Chapter 3

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM

  MOST OF US have been unwilling to admit we
were real alcoholics.  No person likes to think
he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows.
Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers
have been characterized by countless vain attempts
to prove we could drink like other people.  The idea
that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his
drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal
drinker.  The persistence of this illusion is astonishing.
Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.
  We learned that we had to fully concede to our in-
nermost selves that we were alcoholics.  This is the
first step in recovery.  The delusion that we are like
other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.
  We alcoholics are men and women who have lost
the ability to control our drinking.  We know that no
real alcoholic ever recovers control.  All of us felt at
times that we were regaining control, but such inter-
vals--usually brief--were inevitably followed by still
less control, which led in time to pitiful and incompre-
hensible demoralization.  We are convinced to a man
that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progres-
sive illness.  Over any considerable period we get
worse, never better.
  We are like men who have lost their legs; they
never grow new ones.  Neither does there appear to be
any kind of treatment which will make alcoholics of

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM                  31
our kind like other men.  We have tried every imagin-
able remedy.  In some instances there has been brief
recovery, followed always by a still worse relapse.
Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree
there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out
of an alcoholic.  Science may one day accomplish this,
but it hasn't done so yet.
  Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics
are not going to believe they are in that class.  By
every form of self-deception and experimentation, they
will try to prove themselves exceptions to the rule,
therefore nonalcoholic.  If anyone who is showing
inability to control his drinking can do the right-
about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are
off to him.  Heaven knows, we have tried hard enough
and long enough to drink like other people!
  Here are some of the methods we have tried:  Drink-
ing beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never
drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drink-
ing only at home, never having it in the house, never
drinking during business hours, drinking only at
parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking
only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on
the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off
forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more
physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going
to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary
commitment to asylums--we could increase the list
ad infinitum.
  We do not like to pronounce any individual as alco-
holic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself.  Step
over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled
drinking.  Try to drink and stop abruptly.  Try it

32                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
more than once.  It will not take long for you to de-
cide, if you are honest with yourself about it.  It may
be worth a bad case of jitters if you get a full knowl-
edge of your condition.
  Though there is no way of proving it, we believe
that early in our drinking careers most of us could
have stopped drinking.  But the difficulty is that few
alcoholics have enough desire to stop while there is
yet time.  We have heard of a few instances where
people, who showed definite signs of alcoholism, were
able to stop for a long period because of an overpow-
ering desire to do so.  Here is one.
  A man of thirty was doing a great deal of spree
drinking.  He was very nervous in the morning after
these bouts and quieted himself with more liquor.  He
was ambitious to succeed in business, but saw that he
would get nowhere if he drank at all.  Once he started,
he had no control whatever.  He made up his mind
that until he had been successful in business and had
retired, he would not touch another drop.  An excep-
tional man, he remained bone dry for twenty-five
years and retired at the age of fifty-five, after a suc-
cessful and happy business career.  Then he fell vic-
tim to a belief which practically every alcoholic has
--that his long period of sobriety and self-discipline
had qualified him to drink as other men.  Out came his
carpet slippers and a bottle.  In two months he was
in a hospital, puzzled and humiliated.  He tried to
regulate his drinking for a while, making several trips
to the hospital meantime.  Then, gathering all his
forces, he attempted to stop altogether and found he
could not.  Every means of solving his problem which

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM                  33
money could buy was at his disposal.  Every attempt
failed.  Though a robust man at retirement, he went
to pieces quickly and was dead within four years.
  This case contains a powerful lesson.  Most of us
have believed that if we remained sober for a long
stretch, we could thereafter drink normally.  But here
is a man who at fifty-five years found he was just
where he had left off at thirty.  We have seen the truth
demonstrated again and again:  "Once an alcoholic, al-
ways an alcoholic."  Commencing to drink after a
period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as
ever.  If we are planning to stop drinking, there must
be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion
that someday we will be immune to alcohol.
  Young people may be encouraged by this man's ex-
perience to think that they can stop, as he did, on
their own will power.  We doubt if many of them can
do it, because none will really want to stop, and hardly
one of them, because of the peculiar mental twists al-
ready acquired, will find he can win out.  Several of
our crowd, men of thirty or less, had been drinking
only a few years, but they found themselves as help-
less as those who had been drinking twenty years.
  To be gravely affected, one does not necessarily
have to drink a long time nor take the quantities
some of us have.  This is particularly true of women.
Potential female alcoholics often turn into the real
thing and are gone beyond recall in a few years.
Certain drinkers, who would be greatly insulted if
called alcoholics, are astonished at their inability to
stop.  We, who are familiar with the symptoms, see
large numbers of potential alcoholics among young

34                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
people everywhere.  But try and get them to see it!
  As we look back, we feel we had gone on drinking
many years beyond the point where we could quit on
our will power.  If anyone questions whether he has
entered this dangerous area, let him try leaving liquor
alone for one year.  If he is a real alcoholic and very
far advanced, there is scant chance of success.  In the
early days of our drinking we occasionally remained
sober for a year or more, becoming serious drinkers
again later.  Though you may be able to stop for a con-
siderable period, you may yet be a potential alcoholic.
We think few, to whom this book will appeal, can stay
dry anything like a year.  Some will be drunk the day
after making their resolutions; most of them within a
few weeks.
  For those who are unable to drink moderately the
question is how to stop altogether.  We are assuming,
of course, that the reader desires to stop.  Whether
such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis de-
pends upon the extent to which he has already lost
the power to choose whether he will drink or not.
Many of us felt that we had plenty of character.  There
was a tremendous urge to cease forever.  Yet we found
it impossible.  This is the baffling feature of alcoholism
as we know it--this utter inability to leave it alone,
no matter how great the necessity or the wish.
  How then shall we help our readers determine, to
their own satisfaction, whether they are one of us?
The experiment of quitting for a period of time will
be helpful, but we think we can render an even greater
service to alcoholic sufferers and perhaps to the medi-

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM                  35
cal fraternity.  So we shall describe some of the mental
states that precede a relapse into drinking, for ob-
viously this is the crux of the problem.
  What sort of thinking dominates an alcoholic who
repeats time after time the desperate experiment of
the first drink?  Friends who have reasoned with him
after a spree which has brought him to the point of
divorce or bankruptcy are mystified when he walks
directly into the saloon.  Why does he?  Of what is he
  Our first example is a friend we shall call Jim.  This
man has a charming wife and family.  He inherited a
lucrative automobile agency.  He had a commendable
World War record.  He is a good salesman.  Every-
body likes him.  He is an intelligent man, normal so far
as we can see, except for a nervous disposition.  He did
no drinking until he was thirty-five.  In a few years he
became so violent when intoxicated that he had to be
committed.  On leaving the asylum he came into con-
tact with us.
  We told him what we knew of alcoholism and the
answer we had found.  He made a beginning.  His
family was re-assembled, and he began to work as a
salesman for the business he had lost through drink-
ing.  All went well for a time, but he failed to enlarge
his spiritual life.  To his consternation, he found him-
self drunk half a dozen times in rapid succession.  On
each of these occasions we worked with him, review-
ing carefully what had happened.  He agreed he was
a real alcoholic and in a serious condition.  He knew
he faced another trip to the asylum if he kept on.
Moreover, he would lose his family for whom he had
a deep affection.

36                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
  Yet he got drunk again.  We asked him to tell us
exactly how it happened.  This is his story:  "I came to
work on Tuesday morning.  I remembered I felt irritated
that I had to be a salesman for a concern I once
owned.  I had a few words with the boss, but nothing
serious.  Then I decided to drive into the country and
see one of my prospects for a car.  On the way I felt
hungry so I stopped at a roadside place where they
have a bar.  I had no intention of drinking.  I just
thought I would get a sandwich.  I also had the notion
that I might find a customer for a car at this place,
which was familiar for I had been going to it for years.
I had eaten there many times during the months I was
sober.  I sat down at a table and ordered a sandwich
and a glass of milk.  Still no thought of drinking.  I
ordered another sandwich and decided to have
another glass of milk.
  "Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I
were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn't
hurt me on a full stomach.  I ordered a whiskey and
poured it into the milk.  I vaguely sensed I was not
being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking
the whiskey on a full stomach.  The experiment went
so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it
into more milk.  That didn't seem to bother me so I
tried another."
  Thus started one more journey to the asylum for
Jim.  Here was the threat of commitment, the loss of
family and position, to say nothing of that intense
mental and physical suffering which drinking always
caused him.  He had much knowledge about himself
as an alcoholic.  Yet all reasons for not drinking were

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM                  37
easily pushed aside in favor of the foolish idea that he
could take whiskey if only he mixed it with milk!
  Whatever the precise definition of the word may be,
we call this plain insanity.  How can such a lack of
proportion, of the ability to think straight, be called
anything else?
  You may think this an extreme case.  To us it is not
far-fetched, for this kind of thinking has been charac-
teristic of every single one of us.  We have sometimes
reflected more than Jim did upon the consequences.
But there was always the curious mental phenomenon
that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitable
ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first
drink.  Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check.
The insane idea won out.  Next day we would ask our-
selves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could
have happened.
  In some circumstances we have gone out deliber-
ately to get drunk, feeling ourselves justified by
nervousness, anger, worry, depression, jealousy or the
like.  But even in this type of beginning we are obliged
to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely
insufficient in the light of what always happened.  We
now see that when we began to drink deliberately,
instead of casually, there was little serious or effective
thought during the period of premeditation of what
the terrific consequences might be.
  Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible
with respect to the first drink as that of an individual
with a passion, say, for jay-walking.  He gets a thrill
out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles.  He
enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warn-
ings.  Up to this point you would label him as a foolish

38                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
chap having queer ideas of fun.  Luck then deserts
him and he is slightly injured several times in succes-
sion.  You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut
it out.  Presently he is hit again and this time had a
fractured skull.  Within a week after leaving the hos-
pital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm.  He
tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good,
but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.
  On through the years this conduct continues, accom-
panied by his continual promises to be careful or to
keep off the streets altogether.  Finally, he can no
longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up
to ridicule.  He tries every known means to get the jay-
walking idea out of his head.  He shuts himself up in
an asylum, hoping to mend his ways.  But the day he
comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which
breaks his back.  Such a man would be crazy, wouldn't
  You may think our illustration is too ridiculous.  But
is it?  We, who have been through the wringer, have
to admit if we substituted alcoholism for jay-walking,
the illustration would fit us exactly.  However intelli-
gent we may have been in other respects, where alco-
hol has been involved, we have been strangely insane.
It's strong language--but isn't it true?
  Some of you are thinking:  "Yes, what you tell us is
true, but it doesn't fully apply.  We admit we have
some of these symptoms, but we have not gone to the
extremes you fellows did, nor are we likely to, for we
understand ourselves so well after what you have told
us that such things cannot happen again.  We have
not lost everything in life through drinking and we

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM                  39
certainly do not intend to.  Thanks for the informa-
  That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people
who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the
present time, are able to stop or moderate, because
their brains and bodies have not been damaged as
ours were.  But the actual or potential alcoholic, with
hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop
drinking on the basis of self-knowledge.  This is a point
we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash
home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been re-
vealed to us out of bitter experience.  Let us take
another illustration.
  Fred is partner in a well known accounting firm.
His income is good, he has a fine home, is happily
married and the father of promising children of col-
lege age.  He had so attractive a personality that he
makes friends with everyone.  If ever there was a
successful business man, it is Fred.  To all appearance
he is a stable, well balanced individual.  Yet, he is
alcoholic.  We first saw Fred about a year ago in a
hospital where he had gone to recover from a bad
case of jitters.  It was his first experience of this kind,
and he was much ashamed of it.  Far from admitting
he was an alcoholic, he told himself he came to the
hospital to rest his nerves.  The doctor intimated
strongly that he might be worse than he realized.  For
a few days he was depressed about his condition.  He
made up his mind to quit drinking altogether.  It never
occurred to him that perhaps he could not do so, in
spite of his character and standing.  Fred would not
believe himself an alcoholic, much less accept a
spiritual remedy for his problem.  We told him what

40                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
we knew about alcoholism.  He was interested and
conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he
was a long way from admitting that he could do
nothing about it himself.  He was positive that this
humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had ac-
quired, would keep him sober the rest of his life.  Self-
knowledge would fix it.
  We heard no more of Fred for a while.  One day we
were told that he was back in the hospital.  This time
he was quite shaky.  He soon indicated he was anxious
to see us.  The story he told is most instructive, for
here was a chap absolutely convinced he had to stop
drinking, who had no excuse for drinking, who exhib-
ited splendid judgment and determination in all his
other concerns, yet was flat on his back nevertheless.
  Let him tell you about it:  "I was much impressed
with what you fellows said about alcoholism, and I
frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to
drink again.  I rather appreciated your ideas about
the subtle insanity which precedes the first drink, but
I was confident it could not happen to me after what I
had learned.  I reasoned I was not so far advanced as
most of you fellows, that I had been usually successful
in licking my other personal problems, and that I
would therefore be successful where you men failed.
I felt I had every right to be self-confident, that it
would be only a matter of exercising my will power
and keeping on guard.
  "In this frame of mind, I went about my business
and for a time all was well.  I had no trouble refusing
drinks, and began to wonder if I had not been making
too hard work of a simple matter.  One day I went to
Washington to present some accounting evidence to

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM                  41
a government bureau.  I had been out of town before
during this particular dry spell, so there was nothing
new about that.  Physically, I felt fine.  Neither did I
have any pressing problems or worries.  My business
came off well, I was pleased and knew my partners
would be too.  It was the end of a perfect day, not a
cloud on the horizon.
  "I went to my hotel and leisurely dressed for dinner.
As I crossed the threshold of the dining room, the
thought came to mind that it would be nice to have a
couple of cocktails with dinner.  That was all.  Nothing
more.  I ordered a cocktail and my meal.  Then I or-
dered another cocktail.  After dinner I decided to take
a walk.  When I returned to the hotel it struck me a
highball would be fine before going to bed, so I
stepped into the bar and had one.  I remember having
several more that night and plenty next morning.  I
have a shadowy recollection of being in an airplane
bound for New York, and of finding a friendly taxicab
driver at the landing field instead of my wife.  The
driver escorted me about for several days.  I know little
of where I went or what I said and did.  Then came
the hospital with unbearable mental and physical
  "As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went
carefully over that evening in Washington.  Not only
had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever
against the first drink.  This time I had not thought of
the consequences at all.  I had commenced to drink as
carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale.  I
now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told
me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic
mind, the time and place would come--I would drink

42                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
again.  They had said that though I did raise a defense,
it would one day give way before some trivial reason
for having a drink.  Well, just that did happen and
more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not
occur to me at all.  I know from that moment that I
had an alcoholic mind.  I saw that will power and
self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental
blank spots.  I had never been able to understand
people who said that a problem had them hopelessly
defeated.  I knew then.  It was a crushing blow.
  "Two of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous
came to see me.  They grinned, which I didn't like so
much, and then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic
and if I were really licked this time.  I had to concede
both propositions.  They piled on me heaps of evi-
dence to the effect that an alcoholic mentality, such as
I had exhibited in Washington, was a hopeless condi-
tion.  They cited cases out of their own experience by
the dozen.  This process snuffed out the last flicker of
conviction that I could do the job myself.
  "Then they outlined the spiritual answer and pro-
gram of action which a hundred of them had followed
successfully.  Though I had been only a nominal
churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually,
hard to swallow.  But the program of action, though
entirely sensible, was pretty drastic.  It meant I would
have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the
window.  That was not easy.  But the moment I made
up my mind to go through with the process, I had the
curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was re-
lieved, as in fact it proved to be.
  "Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual
principles would solve all my problems.  I have since

                   MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM                  43
been brought into a way of living infinitely more satis-
fying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived
before.  My old manner of life was by no means a bad
one, but I would not exchange its best moments for
the worst I have now.  I would not go back to it even
if I could."
  Fred's story speaks for itself.  We hope it strikes
home to thousands like him.  He had felt only the first
nip of the wringer.  Most alcoholics have to be pretty
badly mangled before they really commence to solve
their problems.
  Many doctors and psychiatrists agree with our con-
clusions.  One of these men, staff member of a world-
renowned hospital, recently made this statement to
some of us:  "What you say about the general hopeless-
ness of the average alcoholic's plight is, in my opinion,
correct.  As to two of you men, whose stories I have
heard, there is no doubt in my mind that you were
100% hopeless, apart from divine help.  Had you of-
fered yourselves as patients at this hospital, I would
not have taken you, if I had been able to avoid it.
People like you are too heartbreaking.  Though not a
religious person, I have profound respect for the
spiritual approach in such cases as yours.  For most
cases, there is virtually no other solution."
  Once more:  The alcoholic at certain times has no
effective mental defense against the first drink.  Ex-
cept in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other
human being can provide such a defense.  His defense
must come from a Higher Power.