The Cause and the Cure of Alcoholism
WHAT causes persons to become virtual slaves of alcohol, even to the point of ruining their lives and the lives of their families?
Alcohol itself is not the problem. Unlike tobacco or heroin, it is not inherently addictive. The difficulty lies with the users. The factors involved are multiple. Yet they all point to a basic lack or need, and this, in turn, points to the real remedy.
Research shows that children whose parents are heavy drinkers are far more likely to be drawn into the same habit. On the other hand, a report from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare shows that alcoholism is low where there is “early exposure to small, diluted quantities of alcoholic beverages within a strong family or religious group,” and where alcoholic beverages are considered mainly as foods and consumed with meals.
Many persons who did not have the benefit of sound parental training regarding alcoholic beverages may get into danger owing to lack of knowledge. They may not realize that different beverages have different strengths as to alcohol content. Beer, for example, contains about 5 percent alcohol, most table wines from 10 to 14 percent, while fortified wines such as sherry and port contain from 16 to 20 percent. Distilled drinks (such as rum, gin, whiskey) contain from 40 to 50 percent alcohol. Even if individuals know this they may not realize that they take just as much alcohol into their system by drinking a sixteen-ounce bottle of beer as if they drank one and a half ounces of whiskey.
A person’s body size also generally has its effect—the larger one is, the greater the quantity of blood and number of cells and hence the more diffused the alcohol is on absorption. Yet, even though of the same build, individuals may differ tremendously, one being made dizzy by only a small quantity of alcohol while another feels little effect with double the amount. An empty stomach will allow the alcohol to be absorbed into the blood rapidly, whereas food slows down the process. And, since the body is able to eliminate alcohol at the rate of only about one third of an ounce per hour, the time between drinks also is a vital factor.
Associations play a strong role. If heavy drinking is viewed as proof of being a “real man” or as “smart” and sophisticated, there is pressure to conform. Young men and women often are initiated into heavy drinking in this way and fall into a pattern of “telescoped” drinking—periodically getting “high” at parties or Saturday-night drinking bouts. Gradually the drinking may spread over into more and more days of the week. The process may be deceitfully slow. Studies show that the making of an alcoholic takes an average of sixteen years in men, only eight in women.
In later life, personal circumstances become a principal factor. Family problems, marital difficulties, heavy debts, illness, disappointments, failures and the resulting mental depression—these are often the things that initiate the dependence on alcohol. Men in executive positions, or other work that involves stress and pressure, may become reliant on alcohol for a measure of relief from tension. Persons involved in selling and buying often use it to “oil” the wheels of their business associations. Men with monotonous jobs may spend their free time in seeking the synthetic fellowship to be found with workmates in a bar.
The modern increase in alcoholism is especially strong among women. In the United States about half the women alcoholics have experienced broken marriages and a third are married to alcoholics. Some have well-paying jobs but have found life less than satisfying, lacking in meaning. Those who have the role of homemaker may experience boredom or find the responsibilities of caring for small children burdensome. A housewife’s greater privacy from public attention may enable her to develop and conceal a drinking habit for some time. Hormonal changes accompanying the menstrual cycle may be all that is needed to trigger a spell of very heavy drinking.
WHERE THE SOLUTION IS TO BE FOUND
All these things point in a principal direction: people who become compulsive drinkers (unable to control their drinking habits) rely on alcohol to supply an emotional need. True, in time the cells of their body may become so adjusted to high concentrations of alcohol that cessation of drinking produces a violent reaction, and thus there is also a physical enslavement. The physical-enslavement point, however, would doubtless never be reached if emotional dependence had not come first. Yet alcohol solves no emotional problems; it only creates more serious ones. It is a false source of comfort, courage, fellowship, or escape from life’s problems. Only if persons recognize this can they find the real solution to their dependence on alcohol.
This brings us to the most difficult problem in effecting a cure for alcoholism. What is that? Getting the person to recognize that he or she really does have the problem. Yes, strangely enough, the alcoholic is often the last one to face up to the fact of his or her dependence on alcohol. A man may take a small drink in the morning, two or three at noon, another during the afternoon, another on arriving at home, and two more during the evening and still tell himself he is not an alcoholic. Only if for some reason he is deprived of his drinks and then undergoes the terrible reaction associated with delirium tremens may he be jolted into a recognition of his true situation.
The first step, then, in solving the problem is for the person to recognize his or her enslavement to alcohol. The Bible associates truth with freedom, and lies with slavery. (John 8:32; 2 Pet. 2:18, 19) The clerk who keeps a bottle in the bottom drawer of his desk, and the housewife who secretly works her way through a series of drinks each day, and yet who deny they have a problem, will never find the way to become free.
Then, instead of using alcohol as a personality “crutch” or emotional medicine, the person must look to the right source for satisfying the emotional needs he or she has. Companionship and fellowship should be sought with those who have a healthful outlook on life and a right attitude toward drinking. True, previous associates may mock you when you “do not continue running with them in this course [of ‘excesses with wine’ and ‘drinking matches’] to the same low sink of debauchery,” but whatever unpleasantness that brings you is well worth it in the escape from degradation that you gain.—1 Pet. 4:3, 4; 1 Cor. 15:33.
To make the cure effective, you need to ‘make your mind over,’ developing new and right standards of conduct. (Rom. 12:2) It is not enough to know that most persons disapprove of alcoholism or that one’s mate, children or relatives disapprove. Knowing God’s viewpoint is what can make the difference and give the determination and endurance needed for lasting success and victory over the problem. His Word assures us that drunkards will have no share in his promised Kingdom and the life-giving benefits it will bring.—1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:19-21.
Above all, one needs something genuine to put hope and faith in, a solid basis for confidence as to a happy solution to life’s problems. The Bible is the unique source that can supply these needs. Some circumstances in life are beyond our making any real change—certain cases of poor health, the general hardness of present world conditions and the daily pressures these bring—but the Bible shows that these things are not beyond God’s changing. That prophetic Word foretold the very things we now see and sets out the sure hope that “the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” This will come in a new order of God’s making that will bring this earth into a peaceful, healthful state for all those who love righteousness and truth.—Rom. 8:20-22.
Increasing numbers of persons have found wholesome companionship through association with Jehovah’s witnesses in their Kingdom Halls, have gained a solid hope for the future and learned sound principles for handling their day-to-day problems. Among them, there are many who have suffered from alcoholism and other equally severe problems, but who have now conquered these. All persons are encouraged to feel free and welcome to avail themselves of the Bible-based assistance they provide.