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The Disease of Alcoholism-Defined
Alcoholism is a
chemical/biological disease that is primary, progressive, chronic
and fatal. It is characterized by an obsession to drink that makes
it impossible to predict when we will start drinking, and an allergy
to alcohol, which makes it impossible to predict when we will
Alcoholism is a chemical disease because
it breaks down differently in the stomach and has an entirely different
effect on the brain of the alcoholic than on the non-alcoholic.
It is biological in the sense that the chemical predisposition
is inherited. Identical twin studies of long standing show that
identical twins separated at birth will tend to both be alcoholic
or non-alcoholic regardless of their environmental upbringing. The
THIQ experiments show that a sample of THIQ taken from an alcoholic
rat and placed in the brain of a non-alcoholic rat makes an instant
rat-oholic. This implant bypasses all social, religious and parental
systems entirely, leaving only a chemical disease.
It is primary since it is not the result
of another disease. It has it's own diagnosis, and its own pathology.
It does not depend on the existence of another disease for its presence.
However it is a causative factor in other diseases. It is destructive
to the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and almost every other body
organ. The weakened condition of these organs due to alcoholism
can lower resistance to numerous diseases.
It is progressive since it always gets
worse over any considered period of time. This means that we can
predict with a great deal of accuracy the onset of many symptoms
of alcoholism such as blackouts, euphoric recall, and blaming. Further
the disease of alcoholism seems to progress whether the alcoholic
continues to drink or not. While the allergy to alcohol continues
to progress the cessation of drinking can stop the destruction of
the body organs. In most cases the offended body organs can begin
to restore themselves. One exception is the liver. Once cirrhosis
has set in the liver can never restore itself. It will not continue
to get worse --- because of alcoholism --- but neither will it heal
Alcoholism is chronic because it never
stops on its own accord. Like a bad check, it just keeps coming
Alcoholism is fatal. Alcoholics die
about 12 years sooner than non-alcoholics. This figure does not
include suicide, car wrecks, homicide and other accidental death.
It also does not take into account the mixing of chemicals that
is done today. This mixing causes what is known as amplification,
or a magnified effect by being taken together. Two drinks and two
pills can equal four, they can equal 8, or they can equal death.
Even stranger, death can be caused by overdose when the alcoholic/addict
has successfully taken much larger doses in the past and for longer
periods of time.
Alcoholism is caused by a person who is
genetically predisposed to alcoholism drinking alcohol in sufficient
quantities over a sufficient period of time.
Some, who are 100% predisposed to alcoholism, are alcoholic from
the first drink. Others, who may be only slightly predisposed, may
have to drink a certain amount for a certain period of time before
becoming alcoholic. The difference in these two examples and all
the infinite points in between them on a continuum form what is
known as the "time-dosage line." Alcohol is one of the two causative
factors of alcoholism--not a symptom of alcoholism. The predisposition
to alcoholism is the other causative factor.
Low self esteem, lack of self worth,
and shame are characteristic by products of alcoholism-not vice
In it's simplest form the person who is 100%
predisposed to alcoholism can be compared to someone who is terribly
allergic to strawberries. Most people, like normal drinkers, eat
strawberries without any ill effects. They like the strawberries
and a reasonable amount of strawberries may even be beneficial to
On the other hand, like the alcoholic, there
is a certain small percentage of people who are allergic to strawberries.
They break out in hives, itch, sometimes get sick at their stomach
Here the question of: "Why don't alcoholics
stop drinking just like the person who is allergic to strawberries
quits eating strawberries?"
The reason is that alcohol effects the alcoholic
in another way. It gives him a feeling of "euphoria." This feeling
is so strong that despite increasing losses and emotional pain ---
he spends the rest of his life trying to get back to that euphoric
feeling he felt when he first began drinking. This overwhelming
desire to get back to the euphoria stage develops an obsession to
drink that nothing can overcome. It is stronger than the emotional
pain that alcoholism causes. It is stronger than the motivation
for sex, for keeping his family, for keeping his job, for staying
out of jail, and even for life itself. It is so strong that we unconsciously
forget the pain and losses of our last drunk. This is such a simple
phenomenon, and such a common phenomenon, that Weight Watchers requires
their members to write down what they eat, least they forget it!!!
The Myth that the Alcoholic Drinks
"Only" to get out of Pain or to Relax
In the beginning the alcoholic does not drink
to escape pain. In the beginning of alcoholism there is no pain.
The alcoholic drinks to get a euphoric feeling. He may be feeling
blue or sad, or nervous or whatever before he drinks, but he drinks
to get a euphoric feeling. He does not drink to get from this
blue, sad, or nervous feeling to normal. If he had to stop when
he got over his blues or anxiety, he would not drink at all. At
the beginning of his alcoholism he actually drinks to get from a
feeling of being "OK" to get the wonderful euphoric high. This
feeling is so wonderful it is impossible to explain to the non-alcoholic.
But here is the crux of understanding alcoholism. Until the
non-alcoholic understands this, he can never expect to begin to
understand alcoholism. I will give you a personal example.
When I was young I signed a professional baseball
contract and got a bonus. I got a new red and white convertible.
I had money in my pocket. I was dating the most beautiful women
in the world. My family, community, and college regarded me as somewhat
of a hero and a success. It was a cool spring day. There was a mild
breeze, and the sun was shining. I was in wonderful physical shape
and had no pains or disturbances at all. So I went out and got a
fifth of whiskey and got drunk as hell.
Why? Because, to the alcoholic, the euphoria
of drinking is so great even a natural "high" cannot begin to compare
with it. Is it any wonder then that an alcoholic that does not "feel
good" would want to get--not normal--but euphoric? You bet he would.
But it must always be remembered that the alcoholic does not
have to be in pain or feel bad to want to drink. They can just
as easily want to go from a position of just feeling good to a feeling
of euphoria. This is what prompts people like Clancy I. to say that
alcohol "could never have done what it did to him, if it
had not been for what alcohol did for him."
Memory is tied to emotions---so we remember
most what gives us a wonderful feeling. The euphoric feeling is
so strong in the alcoholic that he never forgets it (once an alcoholic,
always an alcoholic). So he is constantly reminded to drink. Not
only is he constantly reminded to drink, but he is constantly reminded
in very strong emotional terms.
Parents who have learned the value of "positive
reinforcement" to shape the behavior of their children can equate
this to the euphoric reinforcement the alcoholic gets from drinking.
Of course the "positive reinforcement" of an alcoholic drinking
alcohol is a thousand times better.
Psychologist (and businessmen) have known for
years that three facts determine how fast and how well behavior
1. The strength of the reinforcement. (the
euphoria reward to the alcoholic is stronger than anything else
in his life.)
2. The speed of the reinforcement. (alcohol works very quickly,
part of it is within seconds)
3. The dependability of the reinforcement. (alcohol works every
time. No guesswork. Results are guaranteed)
The disease of alcoholism is a two fold disease.
It is an obsession of the mind, coupled with an allergy of the body.
The obsession makes it impossible for the alcoholic to predict when
he will start drinking, and the allergy makes it impossible for
him to predict when he will stop drinking. Now, if he
cannot predict when he will start drinking because of the obsession
and cannot predict when he will quit drinking because of the allergy,
then he is powerless over alcohol.
Again. Until the general, non-alcoholic, public
understands the wonderful exhilaration the alcoholic feels when
he is drinking, they cannot begin to understand alcoholism. Until
then they will lazily call it a disease of the weak-willed, or of
religious sinners. I use the term lazy here because it takes energy,
the energy of a great love of mankind, to put forth the effort to
study this with an open mind--especially when it might bring them
the emotional pain of admitting they had been wrong. When you consider
the number of times a non-alcoholic has condemned the alcoholic
for being weak willed and no good, you can see why they would be
reluctant to change their minds about the nature of the disease.
This is especially true since the non-alcoholic cannot possibly
identify emotionally with the alcoholic.
To those who think this is a disease of the
weak willed. Try eating a large box of Exlax and "will" yourself
not to go to the bathroom. To the religious: "Try healing all mankind's
diseases ( immediately please)" and then criticize that which you
know nothing about. Remember, if you cannot cure all mankind's diseases
immediately, then, by your own definition of others, you are "a
weak willed sinner."
In his excellent book entitled "I'll Quit
Tomorrow," Dr. Vernon Johnson points out that the alcoholic
first learns that alcohol makes them feel good (euphoric). He then
points out the the alcoholic next learns direction. This means:
"If one drink makes me feel good, two will make me feel better."
And so on it goes. Left here everything would be rosy. But alcoholism
has another component to it. That is what is often referred to as
the "allergy." It is the allergy that makes us keep drinking until
we can drink no more.
This cycle of not being able to not drink and
then not being able to stop after a few drinks, is repeated over
and over again. For a long time the alcoholic pays no price for
his drinking, except for an occasional hangover which he blames
on something he ate or mixed his drinks with.
But as time goes by he begins to pay an emotional
price for drinking. He wakes up not only hung over, but anxious
to find out how he behaved himself the night before. He may check
his own body for injury, but more often he will check to see if
the car is home and not damaged. One fellow could not drink his
coffee until he had walked around his car and inspected it for damage
and blood. The alcoholic may have blackouts, or forget where he
parked the car, or forget promises he made to his business fellows
or his wife while he was in a blackout. When he then breaks these
"forgotten" promises he is bewildered at their reaction. One fellow
made a trip to Europe in a blackout and did not remember his trip.
(I'll Quit Tomorrow)
As time goes by he gets sicker and sicker and
begins to "need" a morning drink. Many never drink in the morning
but they begin to look forward to the five o'clock happy hour. They
begin to plan their day around their drinking--for it is much more
important to them emotionally than anything else in their life.
They are now in the throws of alcoholism. The drinking gets ever
more uncontrollable and their pain afterward gets worse. The deadly
cycle has them in it's grasp.
By this time he will have lied to his friends
and family hundreds of times. He will probably have cashed bad checks
or even stolen to pay for his sprees. Anything that he has to do,
he will do, just to drink. This applies to the female alcoholic
also. It is probably more painful for her since she pays for her
alcohol in the ways that women pay, and her self worth is virtually
The Alcoholic Personality
Alcoholism strikes evenly across the personality
spectrum. The dependent personality is as likely to become alcoholic
as is the independent personality. The neurotic is at no greater
risk than is the non-neurotic. (I am aware of the effect of the
neurosis and the time-dosage line but at a deeper level of understanding
this truth remains valid.) The introvert and the extrovert are even
in risk just as the meek and the mighty. Rich or poor, tall or short,
fat or thin, male or female, all fall into the alcoholic spectrum
in an orderly and predictable pattern--each being equal to the other.
The only place this is not true is among the races--such as the
American Indian who is many times more likely to be alcoholic than
is the European American.
So what is the "alcoholic personality" you
ask? There is no such thing as an alcoholic personality prior
to the onset of alcoholism. It is only after years of alcoholism
has taken it's toll in shaping the psychic, the personality, and
the coping mechanisms of the individual that the "alcoholic personality"
is fully developed. Shame, for instance, is evident in all alcoholics
to an extremely large degree but the alcoholic just beginning to
drink may have no shame at all. But remember that studies show that
alcoholics come from all kinds of populations as far as the psyche
is concerned. So the "alcoholic personality" is the result of
alcoholism--not a predictor of it.
E.M.Jellenik developed the "dip chart" which
is broadly imitated below. Jellenik was right about the progression
of the disease but continued to believe that alcoholism was the
result of mental disorders and thus was unable to develop a program
of recovery. The red section shows how the disease progresses downward.
The green section shows (from the bottom
up) how recovery progresses from our "bottom" to being fully recovered.
| Blues & Intolerance
|| At ease with life, comfortable
in his own skin.
| Suspicion & Distrust
| Worry & Irritability
|| Courage returns
| Threatening & Defensive
|| Gets respect of friends,
associates and family
| Loss of Interest
|| Begins to be able to love
|| Makes amends, and has
a great increase in confidence
| Imaginary Illnesses
|| Peace of mind lets new
| Irrational Behavior
|| Guilt is gone, shame is
beginning to be addressed
| Remorse & Isolation
|| Makes new friends, and
self esteem starts to rise
| Social Withdrawal
|| Loss of the most violent
of their fears.
| Blaming Others
|| Becomes optimistic, eats
and sleeps more appropriately
| Undefined Fears
|| Becomes willing to change---a
little at at time
|| Begins to surrender control
| Chronic Depression
|| Sincere desire for help
| Feelings of failure &
|| Awareness and the beginning
|Depressed, total despair,
may attempt suicide.--all this goes on for some time--then
the admission of defeat and ask for help starts the person
on the road to recovery. Just at the disease is shown to be
progressing coming down the left side from top to bottom,
so it will be in recovery. Starting here at the bottom and
going back up the recovery side. first he quits drinking,
then the upward growth starts.(see green side reading from
bottom to top)
A whole volume can be set forth here but since
it has already been done numerous times I will stop with this hoping
the person investigating will follow the links (blue and underlined)
that take them to a greater explanation of specific points.
One of these sources is I'll Quit Tomorrow
by Dr. Vernon Johnson. This can be found in any library and in most
book stores but can also be ordered from Amazon.com. You can benefit
in reassuring yourself about this disease by reading Dr.
Milam's papers. You can also attend an AA Meeting. You can also continue to study the material on this site. If
you wonder why the alcoholic continues to drink despite overwhelming
evidence that he should stop, then studying Insanity will answer your questions.
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