Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were
real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is
bodily and mentally different from his fellows.
Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking
careers have been characterized by countless vain
attempts to prove we could drink like other people.
The idea that somehow, someday he will control
and enjoy his liquor drinking is the great obsession
of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of
this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into
the gates of insanity or death.
We learned that we had to fully concede to our
innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This
is the first step in recovery. The delusion that
we are like other people, or presently may be,
had to be smashed.
We alcoholics are men and women who had lost the
ability to control our drinking. We know that
no real alcoholic ever recovered this control.
All of us felt at times that we were regaining
control, but such intervals - usually brief -
were inevitably followed by still less control,
which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible
demoralization. We are convinced to a man that
alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive
illness. Over any considerable period we get worse,
We are like men who have lost their legs; they
never grow new ones. Neither does there appear
to be any kind of treatment which will make alcoholics
of our kind like other men. We have tried every
imaginable remedy. In some instances there has
been brief recovery, followed always by still
worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with
alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making
a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science
may one day accomplish this, but it evidently
hasn't done so yet.
Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics
are not going to believe they are in that class.
By every form of self-deception and experimentation,
they will try to prove themselves exceptions to
the rule, therefore non-alcoholic. If anyone,
who is showing inability to control his drinking,
can do the right-about-face and drink like a gentleman,
our hats are off to him. Heaven knows, we have
tried hard enough and long enough to drink like
Here are some of the methods we have tried: drinking
beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never
drinking alone, never drinking in the morning,
drinking only at home, never having it in the
house, never drinking during business hours, drinking
only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy,
drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign
if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking
a trip, swearing off forever (with and without
a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise,
reading inspirational books, consulting psychologists,
going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting
voluntary commitment to asylums - we could increase
the list ad infinitum.
We do not like to brand any individual as an alcoholic,
but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over
to the nearest barroom and try some controlled
drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try
it more than once. It will not take long for you
to decide, if you are honest with yourself about
it. It will be worth a bad case of jitters if
you get thoroughly sold on the idea that you are
a candidate for Alcoholics Anonymous!
Though there is no way of proving it, we believe
that early in our drinking careers most of us
could have stopped drinking. But the difficulty
is that few alcoholics have enough desire to stop
while there is yet time. We have heard of a few
instances where people, who showed definite signs
of alcoholism, were able to stop because of an
overpowering desire to to~ so. Here is one.
A man of thirty was doing a great deal of spree
drinking. He was very nervous in the morning after
these bouts and quieted himself with more liquor.
He was ambitious to succeed in business, but saw
that he would get nowhere if he drank at all.
Once he started, he had no control whatever. He
made up his mind that until he had been successful
in business and had retired, he would not touch
another drop. An exceptional man, he remained
bone dry for twenty-five years, and retired at
the age of fifty-five,after a successful and happy
business career. Then he fell victim to a belief
which practically every alcoholic has - that his
long period of sobriety and self- discipline had
qualified him to drink as other men. Out came
his carpet slippers and a bottle. In two months
he was in a hospital, puzzled and humiliated.
He tried to regulate his drinking for a while,
making several trips to the hospital meantime.
Then, gathering all his forces, he attempted to
stop, and found he could not. Every means of solving
his problem which money could buy was at his disposal.
Every attempt failed. Though a robust man at retirement,
he went to pieces quickly, and was dead within
This case contains a powerful lesson. Most of
us have believed that if we remained sober for
a long stretch, we could thereafter drink normally.
But here is a man who at fifty-five years found
he was just where he had left off at thirty. We
have seen the truth demonstrated again and again:
"once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." Commencing
to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in
a short time as bad as ever. If you are planning
to stop drinking, there must be no reservation
of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday
you will be immune to alcohol.
Young people may be encouraged by this man's experience
to think that they can stop, as he did, on their
own will power. We doubt if many of them can do
it, because none will really want to stop, and
hardly one of them, because of the peculiar mental
twist already acquired, will find he can win out.
Several of our crowd, men of thirty-five or less,
had been drinking but a few years, but they found
themselves as helpless as those who had been drinking
To be gravely affected, one does not necessarily
have to drink a long time, nor take the quantities
some of us have. This is particularly true of
women. Potential feminine alcoholics often turn
into the real thing and are gone beyond recall
in a few years. Certain drinkers, who would be
greatly insulted if called alcoholic, are astonished
at their inability to stop. We, who are familiar
with the symptoms, see large numbers of potential
alcoholics among young people everywhere. But
try and get them to see it!
As we look back, we feel we had gone on drinking
many years beyond the point where we could quit
on our will power. If anyone questions whether
he has entered this dangerous area, let him try
leaving liquor alone for one year. If he is a
real alcoholic and very far advanced, there is
scant chance of success. In the early days of
our drinking we occasionally remained sober for
a year or more, becoming serious drinkers again
later. Though you may be able to stop for a considerable
period, you may yet be a potential alcoholic.
We think few, to whom this book will appeal, can
stay dry anything like a year. Some will be drunk
the day after making their resolutions; most of
them within a few weeks.
For those who are unable to drink moderately the
question is how to stop altogether. We are assuming,
of course, that the reader desires to stop. Whether
such a person can quit upon a non-spiritual basis
depends somewhat upon the strength of his character,
and how much he really wants to be done with it.
But even more will it depend upon the extent to
which he has already lost the power to choose
whether he will drink or not. Many of us felt
that we had plenty of character. There was a tremendous
urge to cease forever. Yet we found it impossible.
This is the baffling feature of alcoholism as
we know it - this utter inability to leave it
alone, no matter how great the necessity or the
How then shall we help our readers determine,
to their own satisfaction, whether they are one
of us? The experiment of quitting for a period
of time will be helpful, but we think we can render
an even greater service to alcoholic sufferers,
and perhaps to the medical fraternity. So we shall
describe some of the mental states that precede
a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is
the crux of the problem.
What sort of thinking dominates an alcoholic who
repeats time after time the desperate experiment
of the first drink? Friends, who have reasoned
with him after a spree which has brought him to
the point of divorce or bankruptcy, are mystified
when he walks directly into a saloon. Why does
he? Of what is he thinking?
Our first example is a friend we shall call Jim.
This man has a charming wife and family. He inherited
a lucrative automobile agency. He had a commendable
world war record. He is a good salesman. Everybody
likes him. He is an intelligent man, normal so
far as we can see, except for a nervous disposition.
He did no drinking until he was thirty-five. In
a few years he became so violent when intoxicated
that he had to be committed. On leaving the asylum,
he came into contact with us.
We told him what we knew of alcoholism and the
answer we had found. He made a beginning. His
family was re-assembled, and he began to work
as a salesman for the business he had lost through
drinking. All went well for a time, but he failed
to enlarge his spiritual life. To his consternation,
he found himself drunk half a dozen times in rapid
succession. On each of these occasions we worked
with him, reviewing carefully what had happened.
He agreed he was a real alcoholic and in serious
condition. He knew he faced another trip to the
asylum if he kept on. Moreover, he would lose
his family, for whom he had deep affection.
Yet he got drunk again. We asked him to tell us
exactly how it happened. This is his story: "I
came to work on Tuesday morning. I remember I
felt irritated that I had to be a salesman for
a concern I once owned. I had a few words with
the boss, but nothing serious. Then I decided
to drive into the country and see one of my prospects
for a car. On the way I felt hungry so I stopped
at a roadside place where they have a bar. I had
no intention of drinking. I just thought I would
get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might
find a customer for a car at this place, which
was familiar, for I had been going to it for years.
I had eaten there many times during the months
I was sober. I sat down at a table and ordered
a sandwich and a glass of milk. Still no thought
of drinking. I ordered another sandwich and decided
to have another glass of milk.
"Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that
if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk,
it couldn't hurt me on a full stomach. I ordered
a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely
sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt
reassured, as I was taking the whiskey on a full
stomach. The experiment went so well that
I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more
milk. That didn't seem to bother me so I tried
Thus started on~ more journey to the asylum for
Jim. Here was the threat of commitment, the loss
of family and position, to say nothing of that
intense mental and physical suffering which drinking
always caused him. He had much knowledge about
himself as an alcoholic. Yet all reasons for not
drinking were easily pushed aside in favor of
the foolish idea he could take whiskey if only
he mixed it with milk!
Whatever the precise medical definition of the
word may be, we call this plain insanity. How
can such a lack of proportion, of the ability
to think straight, be called anything else?
You may think this an extreme case. To us it is
not-far~ fetched, for this kind of thinking has
been characteristic of every single one of our
group. Some of us have sometimes reflected more
than Jim did, upon the consequences. But there
was always the curious mental phenomenon, that
parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably
ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the
first drink. Our sound reasoning failed to hold
us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day
we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and
sincerity, how it could have happened.
In some circumstances we have gone out deliberately
to get drunk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness,
anger, worry, depression, jealousy or the like.
But even in this type of beginning we are obliged
to admit that our justification for a spree was
insanely insufficient in the light of what always
happened. We now see that when we began to drink
deliberately, instead of casually, there was little
serious or effective thought during the period
of premeditation, of what the terrific consequences
Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible
with respect to the first drink as that of an
individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking.
He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-
moving vehicles. He enjoys himself a few years
in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point
you would label him as a foolish chap, having
queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and
he is slightly injured several times in succession.
You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut
it out. Presently he is hit again and this time
has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving
the hospital, a fast-moving trolley car breaks
his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-
walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks
On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied
by his continual promises to be careful or to
keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can
no longer work, his wife gets a divorce, he is
held up to ridicule. He tries every known means
to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He
shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend
his ways. But the day he comes out he races in
front of a fire engine, which breaks his back.
Such a man would be crazy, wouldn't he?
You may think our illustration is too ridiculous.
But is it? We, who have been through the wringer,
have to admit if we substituted alcoholism for
jay-walking, the illustration would fit us exactly.
However intelligent we may have been in other
respects, where alcohol has been involved, we
have been strangely insane. It's strong language
- but isn't it true?
Some of you are thinking: "Yes, what you tell
us is true, but it doesn't fully apply. We admit
we have some of these symptoms, but we have not
gone to the extremes you fellows did, nor are
we likely to, for we understand ourselves so well
after what you have told us that such things cannot
happen again. We have not lost everything in life
through drinking and we certainly do not intend
to. Thanks for the information."
That may be true of certain non-alcoholic people
who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at
the present time, are able to stop or moderate,
because their brains and bodies have not been
warped and degenerated as ours were. But the actual
or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception,
will be absolutely unable to stop drinking
on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a
point we wish to emphasize and reemphasize, to
smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has
been revealed to us out of bitter experience.
Let us take another illustration.
Fred is partner in a well known accounting firm.
His income is good, he has a fine home, is happily
married and the father of promising children of
college age. He is so attractive a personality
that he makes friends with everyone. If ever there
was a successful business man, it is Fred. To
all appearances he is a stable, well balanced
individual. Yet, he is alcoholic. We first saw
Fred about a year ago in a hospital where he had
gone to recover from a bad case of jitters. It
was his first experience of this kind, and he
was much ashamed of it. Far from admitting he
was an alcoholic, he told himself he came to the
hospital to rest his nerves. The doctor intimated
strongly that he might be worse than he realized.
For a few days he was depressed about his condition.
He made up his mind to quit drinking altogether.
It never occurred to him that perhaps he could
not do so, in spite of his character and standing.
Fred would not believe himself an alcoholic, much
less accept a spiritual remedy for his problem.
We told him about alcoholism. He was interested
and conceded that he had some of the symptoms,
but he was a long way from admitting that he could
do nothing about it himself. He was positive that
this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge
he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest
of his life. Self- knowledge would fix it.
We heard no more of Fred for a while. One day
we were told that he was back in the hospital.
This time he was quite shaky. He soon indicated
he was anxious to see us. The story he told is
most instructive for here was a chap absolutely
convinced he had to stop drinking, who had no
excuse for drinking, who exhibited splendid judgment
and determination in all his other concerns, yet
was flat on his back nevertheless.
Let him tell you about it: "I was much impressed
with what you fellows said about alcoholism, but
I frankly did not believe it would be possible
for me to drink again. I somewhat appreciated
your ideas about the subtle insanity which precedes
the first drink, but I was confident it could
not happen to me after what I had learned. I reasoned
I was not so far advanced as most of you fellows,
that I had been usually successful in licking
my other personal and~ problems, that I would
therefore be successful where you men failed.
I felt I had every right to be self-confident,
that it would be only a matter of exercising my
will power and keeping on guard.
"In this frame of mind, I went about my business
and for a time all was well. I had no trouble
refusing drinks, and began to wonder if I had
not been making too hard work of a simple matter.
One day I went to Washington to present some accounting
evidence to a government bureau. I had been out
of town before during this particular dry spell,
so there was nothing new about that. Physically,
I felt fine. Neither did I have any pressing problems
or worries. My business came off well, I was pleased
and knew my partners would be too. It was the
end of a perfect day, not a cloud on the horizon.
"I went to my hotel and leisurely dressed for
dinner. As I crossed the threshold of the dining
room, the thought came to mind it would be nice
to have a couple of cocktails with dinner. That
was all. Nothing more. I ordered a cocktail
and my meal. Then I ordered another cocktail.
After dinner I decided to take a walk. When I
returned to the hotel it struck me a highball
would be fine before going to bed, so I stepped
into the bar and had one. I remember having several
more that night and plenty next morning. I have
a shadowy recollection of being in an airplane
bound for New York, of finding a friendly taxicab
driver at the landing field instead of my wife.
The driver escorted me about for several days.
I know little of where I went, or what I said
and did. Then came the hospital with its unbearable
mental and physical suffering.
"As soon as I regained my ability to think, I
went carefully over that evening in Washington.
Not only had I been off guard, I had made no
fight whatever against that first drink. This
time I had not thought of the consequences at
all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly
as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now
remembered what my alcoholic friends had told
me, how they phophesied~ that if I had an alcoholic
mind, the time and place would come - I would
drink again. They had said that though I did raise
a defense,it would one day give way before some
trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just
that did happen and more, for what I had learned
of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew
from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind.
I saw that will power and self-knowledge would
not help in those strange mental blank spots.
I had never been able to understand people who
said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated.
I knew then. It was a crushing blow.
"Two of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous came
to see me. They grinned, which I didn't like so
much, and then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic
and if I were really licked this time. I had to
concede both propositions. They piled on me heaps
of medical evidence to the effect that an alcoholic
mentality, such as I had exhibited in Washington,
was a hopeless condition. They cited cases out
of their own experience by the dozen. This process
snuffed out the last flicker of conviction that
I could do the job myself.
"Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program
of action which a hundred of them had followed
successfully. Though I had been only a nominal
churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually,
hard to swallow. But the program of action, though
entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant
I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions
out of the window. That was not easy. But the
moment I made up my mind to go through with the
process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic
condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to
"Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual
principles would solve all my problems. I have
since been brought into a way of living infinitely
more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than
the life I lived before. My old manner of life
was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange
its best moments for the worst I have now. I would
not go back to it even if I could."
Fred's story speaks for itself. We hope it strikes
home to thousands like him. He had felt only the
first nip of the wringer. Most alcoholics have
to be pretty badly mangled before they really
commence to solve their problems.
Most doctors and psychiatrists agree with our
conclusions. One of these men, staff member of
a world-renowned hospital, recently made this
statement to some of us: "What you say about the
general hopelessness of the average alcoholic's
plight is, in my opinion, correct. As to two of
you men, whose stories I have heard, there is
no doubt in my mind that you were 100% hopeless,
apart from Divine help. Had you offered yourselves
as patients at this hospital, I would not have
taken you, if I had been able to avoid it. People
like you are too heartbreaking. Though not a religious
person, I have profound respect for the spiritual
approach in such cases as yours. For most cases,
there is virtually no other solution."
Once more: the alcoholic at certain times has
no effective mental defense against the first
drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he
nor any other human being can provide such a defense.
His defense must come from a higher Power.