| print this
Quarterly, Vol. 30: 152-156, November, 1963
ALCOHOLIC.... and ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
by Sister Jeanne Marie, S.S.M.
history of alcohol is as ancient as the history of man.
Its effects have become so complex and multiple throughout
that today the problem of alcohol is a topic that is receiving
tremendous publicity, and rightfully so. Each year, statistics
indicate a sharp rise in drinking of alcoholic beverages
United States, with a corresponding increase in social,
and medical problems associated with excessive drinking.
The average American adult consumes 2.6 gallons of absolute
alcohol a year.
2. The annual cost of liquor consumed in this country is
estimated at $10,500,000,000.
3. It is estimated that one out of 16 adult drinkers becomes
4. Alcoholism is the fourth leading public health problem
in the United States (it is outranked only by mental illness,
heart disease and cancer).
5. There are approximately 6,000,000 alcoholics in the United
States, of whom about 1,000,000 are women.
6. More than 30,000,000 people suffer harm because of an
alcoholic member in a family, social, or business relationships.
(It is estimated that a minimum of 5 people are severely
and adversely affected by the alcoholic).
7. Tragedies caused by alcoholism cost the nation approximately
$220,000,000 each year.
8. More than 4,000 deaths are officially attributed to alcoholism
annually. A conservative estimate would increase this number
is a disease which results from inappropriate,
over-consumption of alcoholic beverages. Its victims are
as those who because of compulsive, repetitive over-drinking
exhibit impairment of physical, social, emotional, and economic
functioning. The disease is difficult to understand, prevent,
treat, and reverse. Its causes remain obscure though its
physical, psychological, and social consequences are constantly
prominent focus before the public.
has been written regarding the causes of alcoholism. The
question still remains unanswered, "Why does a person
sacrifice personal self-esteem, family, friends, and economic
status to the compelling force which addicts him to alcohol?"
social, psychological and physiological factors are proposed
possible causes. Each of these must be considered as it
the individual, in planning a total rehabilitation program
victim of alcohol.
"average" alcoholic in need of medical care does
present a serious problem for the physician. Treatment,
extends beyond merely restoring the patient to physical
through the "drying up process." Since alcoholism
is a disease
that includes serious social, economic, and medical problems,
physicians have a grave responsibility to help the alcoholic
he is attaining sobriety, to come to grips with the realities
life. Environmental facilities and life experiences must
utilized to help the patient maintain, as well as understand,
importance of total abstinence from alcoholic beverages.
involves on the part of the alcoholic, a frank admission
inability to tolerate alcohol and often includes a need
a radical personal reorientation in regard to methods of
with inner conflicts and responsible participation in life
activities. Obviously this type of treatment necessitates
of social services and community resources, as well as intensive
American Medical Association urges physicians and local
medical societies to work with other groups within the community
concerned with the problem of alcoholism. One such group
been particularly effective in this area is Alcoholics Anonymous.
While physicians for the most part are acquainted with the
program and possibly regard it very highly, many often hesitate
refer their patients to this group for various reasons.
these may include: the physician's own personal bias or
a non-psychiatric orientation to the problem of alcoholism,
of familiarity with the A.A. program, or a belief that the
alcoholic, if he really wants to be cured, "can make
it on his
organizational framework of Alcoholics Anonymous is built
on sound sociological and psychological principles. "No
man is an
island;" he is dependent upon others for life, growth,
survival. This is especially true of the person who is trying
fight successfully the battle against alcoholism. A.A. had
beginning when two men, one a physician and the other a
broker were faced with the urgent necessity of overcoming
alcoholism in their own lives. They discovered that their
to drink was lessened when they were trying to help each
solve their common problem of alcoholism. An extension of
help to others with similar problems made their efforts
maintain sobriety and happiness in their personal lives
effective. From its beginning in 1935, membership in A.A.
grown to its present total of more than 300,000 men and
(women comprise about one-fifth of the membership). Membership
the organization depends on: 1) a sincere desire to abstain
completely from alcohol and, 2) an equally strong desire
others overcome the same problem. The core of A.A. is the
group with its regular meetings which permit alcoholics
families to meet in an atmosphere of "fellowship and
are now more than 9,000 groups throughout the world,
including some in hospitals, prisons, and other institutions.
Al-Anon Family Groups, Inc., established shortly after
A.A., is founded on the basis that alcoholism is a disease
affects the entire family. Al-Anon is comprised of adult
members, ordinarily husbands or wives of alcoholics. A more
off-shoot of A.A. is the Alateen Group which is comprised
teen-agers who have an alcoholic parent. These groups also
a regular basis. Through a mutual exchange of ideas and
experiences and through a study of the "Twelve Steps"
family members obtain a better understanding of themselves
alcoholic. Al-Anon and Alateen programs try to inspire the
with a desire for personal improvement in their own lives.
hoped that this in turn will minimize the effects of alcoholism
within the family and better help the alcoholic member to
with his problem. Thus it may be advisable and often happens
family members attend Al-Anon or Alateen meetings even though
alcoholic does not accept the A.A. program and may still
basic textbooks for all groups are, Alcoholics Anonymous
originally published in 1939, and Twelve Steps and Twelve
Traditions published in 1953. Both are interpretative and
inspirational in their approach. They provide directives
better living for each of its members as well as methods
organization and operation for the program.
members of Alcoholics Anonymous would have maintained
total abstinence without the group fellowship of A.A. is
debatable and moot question. It is certain, however, that
A.A. is much happier in his sobriety because of companionship
others who share the urgent need to fight successfully and
together the battle against alcoholism.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not pretend to have a
miraculous answer, or to be able to help every alcoholic,
alcoholic deserves at least an opportunity to become acquainted
with, and to have the choice of accepting or rejecting this
program in his efforts to maintain sobriety. Ordinarily,
best to introduce the patient to the A.A. program while
he is in
the process of trying to achieve sobriety. This is usually
or immediately after the time he is recovering from the
effects of alcohol. It is then that he probably will be
receptive to receiving help from all sources.
telephone directory is the guide for finding Alcoholics
Anonymous groups in most cities and local areas. The physician
should be familiar with the Alcoholics Anonymous group in
area. If there are no listings in the telephone book, information
regarding the nearest A.A. group can be obtained by writing
General Service Office in New York. This often can be the
turns the lock to the door of happiness and sobriety for
alcoholics and their families. It can also be one of the
physician's greatest strengths in his efforts to help overcome
alcoholism and its effects on our society.
- private, public, general or specialized - also
have the unique opportunity to participate in the A.A. program,
providing hospitality for its various groups. The small
the core of the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship, and obtaining
convenient and desirable meeting facilities often presents
problem for its members. This ordinarily means securing
that insures privacy and anonymity for about 20-50 people,
as having available simple refreshments such'as coffee,
drinks and cookies or cakes. Such arrangements can be made
available in most hospitals. The groups meet one or more
weekly. Ample remuneration is provided to the host institution
A.A. for hospitality and accommodations.
alcoholism is considered a family problem it is ideal
to have separate meeting facilities for A.A., Al-Anon and
groups, all arranged for the same time. This will in many
instances resolve transportation difficulties and contribute
family solidarity. The meetings of each group are ordinarily
closed, that is each has its own membership, closed to other
groups; however, about once a month an "open"
meeting is conducted
when members of all groups combine, and also interested
persons are invited to attend the meeting.
closed meeting nights, groups are autonomous, desire
anonymity and are self-sufficient, beyond the provision
facilities and refreshments. It is good at these times to
several specific hospital personnel responsible for details
hospitality services and to greet the members before and
their meetings. In addition some members will have established
friendships because of previous hospitalization. Mutual
dividends result for both hospital personnel and individuals
the various groups because of this friendly exchange.
hospital gives meeting and hospitality facilities. In
return the institution receives benefits which include the
to continue its efforts towards the rehabilitation of alcoholics,
and its services toward family welfare and unity beyond
discharge. The open monthly meeting is ideal for medical
nursing staff education regarding the problem of alcoholism
the A.A. program. Participation in the A.A. program provides
excellent opportunity for extending the hospital into the
Alcoholics Anonymous program can be most effective in
helping alcoholics who are sincere in their desire to use
resources in overcoming the disease of alcoholism. It also
very helpful in promoting an increased bond of friendship
patient, physician, hospital and community.