Saturday, 31 May 2014

Hard drinker or real alcoholic?

The book Alcoholics Anonymous helps to distinguish. Around the bottom of page 20, top of page 21 is a section that distinguishes between the moderate drinker, the certain type of hard drinker, and the real alcoholic.

It should be noted that the hard drinker and the real alcoholic look pretty similar when they are drinking (messy, sloppy, a little bit out of control!), drink far too much, and cause major consequences, which could kill them.

There are two differences, however. Your two diagnostic criteria are:

(1) When they have a sufficiently strong reason (impending or actual destruction of career, marriage, etc.), do they stop (albeit requiring help), or do they invariably start again, to the bafflement of everyone around them and despite their previous good resolve?

(2) When they have the first drink, do they trigger a personality change, and an unstoppable juggernaut of out-of-control drinking, pretty much every time they drink?

I have met many people who have stopped drinking for good or cut down, because they decided to. If you can stop altogether, a peculiar reaction when you drink becomes irrelevant, because drinking ain't gonna happen.

I have also met people who cannot stop but do not get the peculiar reaction when they drink. They are a bit of a nuisance and always a bit merry or a bit morose when you meet them in the evening, three sheets to the wind, but essentially everyone else can work around it, as they can CHOOSE when they are going to go on a real bender and when they are going to keep a lid on it.

No, the real alcoholic has to have both components to qualify.

Cf. page 44 of the Big Book ('Alcoholics Anonymous'):

'We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. 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.'

The interesting feature is that when the alcoholic is of the 'start-again-no-matter-what' type, this is because the drinking is not the problem—it is the solution to the underlying profound separation from the true self, from others, and from God. Until this is sorted out, they WILL drink again.


'Whether such a person can quit upon a non-spiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not.' (Page 34.)

Footnote: in certain parts of the world, everyone who suffers consequences from drinking or drinks even a little too much is herded into AA. Many such people are perfectly capable of staying sober without having a spiritual awakening. A bit of re-education and re-socialisation is perfectly sufficient. They do about 10% of what AA has to offer but stay bafflingly sober.

The problem comes when such people are confronted with an alcoholic of the 'start-again-no-matter-what' type: they just cannot understand why their 10% does not work with this baffling newcomer.

They say 'do not drink, not matter what', believing that the instructions of other people and willpower are sufficient to stay sober. They do believe this, as such instructions and such willpower were sufficient for them. They can then get angry with people who drink again, saying, 'he obviously does not want it enough'.

No, it is important to find someone in AA, therefore, who qualifies for AA the way you do, or you may get advice which works for them but will not work for you.

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