A PHYSICIAN LOOKS UPON ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
The first appraisal in a scientific journal of Alcoholics Anonymous,
former drunkards who cure themselves by curing each other with
the help of religious experience, was published in the July issue
of the journal Lancet. It was "A New Approach to Psychotherapy
[in] Chronic Alcoholism.: by W. D. Silkworth, M.D. physician in
charge, Chas B. Town's Hospital, New York City. A drunkard during
a moment of [deep] depression had the spontaneous "religious
experience" which started his cure. This was the seed from
which came Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. silkworth was at first skeptical.
He is no longer. Excerpts from his paper follow:
"The beginning and subsequent development of a new approach
to the problem of permanent recovery for the chronic alcoholic
has already produced remarkable results and promises much for
the future. This statement is based upon four years of close observation.
the principal answer is: Each ex-alcoholic has had and is able
to maintain, a vital spiritual or 'religious' experience, accompanied
by marked changes of personality. There is a radical change in
outlook, attitude and habits of thought. In nearly all cases,
these are evident within a few months, often less.
"The conscious search of these ex-alcoholics for the right
answer has enabled them to find an approach effectual in something
more than half of all cases. This is truly remarkable when it
is remembered that most of them were undoubtedly beyond the reach
of other remedial measures.
"Considering the presence of the religious factor, one might
expect to find unhealthy emotionalism and prejudice. On the contrary,
there is an instant readiness to discard old methods for new which
produce better results. It was early found that usually the weakest
approach to an alcoholic is directly through his family or friends,
especially if the patient is drinking heavily. Ex-alcoholics frequently
insist a physician take the patient in hand, placing him in a
hospital when possible. If proper hospitalization and medical
care is not carried out, this patient faces the danger of delirium
tremens, 'wet brain' or other complications. After a few days'
stay, the physician brings up the question of permanent sobriety.
If the patient is interested, he tactfully introduces a member
of the group. By this time the prospect has self-control, can
think straight, and the approach can be made casually. More than
half the fellowship have been so treated. The group is unanimous
in its belief that hospitalization is desirable, even imperative,
in most cases...
"An effort is made for frank discussion with the patient,
leading to self-understanding. He must make the necessary readjustment
to his environment. Co-operation and confidence must be secured.
The objectives are to bring about extraversion and provide someone
to whom he can transfer his dilemma. This group is now attaining
this because of the following reasons:
- Because of their alcoholic experiences and successful
recoveries they secure a high degree of confidence from their
- Because of this initial confidence, identical experiences,
and the fact that the discussion is pitched on moral and religious
grounds, the patient tells his story and makes his self-appraisal
with extreme thoroughness and honesty. He stops living alone and
finds himself within reach of a fellowship with whom he can discuss
his problems as they arise.
- Because of the ex-alcoholic brotherhood,
the patient too, is able to save other alcoholics from destruction.
At one and the same time, the patient acquires an ideal, a hobby,
a strenuous avocation, and a social life which he enjoys among
other ex-alcoholics and their families. These factors make powerfully
for his extraversion.
- Because of objects aplenty in whom he
can vest his confidence, the patient can turn to the individuals
to whom he first gave his confidence, the ex-alcoholic group as
a whole, or to the Deity.