An Agonized Plea For Love
Five 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
“I 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.
“It 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 the office.
“Most 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.”
Triggering a Chain Reaction
Johnson 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.
“It 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 the taste.
Driven by Domestic Tensions
“My 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.
More Than a Social Problem
Why 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.
“Alcoholism,” 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 drug.”
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.
He Drank to Fight Hunger
Arthur 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.
Danger Noted….and Ignored
Few 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 acceptance.
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.”
This 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.
“One 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.”
“No Group Is Immune”
Because 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 laborers.
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.”
“Many 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 and rebellion.”
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:
1) Abnormal drinking behavior, not always in regard to quantity, but typified by attitude or actions.
2) Blackouts-losses of memory about events of the night before.
3) Sneaking and gulping drinks.
4) Chronic hang-overs, increasingly severe and painful.
5) Loss of control. Unable to “take it or leave it alone.”
6) Alibis, with plenty of excuses for why a drink is needed.
7) “Eye openers”-drinks in the morning as hang-over cures.
8) Changing the pattern-trying beer or wine instead of whisky, but not for long.
9) Solitary drinking, and other antisocial behavior.
10) Loss of Job and friends.
11) Seeking medical aid for drinking.
12) Benders-drunks lasting several days.
13) Shakes and tremors.
14) The bottle-hiding stage, protecting the needed supply.
15) Resentments and other unreasonable dislikes.
16) Nameless fears and anxieties.
17) Complete collapse of the alibi system. No more excuses are possible.
18) The surrender process-giving self over to someone else for help.
As 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.
It 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!
This 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 it.”
Recognition by Industry
Several 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 easily.
The “False Bottom”
Not 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:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the
things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
If 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 a disgrace.
Barriers Still to Be Broken
“Since 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.”
Passport to Nowhere
If 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.
“But 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.”
(Source: Cosmopolitan, July 1961)
Sidebars Follow Sidebars
A Thorough, Practical Test
If 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.”
Are You a Potential Alcoholic?
Over 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? ***
1) 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 work?
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 drinking?
11) Does drinking cause you to have difficulty sleeping?
12) Have you ever had a complete loss of memory because of drinking?
13) Do you drink alone?
14) Have your ambitions decreased because of drinking?
15) Do you have to make up excuses about drinking too much?
*** 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.
Where You Can Get Help
There are groups all over the country, most with telephone directory listings. Look them up or write: AA, Box 459, New York 17, New York.
If you cannot find a local branch in your community, write: Al-Anon Family Groups Council, 40 East Fortieth Street, New York 17, New York
NATIONAL COUNCIL ON ALCOHOLISM (NCA)
2 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.
You 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.