Countless lives are destroyed every day due to alcoholism and drug addiction. The emotional damage and heartbreak brought about by addiction is beyond measure. Families are torn apart and broken, and careers are ruined over alcohol and drug abuse. Moreover, statistics have shown a strong correlation between alcohol and crime. The percentages of violent crimes committed under the influence of alcohol are staggeringly high. “. . . approximately 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking at the time of the offense. Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate reported that alcohol had been a factor.”1 Additionally, the percentages of violent crimes committed by those under the influence of drugs are disturbing high as well.2
What’s even more alarming are the non-violent crimes being committed by people every day as a result of irresponsible drinking. Tragically, many decent, intelligent, educated, rational people, who work hard and care for their families, suffer life altering consequences due to alcohol and drug abuse. Simply put, good people do stupid things under the influence. D.W.I’s or D.U.I.’s have negatively impacted and reshaped the lives of many otherwise law-abiding citizens. And alcohol or drug related car deaths have ended many promising lives, crippling countless families and their future generations. Nevertheless, despite all the evidence, warnings, and laws, people drink, drug, and drive. Indeed, bad decisions are made under the spell of intoxicants and illegal substances.
Just as distressing are the studies showing the significant role alcohol plays in college campus rapes. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, author Malcolm Gladwell hits the nail on the head. And quite frankly, I’ve never heard anyone outside the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous speak so insightfully, directly, and truthfully about alcohol.
. . . when you start digging through the case files of sexual assault cases [on college campuses], everyone’s always drunk. Really, really hard to find a sexual assault case where both parties were sober. . . on campus. . . . the old theory about alcohol was, Malcolm gets drunk, and as Malcolm gets a little tipsy, what you see is the real Malcolm. . . uptight Malcolm falls away, and. . . you see my true self. We no longer believe that, that’s nonsense. . . . when you drink. . . you basically get dumber. You’re cognitive faculties start to kind of shrink. . . you get myopic. . . . all that matters is what’s happening right at this very moment. . . . when I’m drunk, all thought of tomorrow falls away, all thought of consequences falls away. . . . you are not yourself. . . . it’s a formula for something super, super bad happening. And we’re not communicating that fact to kids. . . . There’s a sense that alcohol is a kind of harmless. . . it’s not harmless, it’s a dangerous, dangerous drug.3
Oprah responds, further revealing the ignorance and denial about the dangers of alcohol consumption.
And it’s so interesting too, that when surveys were done, and students are asked, what can we do to deter some of the sexual assaults on campus, people talk about everything other than drinking.(3)
Alcoholism has taken its toll on otherwise sensible people. Commonly, drinkers and drug users lean toward negative behaviors such as gambling, smoking, sexual promiscuity, and infidelity. Children and spouses are oftentimes neglected over the love for the bottle. No question, many of us are guilty of having a few too many and spouting off words that we later regretted saying. In spite of this, many know little or nothing about alcoholism or drug addiction. Oddly enough, this even goes for the alcoholic or addict as well. They typically don’t think they have a problem. And if confronted about it, would reject the notion for they truly don’t believe they have an issue, nor do they have a clue as to harm they are causing others. This may seem hard to believe, but, “Remember that we deal with alcohol — cunning, baffling, and powerful!”4
In the following, it is my hope to bring to light what is unknown and often misunderstood about alcoholism and drug addiction, and correspondingly, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). But before I proceed, I want to again make clear that I speak as an individual recovered alcoholic, not as an AA member or representative of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Firstly, I feel it is important to dispel a common misconception about AA. It is not a religion or cult. You don’t have to adopt or reject any belief system to practice its principles. One can be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, secularist, Yogi, or Buddhist, and practice AA’s Twelve Step Program. And although it may have been designed for alcoholics, anyone can greatly benefit from its wisdom and program. Which is why the Twelve Steps are also practiced in Al-Anon (a fellowship and program created for the families and friends of alcoholics), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), CA (Cocaine Anonymous), SA (Sexaholics Anonymous), GA (Gamblers Anonymous), OA (Overeaters Anonymous), and in many other groups. In the Foreword of AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, it states that ”Many people, nonalcoholics, report that as a result of the practice of AA’s Twelve Steps, they have been able to meet other difficulties of life. They think that the Twelve Steps can mean more than sobriety for problem drinkers. They see in them a way to happy and effective living for many, alcoholic or not.”5
In light of this, most of us, if not all of us, suffer from some form of addiction. “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer”6 (my italics). I emphasized the words drinking and alcoholic, for they can be replaced with any addiction. For instance; or if when gambling, you have little control over the amount you bet, you are probably a problem gambler; or if when eating cookies, you have little control over the amount you eat, you are probably a sugar addict. Addiction is addiction. Alcoholics have a physical addiction to alcohol. Heroin addicts have a physical addition to heroin. Sugar addicts have a physical addition to sugar. However, most of us suffer from multiple addictions, e.g., alcohol and drugs, cigarettes and sex, pornography and masturbation, gambling and prostitution, or any combination.
Just as often, will we see someone replace one addiction for another. For example, an alcoholic might quit drinking, but replace it with another primary addiction, be it marijuana or gambling. The sciences call this cross addition. In AA, they call it taking another seat on the Titanic. With that in mind, and in order to keep things simple, I want to employ the terms alcohol, alcoholics, and alcoholism with the implication that I am referring to all addictions.
Long before AA, my image of the alcoholic was a conventional one. It was the bum on the street, the wino begging for money, the down and out guy brown-bagging a pint of cheap whiskey. And although these are accurate images of the alcoholic, there are many others that are not nearly as obvious. Some manage big companies, others are successful entrepreneurs, and some are lonely housewives. In actuality, the image of the alcoholic is not an image at all. It is something other than that. It is someone who suffers from alcoholism.
This was revealed to me in the basement of church (where most AA meetings are held). As AA defines it, alcohol is but a symptom of alcoholism. Which means that when we remove alcohol from alcoholism, we are left with the ism. And this ism is why an alcoholic drinks, a drug addict uses, a gambler gambles, a shopaholic shops, and a workaholic works. An accurate acronym that defines the ism is internal spiritual malady.
Delving into the history of AA will help us gain a better understanding of the isms and this connection between addiction and spirituality. There is an exchange of letters between AA’s cofounder Bill Wilson and Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung which gives insight to this spiritual component of alcoholism. When this correspondence took place, AA was already well established and Bill’s long overdue letter was to acknowledge and express his gratitude to Jung. As it turned out, the advice and direction Jung gave his patient Rowland Hazard was the motivation and energy behind the beginnings of AA. Succeeding a relapse Rowland H. had (shortly after a year of treatment with Jung), Jung told him that he was unable to help him and that he should seek a spiritual solution to his alcoholism. But as he points out in his response to Bill, such talk or advice regarding spirituality was risky back then. In “. . . those days I had to be exceedingly careful about what I said. . . .thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. . . . His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in mediaeval language: the union with God. 1).” Jung’s foot note reads. . . “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. (Psalm 41,1).” Jung goes on to say. . .
How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days? The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is, that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path, which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of Grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Ro[w]land H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one. 7
Jung concludes his letter by saying “Alcohol in Latin is ‘Spiritus’ and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: Spiritus contra spiritum.” Which in this context can be translated as either high spirit over low spirit, God over the devil, or Higher Power over alcohol.
As for Rowland’s search, he found a spiritual experience and sobriety through a Christian organization called The Oxford Group (OG). As an OG member, Rowland extended himself to helping others. This included a drunkard by the name of Ebby Thacher, who through Rowland’s help was able to get sober. Ebby T. later carried this message to Bill W., who also achieved sobriety. And so, the stars were aligned. Bill met up with Dr. Bob Smith, a surgeon who was also a hopeless drunk, and helped him find a solution to his problem, where the Oxford Group could not. It turned out that Bill’s ideas about what he called the “disease” of alcoholism (which Bill learned from a Dr. Silkworth while being treated at hospital some time before) resonated with Dr. Bob. This notion and some of the principles and ideas of the Oxford Group were the impetus behind the creation, development, and founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.
AA has been growing strong since its inception. If not for AA and its Twelve Steps, thousands of men and women would have likely died alcoholic deaths. I am no exception. I couldn’t stop drinking or control my intake, although I tried for many years. I attempted drinking only beer at clubs and wine at dinner in the hopes of drinking less. I tried drinking only whiskey on weekends, with a two-drink limit, but the glasses grew taller and taller. Moderation was out of reach and I couldn’t seem to commit to quitting. That is, until I went to my first AA meeting. The speaker at that meeting shared his “experience, strength, and hope.” His story was my story. His pain was my pain. Up until then, as it turned out, I didn’t even know what an alcoholic was, much less truly believe I was one. But at that meeting I was convinced otherwise and I never picked up again. It was nothing short of miraculous. Be that as it may, it was only the beginning of my journey. . . .
- Author: Greenfeld, L A. Corporate Author: Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), US Dept of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, United States of America. Alcohol and Crime.
- Author: Dorsey, Tina L. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Drugs and Crime Facts.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. Interview. Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. Aired on the podcast Revisionist History. 18 September 2019.
- How It Works. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book, pp. 58–59.
- Step Ten, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 15–16.
- We Agnostics, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book, p. 44.
- Carl Jung’s letter to Bill Wilson. 30 January 1961.