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The Neglected Tragedy of Alcoholism
is worldwide problem of enormous dimensions.
It wrecks families, ruins health – and kills. There
Reasons why people become alcoholic. But also, there are
specific steps an individual can take to rid himself of
by William F. Dankenbring
are alarmed at the growing incidence of drug abuse and narcotics
addiction. But meanwhile another silent killer receives
little publicity as it stalks the lives of MILLIONS, leaving
heartbreak and incalculable suffering in its wake. While
lurid drug stories capture the headlines, alcoholism devastates
the lives of far more millions.
a look at a few shocking facts published by the National
Council on Alcoholism.
drivers are responsible for about half the automobile fatalities
in the United States each year-they cause over 25,000 deaths
annually on the highways. Excessive intake of alcohol is
also responsible for most of the deaths due to cirrhosis
of the liver.
in every 13 employees is an alcoholic. Losses in industry
because of alcoholism have been computed at $6 billion (some
say $7 billion) per year. The total cost including human
loss to individuals, breakup of families, suffering and
heartbreak, is incalculable.
problem drinker adversely affects an average of four other
persons in his family, and more than 16 friends and business
associates in the community. Therefore, at least 130 million
Americans are directly or indirectly affected by alcoholism-in
addition to the alcoholics!
the familiar, oft-depicted “skid row” alcoholic
represents less that 5% of the total number of alcoholics-the
other 95% are still functioning in society, and are found
in homes, factories, offices, and communities-the neighbor
next door or down the street, if not in your own home!
third arrest (or over 2 million arrests annually) in the
United States involves public drunkenness.
than 95% of short-term prisoners are serving time in jail
because of drunkenness or alcoholism.
in three suicides involves an alcoholic.
blight of alcoholism ranks with heart disease, mental illness
and cancer as a national health problem.
A recent issue of Medical World News called alcoholism “America’s
Most destructive Drug Problem.” Alcoholism has been
tied in with numerous other diseases. For instance, a study
on 341 tuberculosis patients revealed that nearly half of
them were alcoholics. Of a group of patients with cancer
of the pancreas, 75% were alcoholics, compared to 14% of
a matched control group.
why such a great tragedy? What leads a person to alcoholism
and how it can be avoided?
Declared Dr. Marvin A. Block, former chairman of the committee
on alcoholism of the American Medical Association, “Many
causes of alcoholism have been enumerated, but these are
actually only suspicious of causes. The actual cause of
the disorder is not known.” He continues: “Many
people would like to blame alcohol for alcoholism, but if
this were true, everyone who drinks would become alcoholic.
Alcohol cannot be considered the cause of alcoholism any
more than gasoline can be considered the cause of automobile
accidents” (Block, Alcoholism: Its Facets and Phases,
Says this world-renowned authority on alcoholism, many theories
have been advanced-theories about hormone glands, the dietary
regimen, and heredity-but none have been proved satisfactorily.
Recent research done by Dr. Halmuth H. Schaefer, professor
of clinical psychiatry, and his associates at Loma Linda
University School of Medicine indicates that “alcoholism
stems primarily from a conditioned response to anxiety,
and therefore is NOT a psychological condition as many believe.”
Dr. Schaefer observed that contrary to the opinions commonly
held, alcoholics are not “weak-willed” individuals;
rather, they are self-willed people who are stubborn enough
to do what they want.
What part does heredity play in alcoholism? Experiments
by Dr. John Nichols, professor of psychology and social
science at Penn State University, indicate that some inherited
physiological constitutions are more susceptible to addiction
if exposed to drugs such as morphine and alcohol. However,
he pointed out, this does not prove alcoholism is hereditary.
He emphasized that whatever it is that is transmitted is
not necessarily bad-the addiction-prone animals he tested
were also smarter than the others and learned mazes more
Nichols agrees that alcoholic addiction is primarily based
on psychological factors. Drinking brings pleasure, euphoria,
reduces the biological drives of the individual. Some become
through habit and desire gradually conditioned to using
alcohol to satisfy these basic human drives. Alcoholism,
he says, is the result of people using this means to gain
the "rewards" the "payoffs" which come
from drinking excessively.
Dr. Halmuth Schaefer and Mark Sobell of Loma Linda essentially
agree, calling alcoholism a psychological ailment, a learned
response to stress. Alcoholics have simply learned to find
“relief” through reaching for a drink!
Dr. Blyth Sprott, associate professor of health studies
at Cal State declared that many physicians emphasize faulty
metabolism as a primary culprit in alcoholism, especially
a liver dysfunction. But says Dr. Sprott, "Metabolism
is certainly involved in alcoholism, it is upset by drinking
too much-but metabolic upset does not explain alcoholism.”
He also believes alcoholism is rooted in social and psychological
Said one man who had overcome alcohol addiction: “The
alcoholic is an immature man or woman who takes the easy
way out, alcohol, when he can’t cope with reality.”
His comment strikes close to the heart of the problem of
The basic root cause of alcoholism was pinpointed by Elizabeth
Whitney in her book Living With Alcoholism. She wrote: ”A
half century ago it was easy to find medical authority in
agreement that alcoholism was hereditary. Scientific investigation
has proved this incorrect” (p.4). She adds that ENVIRONMENTAL
FACTORS are the key. “In recent studies it has been
determined that the ways in which parents use alcohol have
a profound effect on the drinking behavior of their children”
The basic solution to the problem of alcoholism, then, lies
in the realm of changing the way of thinking toward life
and toward alcohol itself!
Dr. William Terhune: “Certain conditions and circumstances
appear to make people more vulnerable to alcohol. Poor motivation
is a strong contributor. It is a sad fact that many human
beings have no compelling, constructive PURPOSE in school,
in work or in any other part of life.”
He continued: “Some life situations encourage prolonged
frustration and a sense of defeat, accompanied, in turn,
by self-pity and anger. Marital, maladjustment is the greatest
single cause of alcoholism in women” (The Safe Way
He also listed lack of interests and hobbies, a dull, unrewarding
job, competitive pressure, chronic emotional stress, interpersonal
conflicts, and a host of similar factors.
Most heavy drinking occurs during middle age, when many
people come to realize their lives haven’t measured
up as they thought they would-when they look back over life
and see the great gap between what they aspired toward and
what they achieved. Life seems a treadmill, full of endless,
repetitive routine. They turn to alcohol to anaesthetize
their feelings and the hurt in their lives.
Many elderly people, feeling unneeded and unwanted, lonely
and cast off, turn to heavy drinking for solace. A little
excess alcohol hits them especially hard and hastens senility.
Thus, part of the cause of alcoholism is, in a sense, our
modern way of life itself. Many people, today, have no great
personal goals to strive for; they are not driving themselves
to attain some great GOAL; they are not motivated or inspired
by some challenging PURPOSE in life. Rather, to them life
has become meaningless, boring, tedious, tiresome, jaded,
eroded, devoid of interest, vitality, and MEANING!
Solution to Alcoholism
factors in society, the home, and in a person’s personality
which lead him to over-indulgence are the CAUSES of alcoholism!
Understanding this basic truth, then, we can see that there
are two approaches needed to stamp out alcoholism. PREVENTATIVE
steps must be taken by society-and by the individual.
What can society do? The WHOLE APPROACH toward alcohol in
our modern, affluent Western world is wrong and contributes
to the growing problem.
In other words, equating the use of alcohol with an atmosphere
of surreptitious pleasure and delight is nothing more than
a Madison Avenue sell Job. It is time the “mystique,”
the “symbol of virility,” the image of alcohol,
were changed from its false glamour to one which is realistic-that
of a pleasant, relaxing beverage for social occasions and
to be taken with meals-a beverage all right to drink in
Parents should be educated to have a balanced view of alcohol
themselves, so they can set their children the RIGHT EXAMPLE
of proper use. Parental misuse is a real factor in causing
young people to imitate them and become alcoholics. On the
other hand, if parents are teetotalers, and condemn the
use of alcohol, then they run the danger of causing their
children to REBEL, and become fanatical drinkers with a
totally distorted view of alcohol.
Clearly BALANCE and moderation should be primary goals of
an EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM for both children and adults.
Rupert Wilkinson, a sociologist who has studied the problem
of alcoholism extensively, believes there is a distinct
relationship between America’s high rate of drinking
and the way in which alcoholic drink is distributed, promoted,
and generally treated by society. He shows conclusively
that cultural drinking patterns influence the incidence
of drinking problems. Says he, “Alcohol should not
symbolize either sexual virility or the attractions of a
forbidden fruit. For drinkers this means acceptance of drinking
as part of everyday ordinary life….rather than an
exaggerated elixir….” (The Prevention of Drinking
Problems: Alcohol Control and Cultural Influences, pp.6-7)
If the plague of alcoholism is to be defeated, then society
itself needs to be REORIENTED in its approach. Only then
can alcoholism be prevented before it starts.
But what about individuals who are already alcoholics? What
hope is there for them? If you have a problem with alcohol,
what can you do? What if you have an alcoholic relative?
consensus of modern opinion of psychiatrists, medical doctors,
and laymen alike is that the best overall record in rehabilitating
alcoholics is held by Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Gitlow told
me personally, “I think that the biggest success that
we see today has been through the auspices of Alcoholics
Anonymous.” Alcoholics Anonymous has anywhere from
300,000 to half a million members. Members claim that about
50 percent of those who seek help find the road back to
sobriety and sanity.
Declared Dr. Max M. Glatt, a British expert on alcoholism,
in an interview with a PLAIN TRUTH representative in England,
”I am a great believer in Alcoholics Anonymous. First,
they have shown to the world at large that alcoholics are
not a bunch of spineless weaklings, but that they are people
who can find their way back, and they have done that without
professional help, they have done that in the face of skepticism
from professional organizations and from the world at large.
They therefore have shown that the old notion of gloom and
doom attached for so long to alcoholics is quite wrong.
They have shown that these often despised people are able
to make a comeback from the rock bottom stage without much
Why is A.A. successful when many other types of treatment
have failed? Why do psychiatrists and doctors often recommend
A.A. to the alcoholic?
There is a reason. Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes that
to conquer alcoholism, the alcoholic must make a CLEAN BREAK
with his former way of life-he must find new ideals, new
goals, a new purpose in life!
Alcoholics Anonymous is able to help many alcoholics who
have reached “bottom” because the members themselves
have gone through the same ordeal, the same suffering. They
know what it is like. They have experienced it themselves.
They know how hard it is to conquer alcoholism. Therefore,
they take the time and effort to provide the alcoholic seeking
help with encouragement, friendly assistance and companionship-a
helping hand over the difficult times.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not the only group that has successfully
treated alcoholism. Other groups have also met with some
success. However, all truly successful treatment procedures
have certain things in common. IN all of them, the alcoholic
must be brought to admit his problem, and must believe that
he can conquer it. He must be motivated. He must be given
friendly, compassionate, considerate help. He must not be
treated as a lowly scoundrel or despicable bum, but as a
fellow human being who needs help desperately. Moral guidance,
or therapy, must be included in the program.
YOU Are an Alcoholic
you are an alcoholic, you need personal help to conquer
the problem. What you must do to overcome the problem will
depend largely on how serious your own problem is. If you
are at a beginning stage of alcoholism, then recovery is
not so difficult, although it will require strong effort
on your part, self-discipline, and determination. You will
have to set your jaw to stay away from alcohol completely-don’t
touch it-because for YOU it is a serious problem.
You must be decisive. Admit your weakness, and TURN AROUND;
change your whole life pattern, if need be, so you can overcome
the problem. You may have to change your friendships, possibly
even change jobs and move to a new environment which is
more conducive to sobriety and sanity.
Further, you must CONTINUALLY strive to exercise self-discipline
and self-control. Use good judgment and NEVER FLIRT with
temptation! Be on your guard constantly, and don’t
give in to the urge to “compromise,” to have
“just a few drinks.”
Dr. R. Kemp, author of Drinking and Alcoholism, explained
to a member of The PLAIN TRUTH staff, “The real thing
you have got to do is to try and persuade alcoholics that
they must be able to lead life completely free of alcohol.”
He added, “Once you have become an alcoholic, this
will remain for the rest of your life. This is an extraordinary
fact, but it means of course that they can’t at any
time ever dare take another drink.”
This, indeed, does sound severe, but the record does speak
for itself-for most alcoholics to take just one drink is
A single drink sets off a chain reaction that leads to another
and another until the alcoholic is either smashed, or the
liquor runs out. Therefore, most alcoholics must determine
to NEVER TOUCH the stuff-and mean it.
If you have a severe drinking problem, then you may need
to contact a local society which helps alcoholics-a “half-way
house,” or a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous,
or a doctor who is skilled and experienced in dealing with
alcoholism (most have very little knowledge of this problem,
but there are some who are experienced). What course of
action you take is completely up to you, of course. But
sometimes friendly, right-thinking associations and special
help are necessary to give you the impetus and stimulus
to surmount your problem. Don’t forgo any help which
you might be in need of-but always remember, YOU are ultimately
responsible for your condition, and you must be the one
who fights it and conquers it.
YOU and YOU ALONE can overcome your particular problem.
Nobody else can do it for you. There is no magic pill, or
potion, which will “cure” you. The cure of alcoholism
involves your own personal will, desire, effort, and tenacious,
long-lasting, constantly vigilant determination.
Plain Truth, October 1971)