"We are equally positive that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop. The experience of any alcoholic will abundantly confirm this." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 22:4)The book Alcoholics Anonymous does not then instruct the reader not to take the first drink.
Instead, the next twenty-one pages or so are concerned with two facts:
"At a certain point in the drinking of every alcoholic, he passes into a state where the most powerful desire to stop drinking is of absolutely no avail. . . We are without defence against the first drink." (24:0, 24:1)It is for these reasons I never suggest that anyone in AA 'not take the first drink'.
"If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer." (44:1)
I, myself, have been ashamed of relapsing when I was new and seen countless people ashamed of relapsing, and have difficulty returning after a slip because of this shame, which derives from a failure to recognise powerlessness, from the belief that they have fallen short because they cannot follow the simple instruction, 'don't drink and go to meetings'.
To give someone an instruction they cannot follow, however much they want to and try to, is misleading and can set up a cycle of shame or guilt.
What I will say instead is this: I could not not take the first drink. I needed God, and I needed God quickly. I needed to ask God to come into my life and guide me, because where I would guide myself would, sooner or later, probably sooner, be straight to the off-licence or pub, regardless of the terror that gripped me when the compulsion arose.
I believe it is far more helpful to prophesy, as do Fred's sponsors on page 41, that your prospect will indeed drink again, at some unforeseeable time in the future, and then to place the Twelve-Step programme of recovery fully at his disposal, with no delay.
If alcoholics could consistently follow the instruction 'don't drink no matter what', the Big Book would stop at the top of page 23.
Going to meetings can certainly act as a channel for God's power in the short term, but, if the individual cannot not drink, actually getting to a meeting may become impossible, because, once the alcohol takes hold, the unmanageability (the inability to form and follow through sound intentions consistently) will mean that making the meeting ain't going to happen.
I believe it is much more useful to disturb alcoholics with the truth of their condition than to offer false hope by suggesting unfulfillable instructions. Yes, this has to be kept simple, but the simplicity is this:
"Buddy, if you're an alcoholic, you will drink again, unless you have a spiritual experience. If you want to have one, let me know, and I'll show you how."