to get well. It would never
occur to us to put a man with malaria in jail - as if to
say to him, "you see what this does to you - now let
that be a lesson to you and don't let it happen again."
We know that he is sick, he is rarely capable of self-treatment.
We know that he needs help - to overcome his illness. Put
these simple associations beside our behavior toward those
sick people who are sick with alcoholism and you will see
how revolutionary that concept is.
The fact that alcoholism is a disease has been known to
science for over 150 years. Many great Americans of the
last century recognized this fact, although it was an English
doctor who wrote the first modern treatise on the diagnosis
and treatment of the disease of alcoholism in 1778.
Our own Connecticut Medical Society recognized alcoholism
as a disease requiring special treatment and hospitals for
that treatment in a resolution it presented to the Connecticut
State Legislature in 1830. I myself was ashamed when I learned
these things, and yet it was not my fault, for I had never
been taught any such facts. Just the same, it is curious,
is it not, that scientific facts well known to science over
such a long period should never have become common knowledge?
The normal gap, they tell me, between a scientific discovery
and its acceptance by the public, before which of course,
it cannot be of real use, is twenty years. Why should this
gap be so extended? We are late in starting, but we are
trying desperately to bridge that gap as speedily and as
effectively as possibly now. This, in short, is our primary
Our second concept, that the alcoholic can be helped and
is worth helping is a statement that could not have been
made even ten years ago from a public platform, because
it could not have been proved. Although there have always
been alcoholics who got well by one means or another and
walked among us as normal human beings, they dared not mention
what the nature of their illness had been. The stigma which
had been attached to alcoholism was so great that if people
knew the truth, these recovered alcoholics might have jeopardized
their whole future - their jobs, their family relationships,
their places in society, everything that makes life most
dear. Not until the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous twelve
years ago was there any change in the situation.
for the first time, alcoholics began to get well in numbers.
They were banded together in groups and together they had
the strength to face the hostile world and to talk of this
illness from which they had recovered. They talked so that
other alcoholics might learn the truth about their condition,
and seek help. Their voices were heard. Today, Alcoholics
Anonymous numbers more than 30,000 active members; well
and happy people; prosperous citizens who have returned
to their places in their communities; who are assets - no
longer liabilities. These people make good citizens –these
same people, who a few years ago were a stone around the
neck of everyone who knew them; A care and a burden and
a terrible cost to themselves, their families, their employers
and their communities. Liabilities in every sense, they
represented not only appalling economic waste, but also
the most terrible human waste; heartbreak, broken homes
and tragedies of very sort.
Yet today they are assets. They can be seen and they are
known for their accomplishments throughout the length and
breadth of the land. They are the living proof of the second
concept. No one any longer can say as I myself once said
and as we all were taught, that the drunkard is a bum for
whom there is no hope because there is something vital missing
in him – he has no willpower, no character –
or he would not let himself get that way. These people know
that they have a disease of which they need be no more ashamed
than if they happened to have diabetes or T.B. On the contrary,
they can be proud of the fact that in spite of suffering
from a progressive and often fatal malady for which there
is no absolute cure, they have learned how to arrest their
illness so that they can lead normal, healthy, happy lives.
Our last concept, that this is a public health problem and
therefore, a public responsibility, follows inevitably upon
acceptance of the other two. This is our job, yours and
mine, as citizens and as human beings. We, the people, create
public attitudes - and we can change them. Our first job
is to change this attitude, for until that is done alcoholics
and their families will not seek help. The majority of the
estimated 3,000,000 alcoholics in this country fall into
the category of what I call the hidden alcoholic. These
are usually people who have some family left, and that family
will go to any lengths to see that no one knows that the
stigma of alcoholism has struck in their midst. In their
opinion, the shame and degradation of having this fact become
common knowledge far outweighs the welfare of the alcoholic.
The alcoholic is "protected," hidden from view,
but actually he is prevented from getting help. Not until
the stigma is removed and alcoholism is discussed as freely
and openly as any other illness, will these people dare
to seek help. We must remove this stigma if we are to save
thousands from unnecessary deaths.
we must do more than this, for in many cases there will
be no facilities for the treatment of some of these people.
All of them may not be suitable for A.A. All of them may
not be willing or ready to accept that particular method
of treatment, and there are other methods which have also
helped alcoholics back to normal life; psychiatry, lay therapy,
the conditioned reflex treatment. Unfortunately the last
three are both long and expensive - too often beyond the
reach of the alcoholic and his family.
each method has its record of success. None of these methods
are infallible. And in this illness it has been found that
on occasion a combination of several methods of treatment
will sometimes succeed in the most difficult and apparently
our efforts cannot stop with a mere change in public opinion.
We must organize to change the conditions which that public
opinion has brought about. We must see to it that there
are other places than jails in which to put these sick people
when they are in the delirium of their sickness - acute
intoxication. We must set up information centers where individuals
and family and friends - agencies that are forced to handle
their problems - doctors and ministers who usually see more
of it than anyone else -- can go to get the facts on the
disease itself, and on the facilities available in that
area for its treatment. These centers must ceaselessly carry
on an intensive campaign of education in their communities,
aimed at uncovering more and more hidden alcoholics and
also at providing an environment of enlightened understanding
in which the process of recovery will be possible.
community will find that there are not many facilities other
than the local group of A.A. about which they can give information;
and yet other facilities will be needed. Therefore, these
organized groups (which we must call local committees of
the National Committee) must next undertake the difficult
task of persuading general hospitals to open beds for the
treatment of alcoholics in the acute stage. This I might
add, is a matter of crisis - of extreme emergency - in which
the lack of immediate medical treatment all too frequently
causes death. Next, they will need a clinic for diagnosis
and treatment and later they will need rest centers for
those who require long-term care.
is no longer necessary to say that we believe - we can now
say that we know that this program of community action is
a beginning toward the solution of this problem which is
so appalling in its devastation and waste. We can say we
know because we already have eighteen such affiliated committees
operating in eighteen cities throughout the country, and
the progress they report is more than encouraging. It has
convinced us that we can solve the problem of alcoholism
in America - and we will.
I can go back to my regular method of speaking. I am strictly
an extemporaneous speaker; I am not used to reading a speech;
but with all the national hook-ups on the radio, I thought
I had better.
want to talk to you a little bit now about the second group
which I said I represented. The unnamed, the nameless, the
alcoholics. I would say that perhaps ninety per cent of
them have no idea what their trouble is. You know, the alcoholic
is a part of the public. The attitude that I have described
to you which the public holds is shared in by those people
who suffer from this illness. I can tell you this from my
own experience. I had never heard the word alcoholic; I
had never heard the word alcoholism. Of course, I had heard
of drunkards; everybody has. I also knew or thought I knew
what a drunkard was. He was that unfortunate person that
one saw if one went to the less pretty part of town, shuffling
about in rags, bearded, unwashed, sleeping in doorways,
in gutters, sticking out filthy hands for a dime for a cup
of coffee and you hoped he wouldn't touch you.
If I had given any thought to the subject I would have described
that person as a person who had never had a chance, or the
opportunity to know the normal way of life, and who, if
he had been born to better things, had something missing,
something that made him unable to take advantage of his
opportunities. I would have said that there was nothing
that could be done about it, and if there was he wouldn't
be worth salvaging as there wasn't anything there in the
I might have conceded that there were a few localized cases
in which some terrible tragedy had driven the person to
drink - to drown his sorrows in drink, but I actually that
was pretty well confined to the pages of romance literature.
That is all I knew about it.
I think you will understand then that when this thing began
to happen to me it was simply not possible for me to identify
myself with that picture. How could someone with my background,
with my upbringing, with my education, how could someone
like that have this happen. Oh, no, it couldn't happen here.
thing I knew (and anyone who knew me could testify) was
that I had been afflicted with a little too much of that
commodity known as will power, in my case called willful.
I had always gotten what I went out for. I had achieved
quite a bit in my life. I had never suffered from any lack
of will power or lack of character either. And those attributes
were not a part of the picture that I had. This person,
this drunkard, had no will power, no spine, no backbone,
these things began to happen to me, it had to be something
else, it could not be that. It had to be some terrible mental
collapse since, obviously, I could not even look in that
direction. I could not say, "this is me."
you have the problem with a great many of the alcoholics.
How can they admit to this thing with their perverted and
prevalent conception of what this thing is? How can a man
who still has a job or has only just lost his job through
drinking come out openly and say: "I am a drunkard;
I have no will power; I have no character; I am a bum?"
He isn't and knows he isn't. He is faced with the same dilemma
in which I found myself. Why is it that my will power is
so strong on every- thing else and has no effect on drinking.
Why can't I answer when my friends say to me, "Why
can't you be like other people and drink sensibly,"
"Why can't you drink like so and so; I made every effort
to take one or two and stop; but it was just like butting
my head against a stone wall.
That wall was the wall of ignorance and the wall of prejudice.
It nearly killed me, and it is killing other alcoholics
every day. If we can break that wall down we can reach these
people and we can help these people. A program of community
action such as I described briefly will do that job. In
every one of the cities where this program is in action
more and more alcoholics come forward and ask for help.
In every city where we have information centers they are
coming and asking for this information and their families
and' friends and employers are coming. They are all asking,
"What is this thing, alcoholism," "What can
we do about it;" "Where can we go in this city
for help?" And centers that have been established and
the members of the Committee that set up those centers are
aware of their needs and they have the answers for them:
what hospitals will take alcoholics; are there any in the
community; can we persuade them to take alcoholics in; can
we at long last provide something for these desperately
sick people. Can we provide medical treatment that will
prevent their deaths? Yes, we can, and we must.
want to establish here before I leave Detroit such a Committee
as has already been started. I want to see the attempt made
at community action. I believe that it can succeed and I
believe that when all of these cities in this Country put
this plan into action we will see in front of us the possibility
of controlling the disease of alcoholism.
thing we are attempting to do is not so very difficult -
it is not very different from what we had to do on a national
scale forty years ago with T.B. That was the primary killer
then; that was the stigma then; that was the thing that
no family would admit to having. They were so careful that
no one should know, that people with T.B. died like flies
from lack of treatment. Then an intensified campaign was
put on...of education and the setting up of proper facilities.
Now the White Plague T.B. is at last under control and we
no longer regard it as the stigma it was. We can do the
same for alcoholism but we must put not only moral support
but financial support behind this effort. We must see that
these things are done that will repay us a thousand fold.
I know by virtue of my own position as an alcoholic thousands
of men and women who have recovered from this illness. I
can assure you from my personal experience that these people
make better than average citizens. It is as if they felt
they had to make up for lost time. They put themselves into
things with twice the amount of energy of anyone else. They
work harder at it and they give more of themselves. These
people are well worth saving and yet today we are allowing
them to die right and left.
We know, for instance, that every year 12,000 people die
with alcoholism put on their death certificates as the primary
or secondary cause of death. We know also that that must
be but a fraction of the actual deaths for we know that
wherever the family is still there they will go to any lengths
to see that those grim words are not put on the death certificates.
These people do not need to die. That great loss that you
heard Dr. Jellinek describe does not need to go on. All
of this unnecessary waste we can stop. We can stop it first,
by changing our own attitude, next by trying to change the
attitude of everyone else we know, presenting them with
these simple concepts, asking them to think them over and
then to act on them. We can top it by setting up Committees
such as I have described and by making great efforts to
provide facilities for our cities. Those are the steps we
need to take; those are the steps I hope you will take here.
visit to Detroit has not been just to speak to you gentlemen,
as great as that pleasure has been and deeply as I feel
the honor of appearing before you as a woman. I understand
that is a very rare occasion here. The real purpose of my
visit is to put a piece of dynamite under those who are
already interested and try to arouse interest in the rest
of you to put into effect a program of community action.
wouldn't do much good if I came and went and you talked
about it for a few days and then other concerns came up
and you forgot about it. No, We want something to go on;
we want continuity in the program; we want results.
am convinced that we can have in Detroit our most effective
Committee for Education on Alcoholism if all of you present
will help out.
Vital Speeches of the Day, February 1, 1947)