One of a Series of Radio Addresses
Delivered Each Sunday at 9:15 A. M. Over WFBM (1260)
By Dr. E. Burdette Backus, Minister
April 25, 1948: Radio Address
ALL SOULS UNITARIAN CHURCH
1453 North Alabama Street, Indianapolis 2, Indiana
Telephone: LIncoln 7094
The little church large enough
to include all faiths devoted to
making the world a better place
in which to live
FOR  ADDITIONAL  UNITARIAN  LITERATURE  WRITE  OR  PHONE  DR.  BACKUS
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
April 25, 1948
              Figures have recently been published showing that in this country there are
about 600,000 men and women who are so seriously addicted to alcohol as to need
medical care. That is a vast army of persons, many more than the entire population of
Indianapolis. They come from all social, educational, and economic levels, the well-to-do
furnishing a larger proportional number.
Time Magazine in a recent issue gave an
account of the nation's first industrial conference on alcoholism and described the
industrial costs of alcoholism as being in excess of a billion dollars a year.

              These vast figures convey some sense of the magnitude of the problem
involved, but what is more important is the human aspect of the situation. Every victim of
alcoholism goes through the tortures of the damned. He wrestles with himself and feels
the agony of humiliation in his failure to win his battle; he resolves that this time he is
going to swear off only to find that he succumbs to temptation again. His repeated
failures tear to shreds his self-respect which is so essential to anyone who is to live at
peace with himself. And of course the members of his family suffer with him; his
alcoholism, may bring heartache and despair to his parents. If he is married to a wife
who is sympathetic and understanding of his problem she will experience in herself the
agony he is enduring and feel herself powerless to render the help she so deeply
desires to give. Or it may mean estrangement from his loved ones, poverty and
degradation for his wife and children. Anyone who has had first hand experience of the
tragedy which comes in the wake of alcoholism realizes its immense cost in terms of
human values, which cannot be computed in dollars or counted in numbers.

              In this same article in
Time to which I have referred there was the statement
that Alcoholics Anonymous has been more successful than any other group in helping
alcoholics. Similar testimony comes from other sources and is borne out in my individual
experience. I have known a number of men and women who were the victims of
alcoholism who have been restored to normal life through the help they received from
Alcoholics Anonymous. The organization itself claims to have been successful in 75% of
all cases in which the persons have really given its program a proper trial. Even if that
figure should prove to be somewhat high it is evident that these people are making a
tremendous contribution where the need of men is very great. It also holds out hope and
promise to those who are still victims of alcoholism and are genuinely seeking a way out
of their trouble.

              Alcoholics Anonymous is a rather informal organization  of men and women
who are themselves ex-alcoholics and have banded together for the purpose of helping
other victims of alcohol to win the same victory they have. The group stems from the
efforts of one man who in 1934 found an answer to his drinking problem which he was
able to communicate to others. From this start the movement has spread all over the
country and literally thousands have recovered through its assistance. There is nothing
dark and mysterious about its program, nothing complicated. It is simple and easily
understood.

              The first stop consists in the Alcoholic recognizing the fact, and accepting it,
that he is an Alcoholic. This means something very definite, namely that though he may
desire to drink in moderation he knows that this is impossible for him; if he starts he will
not be able to stop but will go on to intoxication. For him the only answer is complete
abstinence. He has, as it were, an allergy to alcohol. Its effects on him are different from
what they are on the normal individual. This is what the recent conference in Chicago
meant when it said that alcoholism is a disease rather than a moral lapse. There is
strong physiological support for this contention on the part of Alcoholics Anonymous. I
have recently been reading; a book by Roger Williams, Director of the Biochemical
Institute of the University of Texas, and he says: "A number of facts indicate that
addiction to alcohol has its bases in the fundamental metabolism of the individual. It
appears to be well established that some individuals can remain moderate drinkers
throughout life without effort, but that others develop a strong craving which can be
overcome, if at all, only with the greatest difficulty. For them total abstinence is the only
alternative; they appear to be wholly unable to drink moderately".

              This fact that the Alcoholic's difficulty is rooted in the very make-up of his body
poses grave difficulty for him. Other people don't understand the situation. When he
refuses a drink they argue
with him; they say we'll just have two or three drinks and they stop, nobody is going to
drink much. This is easy for them and they can't believe that it isn't for everybody. They
say, Just use your will power! The
majority of persons say the same thing and attribute the Alcoholic's difficulty to a weak
will. The Alcoholic knows, however, that will power doesn’t have anything to do with it; if
he takes the first drink he is gone; it is a matter of physiology instead of will. If only the
rest of the world could understand this basic truth it would make the Alcoholic’s problem
much easier, for then we would, not insist on his drinking with us.

              The members of Alcoholics Anonymous want it understood that they are not
prohibitionists. They know that only about 1.3% of those who use the beverage become
Alcoholics, so they are not opposed to ordinary drinking. They wish they could indulge
in it themselves, but They belong to that small percentage who cannot do so without
disastrous consequences.

              A further step in the recovery of the Alcoholic is that of availing himself of the
help of someone who has been over this rocky road before him and therefore
understands him, the difficulties
he will encounter and what he must do if he is to travel it successfully. Alcoholics
Anonymous accomplishes this in two ways. The first is by private, individual assistance.
Some member of the group who has securely reestablished himself befriends the
Alcoholic who has at length come to the conviction that this is something he cannot whip
by himself but that he must have help and so turns to Alcoholics Anonymous. The
assistance, I judge from the literature they issue and from what I have been told, does
not consist of pious and ineffectual advice, but is on the level of complete understanding
and practical help which only the one who knows what is needed from personal
experience can give. In addition the group holds meetings in which the individuals talk
out their problems freely and fully and have the benefit of discussion with others who
have acquired greater insight than their own. These meetings provide the stimulus of
fellowship and of the atmosphere of hope created by the fact that so many of them have
won their battle. A part of the technique is for the individual, when he; is far enough
advanced, to begin to help others. This serves a dual purpose; it fortifies him in his own
purpose just because he must be strong for someone else, and it is an indispensable
assistance to the individual who is in the early stages of his journey back to normal
living.

              A friend has recently given me an article in which an eminent psychiatrist gives
an account of the way in which Alcoholics Anonymous accomplishes its results. He says
that while he recognizes the values in the fellowship which the group provides, in the
help accruing to each member from his efforts to help new ones and of the general
atmosphere of hope and encouragement which emanates from any successfully treated
person, he regards the central therapeutic force which Alcoholics Anonymous employs
as religion. The word religion is not used in any narrow, dogmatic, or sectarian sense.
Alcoholics Anonymous is definitely not a religious cult. But it does include as a central
item in its program the recognition on the part of the Alcoholic of his dependence upon
some Higher Power.

              No definition of that Higher Power is attempted; the Individual may think of
God in such terms as his own mind requires. Some will naturally picture God in terms of
the personal Heavenly Father who dominates the religious pattern of our western world.
Others, however, may think of Him in impersonal terms, as the soul permeating nature.
Still others may conceive of the Higher Power simply in terms of the group to which they
now belong and which has enabled them to do something they were not able to do of
their own power. Indeed a large percentage of those who have turned to Alcoholics
Anonymous have been agnostics or atheists. That is, they have revolted from a religion
presented in terms their intelligence could not accept and have never discovered that
religion is something; much more fundamental than theology. The experience of one
such individual is reported in the chapter “Educated Agnostic" in the book
Alcoholics
Anonymous
. Religion played an important role in his recovery, but it was, to him, a new
conception of religion. He comments, I have not given up my intellect for the sake of my
soul, nor have I betrayed my integrity to preserve my health and sanity".

              The explanation given by the psychiatrist of the importance of the role of
religion in Alcoholics Anonymous is most interesting. He says that the Alcoholic almost
invariably turns out to have a definite and well recognized character pattern. That is he
is an individual with "anarcissistic, egocentric core, dominated by feelings of
omnipotence, intent on maintaining at all costs its inner integrity, and brooking no
control from God or man". Perhaps this psychological jargon needs a bit of translating.
Narcissus was the nymph who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. To
say that the core of a person's character is narcisstic and egocentric is to say that he is
completely self-centered. It is a very infantile state and if he is ever to solve his
problems he must break this pattern and move on to a mature emotional life where he
becomes capable of seeing the world objectively and see his own position in clear
perspective. Religion is a great help to this end. If we can but truly get the feeling; off
our dependence on the larger whole to which we belong, the Greater Power upon which
we must rely, then we can break our shell of self love and move on to a maturity which
releases our powers.

              Wanting to know how our local psychiatrists felt about Alcoholics Anonymous, I
wrote to Dr. E. Vernon Hahn, President of the Indiana Neuropsychiatric Association. I
quote a few sentences from his letter of reply. "The formal psychiatric treatment of most
cases of simple alcoholism is notoriously difficult and often futile. There are specific,
known reasons for this situation and these reasons point toward group therapy as a
more promising method. Alcoholics Anonymous, springing up without psychiatric
sponsorship, provides group therapy of a type most effective for the particular cases
coming under its influence," He goes on to state that it would be a mistake to
overestimate the power of Alcoholics Anonymous, for there are cases of alcoholism
where the cause is a profound mental illness which requires the most expert psychiatric
treatment. But his letter is a strong endorsement of Alcoholics Anonymous. Let me
conclude with a practical suggestion. Alcoholics Anonymous is listed in the Indianapolis
telephone directory, Franklin 2743. A call to that number will be treated with privacy and
may well mean a new lease on life for a desperate human soul.