For twenty-five or thirty cents we buy a glass of fluid which
is pleasant to the taste, and which contains within its small
measure a store of warmth and good-fellowship and stimulation, of
release from momentary cares and anxieties. That would be a drink
of whisky, of course-whisky, which is one of Nature's most
generous gifts to man, and at the same time one of his most
elusive problems. It is a problem because, like many of his
greatest benefits, man does not quite know how to control it.
Many experiments have been made, the most spectacular being
the queer nightmare of prohibition, which left such deep scars
upon the morals and the manners of our nation. Millions of dollars
have been spent by philanthropists and crusaders to spread the
doctrine of temperance. In our time the most responsible of the
distillers are urging us to use their wares sensibly, without
But to a certain limited number of our countrymen neither
prohibition nor wise admonishments have any meaning, because they
are helpless when it comes to obeying them. I speak of the true
alcoholics, and before going any further I had best explain what
that term means.
For a medical definition of the term, I quote an eminent
doctor who, has spent twenty-five years treating such people in a
highly regarded private hospital:
"We believe . . . that the action of alcohol in chronic
alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy-that the phenomenon of
craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average
temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use
alcohol in any form at all."
They are, he goes on, touched with physical and mental quirks
which prevent them from controlling their own actions. They suffer
from what some doctors call a "compulsion neurosis." They know
liquor is bad for them but periodically, they are driven by a
violent and totally uncontrollable desire for a drink. And after
that first drink, the deluge.'
Now these people are genuinely sick. The liquor habit with
them is not a vice. It is a specific illness of body and mind, and
should be treated as such.
By far the most successful cure is that used by the hospital
whose head doctor I have quoted. There is nothing secret about it.
It has the endorsement of the medical profession. It is,
fundamentally, a process of dehydration: of removing harmful
toxins from all parts of the body faster than Nature could
accomplish it. Within five or six days-two weeks at the maximum-
the patient's body is utterly free from alcoholic poisons. Which
means that the physical craving is completely cured, because the
body cries out for alcohol only when alcohol is already there. The
patient has no feeling of revulsion toward whisky. He simply is
not interested in it. He has recovered. But wait. How permanent is
Our doctor says this: " Though the aggregate of full
recoveries through physical and psychiatric effort its
considerable, we doctors must admit that we have made little
impression upon the problem as a whole. For there are many types
which do not respond to the psychological approach.
" I do not believe that true alcoholism is entirely a matter
of individual mental control. I have had many men who had, for
example, worked for a period of months on some business deal which
was to be settled on a certain date.... For reasons they could not
afterward explain, they took a drink a day or two prior to the
date . . . and the important engagement was not even kept. These
men were not drinking to escape. They were drinking to overcome a
craving beyond their mental control.
" The classification of alcoholics is most difficult. There
are, of course," the psychopaths who are emotionally unstable....
They are overremorseful and make many resolutions -but never a
" There is the type who is unwilling to admit that he cannot
take a drink just like the rest of the boys. He does tricks with
his drinking- changing his brand, or drinking only after meals or
changing his companions. None of this helps him strengthen his
control and be like other people. Then there are types entirely
normal in every respect except in the effect which alcohol has
upon them . . .
" All these, and many others, have one symptom in common: They
cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of
craving.... The only relief we have to suggest is complete
abstinence from alcohol "
But are these unfortunate people really capable, mentall, of
abstaining completely? Their bodies may be cured of craving. Can
their minds be cured? Can they be rid of the deadly " compulsion
Among physicians the general opinion seems to be that chronic
alcoholics are doomed. . .
Within the last four years, evidence has appeared which has
startled hard-boiled medical men by proving that the compulsion
neurosis can be entirely eliminated. Perhaps you are one of those
cynical people who will turn away when I say that the root of this
new discovery is religion. But be patient for a moment.
About three years ago a man appeared at the hospital in New
York of which our doctor is head physician. It was his third
"cure." Since his first visit he had lost his job, his friends,
his health, and his self-respect. He was now living on the
earnings of his wife.
He had tried every method he could find to cure his disease:
had read all the great philosophers and psychologists. He had
tried religion but he simply could not accept it. It would not
seem real and personal to him.
He went through the cure as usual and came out of it in very
low spirits. He was lying in bed, emptied of vitality and thought,
when suddenly, a strange and totally unexpected thrill went
through his body and mind. He called out for the doctor. When the
doctor came in, the man looked up at him and grinned.
"Well, doc," he said, "my troubles are all over. I've got religion."
"Why, you're the last man . . ."
"Sure, I know all that. But I've got it. And I know I'm cured
of this drinking business for good."
He talked with great intensity for a while and then said, "
Listen, doc. I've got to see some other patient- one that is about
to be dismissed."
The doctor demurred. It all sounded a trifle fanatical. But
finally he consented. And thus was born the movement which is now
flourishing with almost sensational success as Alcoholics
Here is how it works:
Every member of the group-which is to say every person who has
been saved-is under obligation to carry on the work, to save other
men. That, indeed, is a fundamental part of his own mental cure.
He gains strength and confidence by active work with other
He finds his subject among acquaintances, at a "cure"
institution or perhaps by making inquiry of a preacher, a priest,
or a doctor. He begins his talk with his new acquaintance by
telling him the true nature of his disease and how remote are his
chances for permanent cure.
When he has convinced the man that he is a true alcoholic and
must never drink again, he continues:
"You had better admit that this thing is beyond your own
control. You've tried to solve it by yourself, and you have
failed. All right. Why not put the whole thing into the hands of
Even though the man might be an atheist or agnostic, he will
almost always admit that there is some sort of force operating in
the world-some cosmic power weaving a design. And his new friend
"I don't care what you call this Somebody Else. We call it
God. But whatever you want to call it, you had better put yourself
into its hands. Just admit you're licked, and say, `Here I am,
Somebody Else. Take care of this thing for me.'"
The new subject will generally consent to attend one of the
weekly meetings of the movement.
He will find twenty-five or thirty ex-drunks gathered in
somebody's home for a pleasant evening. There are no sermons. The
talk is gay or serious as the mood strikes.
The new candidate cannot avoid saying to himself, "These birds
are ex-drunks. And look at them! They must have something. It
sounds kind of screwy, but whatever it is I wish to heaven I could
get it too."
One or another of the members keeps working on him from day to
day. And presently the miracle-But let me give you an example:
I sat down in a quiet room with Mr. B., a stockily built man
of fifty with a rather stern, intelligent face.
"I'll tell you what happened a year ago." He said. "I was completely washed up. Financially I was all right, because my
money is in a trust fund. But I was a drunken bum of the worst
sort. My family was almost crazy with my incessant sprees."
"I took the cure in New York." (At the hospital we have
mentioned.) "When I came out of it, the doctor suggested I go to
one of these meetings the boys were holding. I just laughed. My
father was an atheist and had taught me to be one. But the doctor
kept saying it wouldn't do me any harm, and I went."
"I sat around listening to the jabber. It didn't register with
me at all. I went home. But the next week I found myself drawn to
the meeting. And again they worked on me while I shook my head. I
said, 'It seems O.K. with you, boys, but I don't even know your
language. Count me out.'"
"Somebody said the Lord's Prayer, and the meeting broke up. I
walked three blocks to the subway station. Just as I was about to
go down the stairs-bang!" He snapped fingers hard. "It happened! I
don't like that word miracle, but that's all I can call it. The
lights in the street seemed to flare up. My feet seemed to leave
the pavement. A kind of shiver went over me, and I burst out
"I went back to the house where we had met, and rang the bell,
and Bill let me in. We talked until two o'clock in the morning. I
haven't touched a drop since, and I've set four other fellows on
the same road.
The doctor, a nonreligious man himself, was at first utterly
astonished at the results that began to appear among his patients.
But then he put his knowledge of psychiatry and psychology to
These men were experiencing a psychic change. Their so-called
"compulsion neurosis" was being altered-transferred from liquor to
something else. Their psychological necessity to drink was being
changed to a psychological necessity to rescue their fellow
victims from the plight that made themselves so miserable.
It is not a new idea. It is a powerful and effective working
out of an old idea. We all know that the alcoholic has an urge to
share his troubles. Psychoanalysts use this urge. They say to the
alcoholic, in basic terms: "You can't lick this problem yourself.
Give me the problem-transfer the whole thing to me and let me take
the whole responsibility." But the psychoanalyst, being of human
clay, is not often a big enough man for that job. The patient
simply cannot generate enough confidence in him. But the patient
can have enough confidence in God-once he has gone through the
mystical experience of recognizing God. And upon that principle
the Alcoholic Foundation rests.
The medical profession, in general, accepts the principle as
"Alcoholics Anonymous" have consolidated their activities in
an organization called the Alcoholic Foundation. It is a
nonprofit-making enterprise. Nobody connected with it is paid a
penny. It is not a crusading movement. It condemns neither liquor
nor the liquor industry. Its whole concern is with the rescue of
allergic alcoholics, the small proportion of the population who
must be cured or perish. It preaches no particular religion and
has no dogma, no rules. Every man conceives God according to his
Groups have grown up in other cities. The affairs of the
Foundation are managed by three members of the movement and four
prominent business and professional men, not alcoholics, who
volunteered their services.
The Foundation has lately published a book, called Alcoholics
Anonymous. And if alcoholism is a problem in your family or among
your friends, I heartily recommend that you get hold of a copy. It
may very well help you to guide a sick man--an allergic alcoholic--
on the way to health and contentment.