of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know one hundred men who
were once just as hopeless as Bill. All have recovered.
They have solved the drink problem.
are ordinary Americans. All sections of this country
and many of its occupations are represented, as
well as many political, economic, social and religious
backgrounds. We are people who normally would not
mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness,
and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.
We are like the passengers of a great liner the
moment after rescue from shipwreck, when camaraderie,
joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from
steerage to Captain's table. Unlike the feelings
of the ship's passengers, however, our joy in escape
from disaster does not subside as we go our individual
ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril
is one element in the powerful cement which binds
us. But that in itself would never have held us
together as we are now joined.
tremendous fact for every one of us that we have
discovered a common solution.~ We have a way out
on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which
we can join in brotherly and harmonious action.
This is the great news this book carries to those
who suffer alcoholism.
illness of this sort - and we have come to believe
it an illness - involves those about us in a way
no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer
all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt.
But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with
it there goes annihilation of all the things worth
while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch
the sufferer's. It brings misunderstanding, fierce
resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends
and employers, warped lives of blameless children,
sad wives and parents - anyone can increase the
volume will inform, instruct and comfort those who
are, or who may be affected. They are many.
competent psychiatrists who have dealt with us (often
fruitlessly, we are afraid) find it almost impossible
to persuade an alcoholic to discuss his situation
without reserve. Strangely enough, wives, parents
and intimate friends usually find us even more unapproachable
than do the psychiatrist and the doctor.
the ex-alcoholic who has found this solution, who
is properly armed with certain medical information,
can generally win the entire confidence of another
alcoholic in a few hours. Until such an understanding
is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished.
the man who is making the approach has had the same
difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking
about, that his whole deportment shouts at the new
prospect that he is a man with a real answer, that
he has no attitude of holier than thou, nothing
whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful;
that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind,
no people to please, no lectures to be endured -
these are the conditions we have found necessary.
After such an approach many take up their beds and
of us makes a vocation of this work, nor do we think
its effectiveness would be increased if we did.
We feel that elimination of the liquor problem is
but a beginning. A much more important demonstration
of our principles lies before us in our respective
homes, occupations, and affairs. All of us spend
much of our spare time in the sort of effort which
we are going to describe. A few are fortunate enough
to be so situated that they can give nearly all
of their time to the work.
we keep on the way we are going there is little
doubt that much good will result, but the surface
of the problem would hardly be scratched. Those
of us who live in large cities are overcome by the
reflection that close by hundreds are dropping into
oblivion every day. Many could recover if they had
the opportunity we have enjoyed. How then shall
we present that which has been so freely given us?
have concluded to publish an anonymous volume setting
forth the problem as we see it. We shall bring to
the task our combined experience and knowledge.
This ought to suggest a useful program for anyone
concerned with a drinking problem.
necessity there will have to be discussion of matters
medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We
are aware that these matters are, from their very
nature, controversial. Nothing would please us so
much as to write a book which would contain no basis
for contention or argument. We shall do our utmost
to achieve that ideal. Most of us sense that real
tolerance of other people's shortcomings and viewpoints
and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which
make us more useful to others. Our very lives, as
ex-alcoholics, depend upon our constant thought
of others and how we may help meet their needs.
may already have asked yourself why it is that all
of us became so very ill from drinking. Doubtless
you are curious to discover how and why, in the
face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have
recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and
body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over
it, you may already be asking - "What do I have
is the purpose of this book to answer such questions
specifically. We shall tell you what we have done.
Before going into a detailed discussion, it may
be well to summarize some points as we see them.
many times people have said to us: "I can take it
or leave it alone. Why can't he?" "Why don't you
drink like a gentleman or quit?" "That fellow can't
handle his liquor." "Why don't you try beer and
wine?" "Lay off the hard stuff." "His will power
must be weak." "He could stop if he wanted to."
"She's such a sweet girl, I should think he'd stop
for her." "The doctor told him that if he ever drank
again it would kill him, but there he is all lit
these are commonplace observations on drinkers which
we hear all the time. Back of them is a world of
ignorance and misunderstanding. We see that these
expressions refer to people whose reactions are
very different from ours.
drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor
entirely if they have good reason for it. They can
take it or leave it alone.
we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may have
the habit bad enough to gradually impair him physically
and mentally. It may cause him to die a few years
before his time. If a sufficiently strong reason
- ill health, falling in love, change of environment,
or the warning of a doctor - becomes operative,
this man can also stop or moderate, although he
may find it difficult and troublesome and may even
need medical attention.
what about the real alcoholic? He may start off
as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become
a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of
his drinking career he begins to lose all control
of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink.
is the Fellow who has been puzzling you, especially
in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible,
tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He
is always more or less insanely drunk. His disposition
while drinking resembles his normal nature but little.
He may be one of the finest fellows in the world.
Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes
disgustingly, and even dangerously anti-social.
He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly
the wrong moment, particularly when some important
decision must be made or engagement kept. He is
often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning
everything except liquor, but in that respect is
incredibly dishonest and selfish. He often possesses
special abilities, skills, and aptitudes, and has
a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts
to build up a bright outlook for his family and
himself, then pulls the structure down on his head
by a senseless series of sprees. He is the fellow
who goes to bed so intoxicated he ought to sleep
the clock around. Yet early next morning he searches
madly for the bottle he misplaced the night before.
If he can afford it, he may have liquor concealed
all over his house to be certain no one gets his
entire supply away from him to throw down the wastepipe.
As matters grow worse, he begins to use a combination
of high-powered sedative and liquor to quiet his
nerves so he can go to work. Then comes the days
when he simply cannot make it and gets drunk all
over again. Perhaps he goes to a doctor who gives
him a dose of morphine or some high-voltage sedative
with which to taper off. Then he begins to appear
at hospitals and sanitariums.
is by no means a comprehensive picture of the true
alcoholic, as our behavior patterns vary. But this
description should identify him roughly.
does he behave like this? If hundreds of experiences
have shown him that one drink means another debacle
with all its attendant suffering and humiliation,
why is it he takes that one drink? Why can't he
stay on the water wagon? What has become of the
common sense and will power that he still sometimes
displays with respect to other matters?
there never will be a full answer to these questions.
Psychiatrists and medical men vary considerably
in their opinion as to why the alcoholic reacts
differently from normal people. No one is sure why,
once a certain point is reached, nothing can be
done for him. We cannot answer the riddle.
know that while the alcoholic keeps away from drink
as he may do for months or years, he reacts much
like other men. We are equally positive that once
he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something
happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which
makes it virtually impossible for him to stop. The
experience of any alcoholic will abundantly confirm
observations would be academic and pointless if
our friend never took the first drink thereby setting
the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the real
problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather
than in his body. If you ask him why he started
on that last bender, the chances are he will offer
you any one of a hundred alibis. Sometimes these
excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of
them really make sense in the light of the havoc
an alcoholic's drinking bout creates. They sound
to you like the philosophy of the man who, having
a headache, beat himself on the head with a hammer
so that he couldn't feel the ache. If you draw this
fallacious reasoning to the attention of an alcoholic,
he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse
in a while he may tell you the truth. And the truth,
strange to say, is usually that he has no more idea
why he took that first drink than you have. Some
drinkers have excuses with which they are satisfied
part of the time. But in their hearts they really
do not know why they do it. Once this malady has
a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the
obsession that somehow, some day, they will beat
the game. But they often suspect they are down for
true this is, few realize. In a vague way their
families and friends sense that these drinkers are
abnormal, but everybody hopefully waits the day
when the sufferer will rouse himself from his lethargy
and assert his power of will.
tragic truth is that if the man be a real alcoholic,
the happy day will seldom arrive. He has lost control.
At a certain point in the drinking of every alcoholic,
he passes into a state where the most powerful desire
to stop drinking is of absolutely no avail. This
tragic situation has already arrived in practically
every case long before it is suspected.
fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure,
have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called
will power becomes practically non-existent. We
are unable at certain times, no matter how well
we understand ourselves, to bring into our consciousness
with sufficient force the memory of the suffering
and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We
are without defense against the first drink.
almost certain consequences that follow taking even
a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter
us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy, and
readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea
that this time we shall handle ourselves like other
people. There is a complete failure of the kind
of defense that keeps one from putting his hand
on a hot stove.
alcoholic may say to himself in the most casual
way, "It won't burn me this time, so here's how!"
Or perhaps he doesn't think at all. How often have
some of us begun to drink in this nonchalent way,
and after the third or fourth, pounded on the bar
and said to ourselves, "For God's sake, how did
I ever get started again?" Only to have that thought
supplanted by "Well, I'll stop with the sixth drink."
Or "What's the use anyhow?"
this sort of thinking is fully established in an
individual with alcoholic tendencies, he has probably
placed himself beyond all human aid, and unless
locked up, is certain to die, or go permanently
insane. These stark and ugly facts have been confirmed
by legions of alcoholics throughout history. But
for the grace of God, there would have been one
hundred more convincing demonstrations. So many
want to stop, but cannot.
is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching,
the levelling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings
which the process requires for its successful consummation.
But we saw that it really worked in others, and
we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility
of life as we had been living it. When, therefore,
we were approached by those in whom the problem
had been solved, there was nothing left for us but
to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid
at our feet. We have found much of heaven and we
have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence,
of which we had not even dreamed.
great fact is just this, and nothing less: that
we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences,
which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward
life, toward our fellows, and toward God's universe.
The central fact of our lives today is the absolute
certainty that our Creator has entered into our
hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous.
He has commenced to accomplish those things for
us which we could never do by ourselves.
you are seriously alcoholic, we believe you have
no middle-of-the-road solution. You are in a position
where life is becoming impossible, and if you have
passed into the region from which there is no return
through human aid, you have but two alternatives:
one is to go on to the bitter end, blotting out
the consciousness of your intolerable situation
as best you can; and the other, to find what we
have found. This you can do if you honestly want
to, and are willing to make the effort.
certain American business man had ability, good
sense, and high character. For years he had floundered
from one sanitarium to another. He had consulted
the best known American psychiatrists. Then he had
gone to Europe, placing himself in the care of a
celebrated physician who prescribed for him. Though
bitter experience had made him skeptical, he finished
his treatment with unusual confidence. His physical
and mental condition were unusually good. Above
all, he believed he had acquired such a profound
knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and
its hidden springs, that relapse was unthinkable.
Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short time. More
baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory
explanation for his fall.
he returned to this doctor, whom he admired, and
asked him point-blank why he could not recover.
He wished above all things to regain self-control.
He seemed quite rational and well-balanced with
respect to other problems. Yet he had no control
whatever over alcohol. Why was this?
begged the doctor to tell him the whole truth, and
he got it. In the doctor's judgment he was utterly
hopeless; he could never regain his position in
society and he would have to place himself under
lock and key, or hire a bodyguard if he expected
to live long. That was a great physician's opinion.
this man still lives, and is a free man. He does
not need a bodyguard, nor is he confined. He can
go anywhere on this earth where other free men may
go without disaster, provided he remains willing
to maintain a certain simple attitude.
of our alcoholic readers may think they can do without
spiritual help. Let us tell you the rest of the
conversation our friend had with his doctor.
doctor said: "You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic.
I have never seen one single case recover, where
that state of mind existed to the extent that it
does in you." Our friend felt as though the gates
of hell had closed on him with a clang.
said to the doctor, "Is there no exception?"
replied the doctor, "there is. Exceptions to cases
such as yours have been occurring since early times.
Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have
had what are called vital spiritual experiences.
To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear
to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements
and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes
which were once the guiding forces of the lives
of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and
a completely new set of conceptions and motives
begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying
to produce some such emotional rearrangement within
you. With many individuals the methods which I employed
are successful, but I have never been successful
with an alcoholic of your description."
hearing this, our friend was somewhat relieved,
for he reflected that, after all, he was a good
church member. This hope, however, was destroyed
by the doctor's telling him that his religious convictions
were very good, but that in his case they did not
spell the necessary vital spiritual experience.
was the terrible dilemma in which our friend found
himself when he had the extraordinary experience,
which as we have already told you, made him a free
in our turn, sought the same escape, will all~ the
desperation of drowning men. What seemed at first
a flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful
hand of God. A new life has been given us or, if
you prefer, "a design for living that really works.~
distinguished American psychologist, William James,
in his book, "Varieties of Religious Experience,"
indicates a multitude of ways in which men have
found God. As a group, we have no desire to convince
anyone that there is only one way by which God can
be discovered. If what we have learned, and felt,
and seen, means anything at all, it means that all
of us, whatever our race, creed or color, are the
children of a living Creator with whom we may form
a relationship upon simple and understandable terms
as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try.
Those having religious affiliations will find here
nothing disturbing to their beliefs or ceremonies.
There is no friction among us over such matters.
think it no concern of ours, as a group, what religious
bodies our members identify themselves with as individuals.
This should be an entirely personal affair which
each one decides for himself in the light of past
association, or his present choice. Not all of us
have joined religious bodies, but most of us favor
the following chapter, there appears an explanation
of alcoholism as we understand it, then a chapter
addressed to the agnostic. Many who once were in
this class are now among our members; surprisingly
enough, we find such convictions no great obstacle
to a spiritual experience.
is a group of personal narratives. Then clear-cut
directions are given showing how an alcoholic may
recover. These are followed by more than a score
of personal experiences.
individual, in the personal stories, describes in
his own language, and from his own point of view
the way he found or rediscovered God. These give
a fair cross section of our membership and a clear-cut
idea of what has actually happened in their lives.
hope no one will consider these self-revealing accounts
in bad taste. Our hope is that many alcoholic men
and women, desperately in need, will see these pages,
and we believe that it is only by fully disclosing
ourselves and our problems that they will be persuaded
to say, "Yes, I am one of them too; I must have