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PROGRESS, Vol. 30: 48-50, February, 1949
Time to Develop AN OPEN-DOOR POLICY FOR ALCOHOLICS
Rev. J. Stanley Ormsby, Ph.D., S.T.L.
attitude of hospitals, in general, towards alcoholism is
hands off. They regard alcoholism as a moral aberration
and feel sympathy for alcoholics is wasted. Besides, they
claim, hospital beds are too scarce, and they are not going
to fill the few they have with drunks who will not try to
help themselves. Further, they assert that alcoholics cause
a behavior problem, and the scarcity of nurses makes this
one more headache to avoid. And so they don't want alcoholics.
This mode of thought shows they do not regard alcoholism
as a disease, and they let the problem go for solution to
some other field of therapy. Are they correct in his procedure?
feel that they are not. But I'm quick to admit that their
decision is based on misinformation, misunderstanding, and
a distorted public opinion of what alcoholism is and what
alcoholics are. The Catholic hospital should take the initiative
in focusing the light of truth on the moral and physical
causes of the disease of alcoholism and exert the charity
of Christ in the treatment of the victim of alcoholism.
Alcoholics Hospital Cases?
may say alcoholism is not in our field. We should remind
them that the hospital is dedicated to minister to the body
of suffering humanity directly and to the needs of its soul
indirectly. A Catholic hospital is not Catholic if it does
not take into consideration the whole man created to the
image of God. A Catholic hospital must supply psychosomatic
medicine in the best sense of that term. Again, it might
be argued that the alcoholic is a problem for the clergyman
or psychiatrist. But what can a clergyman or a psychiatrist
do to help a person suffering from dietary deficiency and
the host of physical ills which attend alcoholic poisoning?
care is basic if we are going to do anything for the rehabilitation
of the alcoholic. As it is today, the acutely poisoned alcoholic
is thrown into jail or the psychopathic ward of a city hospital.
By this method, he is stamped as a criminal or a lunatic.
One taking poison intentionally is readily admitted to a
hospital, and all possible care is given to him. The intentions
of the alcoholic and the suicide-minded are not the same,
but both are poisoned; hospital and medical care is just
as necessary to the alcoholic. We cannot reach the intellect
and will of a hungry or sick man. We must first treat him
physically and then spiritually. This was Christ's practice
when He fed the multitudes and taught them - He cured their
bodies and then healed their souls. In the case of the alcoholic,
hospitals must cure physically before religion can cure
religion we say the pews should not lead the pulpit: in
hospital practice we must not let the layman's distorted
conception dictate policy toward the alcoholic. The public
regards the alcoholic as a moral leper, a backslider who
deserves punishment. Hospitals, by refusing aid to alcoholics,
have punished them more than is ever realized.
know that some charitable hospitals take alcoholics for
treatment but record them as gastritis patients. This is
hypocrisy; if the profession could honestly diagnose the
disease of alcoholism, the public and the victim would have
a clear picture of the disease and its consequences. Educational
campaigns have caused the public to change its opinion about
tubercular and diabetic patients, and a much more enlightened
attitude prevails about venereal disease, with the result
that patients, by and large, are no longer ashamed to come
for treatment. Why couldn't the public be educated similarly
is a public health problem, and health is the hospitals1
business. Broken homes, destitute families supported by
public funds, absenteeism costing millions in industrial
loss, accidents and crime are but a few of the results suffered
by all, because alcoholism is not publicly termed a disease
and treated as any other affliction. We have stigmatized
the alcoholic, so he will not admit he drinks, nor will
his family seek aid for him. Wretched publicity or death
often ends the record.
at One Hospital
do not know how many hospitals there are which treat the
alcoholic, but one which comes to my mind is the Knickerbocker
Hospital in New York City. Under skillful and sympathetic
direction, this hospital has done a great work for the alcoholic.
And the members of the staff have been surprised to find
that the problems they expected in the care of alcoholics
never materialized. They have such a long waiting list that
the same person cannot be admitted twice. This is not because
they have no confidence in one who has had a relapse, but
they wish to give at least one chance to each of those who
patient cannot be admitted to the hospital except with an
Alcoholics Anonymous member as a sponsor. The physicians
say that there is no more difficulty in taking care of an
acute alcoholic than there is in taking care of any post-operative
patient. Within a short period, the alcoholic recovers from
the worst effects of his drinking bout: then he is given
the proteins and vitamins which were neglected in his alcoholic
diet. He is supplied with all the food he cares to eat,
and as soon as he is ambulatory, he goes into the large
meeting room which is called "Duffy's Tavern."
And so well do the patients get along that the physicians
and nurses enjoy associating with them in that room. Tables
are piled high with food, and Alcoholics Anonymous literature
is spread around. There is nothing to read except this.
of Alcoholics Anonymous meet and talk with the patients,
gain their confidence, and prove the possibility of rehabilitation.
No patient can leave until the Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor
takes him from the hospital. The sponsor follows up his
charge and takes him to weekly meetings where the Alcoholics
Anonymous program counteracts the alcoholics obsession.
He is greatly helped because he is associating with those
who have mastered identical difficulties. Eventually he
is trained to help other alcoholics, and by taking care
of others, he preserves himself from a relapse.
hospital needs no extra or special equipment to handle alcoholics.
A psychiatrist must be employed to discover whether a neurosis
causes the alcoholics drinking or drinking causes the neurosis.
If a neurosis causes the drinking, he must get rid of the
neurosis. In this case Alcoholics Anonymous cannot help
him to recover. If his neurosis is the result of drinking,
then he can be entrusted to Alcoholics Anonymous members,
and they can effect the balance of the cure. Alcoholics
Anonymous members have often been more successful in determining
this distinction than the psychiatrist. Alcoholics Anonymous
members are the best lay therapists in serving the victim
who has a neurosis because of his drinking.
many alcoholics are there? We do not have accurate figures,
but we know of 750,000 alcoholics who have become known
when they were taken to courts, jails, or mental institutions.
Despite the difficulty of obtaining correct data, we do
know 12,000 people die each year with alcoholism as the
primary or secondary cause of death. God alone knows how
many lives have been wasted and souls lost because most
hospitals will not accept alcoholics and most physicians
will not treat them.
Alcoholics Anonymous today there are 25,000 members rehabilitated
through Alcoholics Anonymous program combined with some
manner of hospital care. These 25,000 are well and happy
again, united with their families, and living normal and
productive lives - assets to themselves, their families,
their communities - and especially helpful to other victims
of alcoholism who learn from them that life has a brighter
side. There are 500,000 cases of tuberculosis, and we have
$130,000,000 to spend on curing them and educating the public
not to conceal the disease. There are 750,000 known alcoholics,
and we have scarcely $500,000 to spend on their cure and
the education of the public. Obviously, the need for recognizing
and treating the disease of alcoholism is much greater than
And The Hospital
us consider the role of A.A. in relation to the hospital.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a group of men and women who have
recovered from alcoholism and who have dedicated themselves
to do all in their power to effect the cure in others. They
are convinced that alcoholism is a disease, that the alcoholic
can be cured and is worth curing. They regard the whole
problem as a public responsibility and feel they can help
the victims and the community at large, which pays such
a heavy toll (more than a billion dollars a year) because
of alcoholism. The educational work of Alcoholics Anonymous
is carried out through the large amounts of literature which
it distributes throughout the country, and through the examples
of the great number of seemingly hopeless individuals whom
they have rehabilitated.
members realize that hospital, physician, psychiatrist,
employer, social worker, and Alcoholics Anonymous must work
together. They know one alone cannot effect the cure. The
teaching of Alcoholics Anonymous might be summarized in
the 12 Steps which are gradually undertaken by the new member
in such a manner that he will slowly become master of himself.
THe steps are:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives
had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power
greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. We
made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the
care of God as we understood Him. 4. We made a searching
and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5. We admitted
to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the . exact
nature of our wrongs. 6. We were entirely ready to have
God remove all these defects of character. 7. We humbly
asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8. We made a list
of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make
amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends to such people
wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them
or others. 10. We continued to take personal inventory and
when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11. We sought through
prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of
His will for us and the power to carry it out. 12. Having
had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps,
we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice
these principles in all our affairs.
steps cannot be given to an individual until he is cared
for physically by the hospital, by the physician, by the
psychiatrist, and by the close and brotherly working of
other members. In the few hospitals which treat alcoholism,
it is admitted that much of the success is attributable
to co-operation with Alcoholics Anonymous.
is an alcoholic? Everyone who drinks is not an alcoholic
- even one who drinks excessively is not necessarily an
alcoholic. There are certain symptoms which mark the alcoholic:
The desire for liquor the morning after over-indulgence;
only a confirmed or potential victim of alcoholism can tolerate
the taste of liquor after such an experience. 2. Desire
for a drink at definite periods throughout the day. 3. The
desire to be alone while drinking. 4. Drinking to conquer
a sense of inferiority, to impress others, or to display
an air of nonchalance. 5. Moodiness, jealousy, irritability,
and nervousness as a result of drinking. 6. An allergic
reaction to alcohol.
alcoholic is often proud and sensitive, has a high degree
intelligence and a highly sensitive nervous system. He is
frequently a capable person; consequently, pride can wall
off his drinking from its cure. Here is the greatest work
of Alcoholics Anonymous - seeking out and serving the individual
alcoholic before his condition reaches its lowest level.
The alcoholic knows he doesn't want to get drunk; he doesn't
want to cause trouble to himself and to his family; but
he doesn't like to admit he is no longer able to control
his drinking. The alcoholic must admit that he has a serious
problem that he cannot handle by himself. He must seek the
help of almighty God, the Power above himself; here prayer
comes into the program. In a most practical way the alcoholic
is taught to pray; considering this attainment, a man may
even consider himself fortunate to have been an alcoholic,
if he has learned the secret of his own weakness and the
power of God's help.
the Alcoholics Anonymous the victim has the companionship
of other alcoholics who appreciate his trial, know his difficulties
because of their own experiences, and do not tempt him with
more drinking. They understand what the alcoholic is up
against, and in each they see themselves, realizing, "there
but for the grace of God go I." They know their own
success is measured by their assistance and service to others.
working with Alcoholics Anonymous members, I have found
great humility, excellent natural ability, and practical
Christian charity. They seem to have a deeper understanding
of spiritual values than many other lay people. Love for
one's neighbor, willingness to go all out to save one life
is manifest. Few hospitals would not co-operate diligently
with such a group of men whose free time is dedicated to
the service of others.
service to alcoholics, Catholic hospitals have unlimited
possibilities. United as the Catholic hospitals are with
the Church, they have the means to cure body and soul. Because
of their unified authority, they could, with one stroke
of the pen, open their doors to victims of acute alcoholism.
They would have at their disposal the experience and assistance
of every member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Catholic hospitals
can lead the way to a new appreciation of the dignity of
man created in the image of God.