How do you explain alcoholism to someone who is not afflicted?
First, it cannot be controlled by willpower. You might as well try to control diarrhea by willpower. It is an illness recognised by the United Nations’ World Health Organization and by most health professionals these days. They no longer say: “pull yourself together,” but recommend treatment. And they will usually agree that AA is one of the most effective programs. Most treatment centers will suggest AA as a maintenance program after discharge and many will start steppers off in the AA program prior to discharge – sometimes immediately on admittance.
Secondly you cannot force the addict to take treatment if they don’t want it. Family interventions sometimes work, even on TV, but often they don’t and anyway there are frequent relapses. Once they have tried their best to help, the advice for family members is to “detach with love” from the addict.
Thirdly, on no account should they indulge the addict’s addiction. They should never finance it or help in any way, for example by clearing up after them. It is kinder in the long run to make addicts face the consequences of their actions. This is more likely to end the addict’s denial and lead to a voluntary start on a program.
Fourthly, some addicts die of the disease. This is sad for family members but I believe it is a mistake for medical professionals to cover up the real cause of death: for example they are inclined to write heart attack and turn a blind eye to the cirrhosis of the liver to save the blushes of the family. If they wrote alcoholism on the death certificate, its rise in the statistical rankings as a cause of death might bring about social reforms that would shed light on the problem and cause more people to seek help. It doesn’t end there of course. Some deaths due to drunk driving could be put down to alcoholism.
Fifthly, it is important to realise that most people are not alcoholics and their drinking habits are no concern of alcoholics. We are not killjoys.
Sixthly, there are two main theories among alcoholics about why they have the disease. Most believe it is genetic and that they were born an alcoholic, waiting to happen – they are just made that way. Some others believe they drank so much that they became alcoholic without being genetically predisposed. Research has established that alcoholism runs in families, but not yet that there is a genetic element. There are charities in this field worth looking into on the internet.
Seventhly, it is this lottery aspect of alcoholism that presumably makes it the global choice as the legal drug.
Heroine, for example, is addictive to anyone who takes it which makes it so much more dangerous to the human race as a whole. But the same can be said of nicotine so it is perhaps surprising that this drug is legal. Still, no one beat up their wife after smoking a cigarette.
Eighthly, steppers remain alcoholics after they have stopped drinking. The program makes them happy and contented, after the withdrawals have been negotiated, about never having to drink again. Relief is often felt at the first meeting after the miserable final stages of a drinking career when someone says: “you need never drink again.” But they must never take a drink for they will not be able to stop until disaster or oblivion intervene.
Ninthly, mothers always ask: “how long will you have to keep going to those meetings, dear?” And the alcoholic will answer: “For as long as I live if I’m lucky.” I explained to my own mother that it was a matter of life and death, but it wasn’t long before she said: “Why don’t you get yourself a new hobby, dear?”
Tenthly, this is a symptom of non-addicts not really understanding addiction. It is why we addicts go to meetings, because we are the only ones who understand each other. That is how the group therapy works.
Eleventhly, I’d love to extend this note to 12 answers to the question of what an alcoholic is, inline with the twelve steps, but I have just come to the conclusion that outsiders won’t completely understand anyway.
Still, twelfthly, maybe it will strike a chord with new alcoholics and help some of them on the road to recovery. If so, welcome to the club. VH.