Alcoholism is not a dirty word

Alcoholism (al-ko-hol-izm), n. a diseased condition produced by alcohol.

Imagine if you were hearing your friends talking about you in a matter such as, “Hey, you know Charlie looks like he has diabetes”…or, “ I can tell that Chuck’s wife has leukemia”—and the people doing the talking aren’t doctors?

I remember back in 1952, when I was 12 years old, all the kids on my block were afraid of an elderly woman who lived next door to me. They used to throw rocks at her house, ring her doorbell and run, etc.

I couldn’t figure it out, although I must admit that I was scared to go near the house.

I asked around about it and was told: “Hey, don’t you know that the woman is a witch? She has Cancer! You get near her and you will get it too!” That’s the way it was with cancer in 1952, and that’s the way it’s been traditionally with alcoholism.

It’s a Disease

Alcoholism, like cancer or diabetes, is a disease. But unlike the disease of cancer or diabetes, it is quickly “diagnosed” and given a “prognosis” by non-medical and non-alcoholic persons.

And, unlike other diseases it is seen as an immoral, weak-minded, or weak-willed condition…” Hey, maybe I shouldn’t say this about ole Charlie, but he’s a (SHHH!) alcoholic…A dirty word.

Why has alcoholism traditionally been viewed in this manner? The answer may lie within the lack of awareness among many people in our society. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism have been plagued by stereotypes, misconceptions, folklore, and just plain myths.

These ideas have been perpetuated from generation to generation.

Ideas such as… “Hey, you keep drinking like that and you’ll end up on skid row like all the rest of those alcoholics” … “You just can’t trust him because he’s an alcoholic and doesn’t want to control his drinking” … “I sure feel sorry for him, his wife is a (again with the Shhh!) an alcoholic you know”…etc., etc.

These myths would keep us believing that alcoholics are people to be avoided, and “hey, you get around one and maybe you’ll get it too!”

The Body

Another area for consideration is in the insidious nature of the disease itself, as it is not solely physical.

One of my mentors, Father Joseph Martin, a renowned alcoholism consultant, termed alcoholism as: A disease involving the body, mind and spirit.”

The physiological progressive characteristics of alcoholism are symptomized through liver disorders, gastro-intestinal disorders and many other areas of the body. These symptoms are well known to physicians.

The Mind

The mind is affected in many different areas. One doesn’t have to be an alcoholic or psychiatrist to know that alcohol creates a “change in the mind.” Anyone that’s been drunk can tell you about change in time and space orientation, decreased motor coordination, slurred speech, etc.

The alcoholic not only has progressed through many of these psychological effects, but has perfected them to a normal pattern of living.

Partial/permanent memory losses, thought and speech impairment, etc…, become very real to the alcoholic and at times it is difficult to separate the physical from the mental.

The alcoholic also is compelled to use alcohol to cope and function with problems, which leads to the non-alcoholic’s questions: “Are the alcoholic’s problems a result of the drinking, or is the drinking the result of the alcoholic’s problems?”

The Spirit

The spiritual aspects of alcoholism do not necessarily, but may, indicate that the alcoholic drinks out of religious guilt. Spirituality entails value conflict, attitudes, decisions, choices, alternatives, interpersonal relationships, and many other facets of the individual’s totality.

The alcoholic ultimately appears to lose faith in themselves, in their fellow humans and what they conceive to be their God or “Supreme being.”

Alcoholism is not generally perceived as being a disease that can be cured, but it is arrest able. Sometimes, cancer or diabetes is seen like that too.

In summary, I don’t know anyone who consciously sets out to become a diabetic or cancer patient, nor do I know anyone who consciously sets out to become and alcoholic.

We really don’t know what specifically causes cancer, just as we do not know what specifically causes alcoholism. We do know that anybody who contrives either condition is in need of help.

Perhaps if we look at it from that angle we won’t be spending so much time looking at alcoholism as a dirty word.