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Disease of Alcoholism

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The Disease of Alcoholism-Defined & Explained
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 stop drinking.

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 itself.

Alcoholism is chronic because it never stops on its own accord. Like a bad check, it just keeps coming back.

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 versa.

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 their health.

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 and more.

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 is shaped.

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 destroyed.

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  Joy
 Worry & Irritability  Happiness
 Denial  Courage returns
 Threatening & Defensive  Gets respect of friends, associates and family
  Loss of Interest  Begins to be able to love others
 Depression  Makes amends, and has a great increase in confidence
 Imaginary Illnesses  Peace of mind lets new interest develop
 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
 (Anxiety)  Begins to surrender control issues--gradually
 Chronic Depression  Sincere desire for help
 Feelings of failure & despair  Awareness and the beginning of hope
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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