Alcohol has been around since the dawn of time, or at least since the Stone Age. Even the Neanderthals, who weren’t dummies, knew the benefits of alcohol, albeit like fire, probably by accident. The discovery of beer jugs from the late Stone Age (cave man empties), established the fact that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early 10,000 B.C. and may have existed before bread was considered a staple of life—so beer was the best thing before sliced bread. Why did they call these guys Neanderthals? The Egyptians obviously knew the enjoyment of a good buzz, too, as wine appeared in their depictions sometime around 4000 B.C. Even Jesus turned water into wine. Alcohol has been historically a source of nutrients and used for medicinal, antiseptic, and analgesic purposes and its abuses are noted throughout history.
Fast forwarding to the 19th century, the Victorians, in the 1860’s, defined alcoholism as a continued excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drinks;poisoning by alcohol; and a chronic disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction. The word alcoholism was actually first coined by Swedish physician Magnus Huss in 1849, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the name was more widely used and recognized.
In 1935 two chronic alcoholics, who could not stay sober on their own, started unwittingly, the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. New York stockbroker Bill Wilson and Ohio doctor Bob Smith, met in Akron, Ohio and through their stories of their experiences, strengths and hopes they were able to stay sober and to help other alcoholics.
Throughout the country, and eventually the world, AA would grow. Each AA group would be autonomous and the only requirement to join would be an honest desire to stay sober; that’s it. It is that simple. They say getting sober is not easy, but it is simple; just stay away from one drink, one day at a time.
Elvin Morton Jellinek, a New England doctor, was the first to classify problems seen in chronic alcoholics. His stated that, “Alcoholics are those excessive drinkers whose dependence on alcohol has attained such a degree that it shows notable disturbance or an interference with their bodily and mental health, their personal relationships and smooth economic functioning or who show signs of such a development.”
The American Medical Association currently uses the word alcoholism to refer to a particular chronic primary disease; however, some critics in the medical field balked at calling it a disease. Coupled with that and the fact that there is no physical or mental differences between someone who drinks habitually and an alcoholic, it is often hard to detect. Hopefully, the following will help define it further.
Alcoholism is a three-fold disease, illness, disorder, or whatever you want to name it, that is centered in the brain and affects alcoholics physically, mentally and spiritually. The key to crossing the line from a social drinker to an alcoholic, if there really is a line, is the unmanageability of your life. A man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink and then the drink takes the man, and then…all bets are off.
As far as the three-fold aspect, let’s start with the physical part of the disease, which is actually quite literal. This is when the alcoholic physically ingests alcohol. The body then, in turn, physically starts to crave it. It now becomes a physical addiction, a compulsion. Most people, even alcoholics, when they have a hangover they ride it out, however, most alcoholics do not;some will have a little of the hair of the dog, as they say. Some alcoholics will even reach a point that when after they finish vomiting, from drinking too much, they will continue to drink. If you touch a hot stove and get burned, do you touch it again? The body ends up craving the alcohol, the sugars that are in the alcohol, and needs to have it. The body will also build up a tolerance to alcohol and more is now needed to sate the craving. Alcoholics, when faced with the dilemma of no alcohol, will drink whatever is available such as cough syrup, mouthwash, grain alcohol or anything else that would give them a quick buzz or quell their cravings. I heard of one guy who was once hooked on the nitrous oxide found in aerosol whipped cream topping (you know, whip cream in a can.) He was pulled over by the police one night and had a back seat full of “empties.”Try explaining that one.
Next is the mental obsession. This is the mentally craving of alcohol. The alcoholic ends up chasing the drink. It becomes an obsession and they think about alcohol, a lot, and how,how much, and when and wherethey can get it. Take a walk inside an alcoholic's mind for a minute. It can start out slowly or you can be off to the races from the very beginning. For example; some people in their teen years drink only on the weekends and then they can’t wait for the weekends. At some point they start drinking on Thursday nights to get “primed for the weekend.” Then when they get out of the constraints of school or have more independence they drink any night, sometimes every night. This is not to say that all alcohols drink every day. Some do, some don’t. Some are daily drinkers and some are binge drinkers, it all depends on how they control their drinking, and once you have to put controls on your drinking, you have lost control.
Now comes the spiritual part and not spiritual in the sense of religion, although it can, but as in the loss of their God, the loss of their spirit, the loss of their values, or all three. They lose the values that had been instilled into them as a child or a young adult; like, the seven deadly sins or simply, the laws of the land. It can be as simple as never taking a drink in the morning, and then drinking in the morning. It might be that they never thought that they would steal, or even the ultimate, killing someone, whether voluntary or involuntary, and then the unthinkable happens. The end is always the same though, that’ll never happen to me. Then it does. Now I’m not saying that every time an alcoholic drinks he gets in trouble, but it is safe to say that most of the time when an alcoholic gets in trouble, they had been drinking.
There are many routes that the alcoholic will eventually take; they may get incarcerated at one of many institutions out there, such as jails or mental hospitals. They may end up in a cemetery, not dying in a blaze of glory, put usually in a car accident or in pool of vomit, or they will end up living among us; the walking dead, helpless and hopeless. Living a miserable life, hand to mouth, and it will be a drink or a drug in their hand.
However, if they make the conscious decision or are blessed by the grace of God, Allah, Buddha, or whomever, and quit drinking, they should follow some steps to recover, but they should always remember that they will never be perfect. Progress should be what one strives for. Some alcoholics stop drinking on their own and some of them might stay sober and maybe some of them will live a good life; but, for most alcoholics a twelve step program is the only way to truly get the most out of life. There are no guarantees, but the chances are better than not. In the end, to have a life second to none, you need only to admit that you are an alcoholic and that your life has become unmanageable, that you are powerless over alcohol and that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.
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