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CHRISTIAN CENTURY, September 29, 1948
YALE TEACHES ABOUT ALCOHOL
call me a drunken bum. I want to stop drinking, but I can't.
Help me, preacher, for God's sake! It was my first experience
with a true alcoholic. Unsteady but wary, he came into my
study, sank into a chair and eyed me dubiously for a few
moments. In a little while his barriers of suspicion crumbled
and a pathetic confession tumbled from his thickened tongue.
As years went by I was to hear many other confessions, so
similar that they seemed duplicates of each other. Each
story ended with that same plea, or its equivalent: "Preacher,
you got to help me stop drinking."
that first visitor got from me was a few moral observations,
some mild censure and a paternal admonition to "buck
up and conquer this deplorable habit and make a man of yourself."
After some desperate tears from him and a vague prayer from
me, he walked out with voluble gratitude. But I soon learned,
as I was to learn many times thereafter, that I had not
really helped him. His problem was deeply rooted. In my
condescending way I had hardly touched the surface.
Answer to Failure
and again a deep sense of failure stalked through the corridors
of my mind to accuse me. My tools of religion, the assorted
instruments of my faith, had been inadequate. I was dealing
with men who were definitely sick personalities and I was
supposed to be a physician of the soul. Yet I could not
bring about a healing. Why?
found the answer to this and a multitude of kindred questions
during the weeks I spent at the Yale School of Alcohol Studies
this summer. Financed by generous endowments, Yale's department
of applied physiology this year completed its sixth annual
course on alcohol and its implications. Two hundred men
and women from many walks of life were enrolled, but these
were only about one-tenth of those who applied for admission.
Here were a psychiatrist from California, a pastor from
Manitoba, a colored "Y" worker from Florida, a
leader of the W.C.T.U. from Boston, a vice-president of
a distillery from Louisville, a physician from Argentina,
and many more. Some were curious, some were desperate, but
all had come to learn the facts on this most explosive issue.
For here was a department of 26 scientists who were experimenting,
probing, analyzing and recording fact on fact without bias
or prejudice. They had no ax to grind; there was no piper
to call the tune. With severe objectivity they not only
turned new light on this ancient problem but were using
their knowledge to achieve results with the so-called "hopeless"
of the Yale Course
course consisted of 65 or more lectures and seminars with
ample additional time for questions and discussion. The
coldly methodical Prof. Seldon Bacon analyzed drinking patterns
and attitudes od racial and national groups. The keen and
capable Dr. Giogio Lolli interpreted the physiological reaction
to alcohol. Dr. Fritz Redlich probed into the machinery
of the alcoholic's mind. Jurists, educators, alcoholics,
social service workers, pastors and social analysts contributed.
Cementing each fragment in place so that the mosaic formed
a coherent pattern was the task of Dr. E.M. Jellinek, the
genial head of the school, who has dedicated his life to
the pursuit of many still elusive mysteries in the field
of alcohol research.
came away from New Haven with startling quantities of precious
facts distilled from experiments, tabulation and analysis.
I learned that alcohol is not a stimulant but a depressant,
a sedative and a mild anesthetic. Because it is absorbed
directly through the walls of the stomach, it quickly reaches
every tissue of the body. Its effect on the central nervous
system is almost immediate. Sense perception sharply decreases
and response to stimuli requires a greater time lapse. Inhibitions
and mental barriers are lowered, permitting the drinker
to do things which he would not be likely to do normally.
most types of alcohol wear off rapidly, usually at the rate
of one hour per ounce. The use of small amounts of alcohol
(one to two ounces per day) over a period of many years
leaves no damaging effects on the average body. In our country
today there are about 65 million users of alcoholic beverages.
Most of these are controlled drinkers who will never get
into serious difficulty from their drinking. But many will
overstep the bounds of moderation and from time to time
find themselves in conflict with friends, families and employers.
small number, not more than five per cent of all drinkers
will go down the road to addiction. Science has not been
able to detect any type which is likely to become alcoholic,
nor is any type immune. Any person who drinks may become
an alcoholic. He may originally have been a problem drinker
trying to escape reality, or a congenial social drinker
trying to be a good sport in his crowd. But somewhere along
the line the pattern changes. He finds himself refusing
parties where there are no drinks or taking a few extras
before going. He does more solitary drinking but manages
to confine his sprees to week ends and escapes general criticism.
Farther along the path he cares little for the opinions
of others and drinks in greater quantities and at any time.
he runs into serious difficulty. Soon he finds himself without
friends, without a job, without a family. He cannot understand
the way people are treating him. He feels grossly misjudged
and maltreated and finds escape in the stupor of more drinking.
There is more trouble ahead. He must go through the tunnels
of partial amnesia known as "blackouts," experience
deep mental and physical pain, suffer delirium tremens,
endless aching hangovers and grim fear of physical deterioration.
Eventually he plunges into a vicious circle; the alcohol
has created symptoms which can be removed only by more alcohol
which, in turn, creates more symptoms. This is the sub-basement
level known as alcoholism.
All Else Fails
know that alcoholism is a disease and must be treated as
such. The victim can no more control his drinking than a
patient with measels can keep his rash from breaking out.
Law enforcement agencies have failed to solve the alcoholic's
problem. Imprisonment merely increases his frustration and
drives him to more drink. Doctors have generally regarded
him as a nuisance. Most hospitals refuse to allow him a
bed. The sociologist claims to understand the causes of
drinking but has nothing to offer by way of a cure. The
psychoanalyst can achieve a few cures but he requires three
to five years of treatment at a prohibitive cost. Medicine
has nothing to offer save occasional substitute sedatives
during his high-tension periods.
then, is to be done with our nation's 3,750,000 alcoholic
men and women? They have been abused, concealed, condemned,
punished, ridiculed-but they have not been helped. When
no one came forth with a cure, these pitiful outcasts had
to find one themselves. Experts had failed them, so these
amateurs had to resolve their own dilemma. Looking to a
power greater than themselves, and leaning heavily on each
other for support, they were lifted out of the morass and
found a way back to the respect of friends and family. Thus
was founded Alcoholics Anonymous. It did what science could
not do by using a power greater than science.
and Alcoholics Anonymous
truly, there opened a field in which the pastor could be
of service. He had no more right to pose as an amateur psychiatrist
than he would have to write a prescription for medicine.
But alcoholism has been discovered to be out of bounds for
medicine and too difficult for the psychiatrist. A.A. has
demonstrated that this is a spiritual problem. The alcoholic
must first admit that he has failed, then must turn to a
power greater than himself, admit his mistakes, seek out
those who have wronged him and set their relations right.
In the stock terms of religion this means humility, worship,
confession, and forgiving our debtors so that our debts
may be forgiven. The A.A. member seeks help for one day
at a time, even as our Lord prayed for bread day by day,
and sets out to help other alcoholics with the real oldtime
personal evangelism. The A.A. movement, today claiming more
than 65,000 members, is the greatest revival and practical
application of religion in our generation.
wise pastor does not try to replace A.A. but to supplement
it. This organization has carefully refrained from any denominational
entanglements, although about half its members are now active
in churches. Pastors can serve as counselors, helping the
alcoholic establish contact with that power greater than
himself. But no church fellowship or social group can replace
the incentive and inspiration which the alcoholic receives
from the camaraderie of fellow alcoholics.
on the Local Level
is the significant that clergymen make up the largest professional
group at the Yale school, constituting almost a quarter
of the enrollment. They are now back in their scattered
communities, cooperating with public health officers, instituting
educational programs and undergirding the work of A.A. More
ambitious pastors are establishing community clinics for
the chronic addict and securing the confidence of police
and judges. They may be persuading local hospitals to release
a bed or two for alcoholic patients or bombarding state
legislatures for a grant from liquor license fees to help
in the program of rehabilitation. Many have opened their
parish halls to A.A. meeting, and by wise counseling and
dissemination of facts have checked excessive drinkers before
they hit bottom. Above all, the pastor who has been at the
Yale school is learning not to condemn nor judge nor criticize,
but to use the potent instruments of his time-tested faith
to restore a portion of those lost souls to usefulness and
honor in their communities.