Some Causes of Alcoholism

Part II of our look at the effects of drinking alcoholic beverages.

By GRACE CLIFFORD HOWARD, Staff Member, American Temperance Society

Through ages on end man has been drinking alcoholic beverages. Not all who drink become alcoholics, even though they drink a great deal, while others very definitely develop the dread disease of alcoholism.

When was intoxication from alcoholic bev­erages first produced? No one knows. That mo­ment is hidden far back in the days of little-re­corded history. The first Biblical reference to an intoxicated person is regarding Noah, who became drunk after the Flood. He had planted a vineyard, and become intoxicated from the fruits of it—first agriculture, then wine intoxi­cation.

So long as man was a nomad, he could not produce wine from grapes, because the raising of grapes necessitated agricultural practices. And yet alcoholic drinks were produced very early in history from grass (as in India), and also from milk. Even where there was no set­tling down to agriculture, man was able to pro­duce alcoholic beverages.

But there were certain prerequisites even to these early drinks. One was a slightly warmed liquid of some depth which had some sugar content,' and was exposed to the yeast germs which floated about in the air and acted as cata­lyzers when they came to rest within the liquid. All this necessitated a receptacle of some depth, so man first had to fashion a deep dish before he learned of the nature of intoxication.

The alcoholic content of these early bever­ages was not high. Even when the material used to produce the drink was grapes, the alco­holic content did not go higher than fourteen per cent. Beer contained even less alcohol—from two to five per cent. Many centuries after Noah the process of distillation was discovered, and with this discovery came "hard liquors," with an alcoholic content sometimes as high as fifty percent.

Why should such a deadly thing as an alco­holic beverage have been permitted in this world? The following quotation gives a most interesting answer:

"Satan gathered the fallen angels together to de­vise some way of doing the most possible evil to the human family. One proposition after another was made, till finally Satan himself thought of a plan. He would take the fruit of the vine, also wheat, and other things given by God as food, and would convert them into poisons, which would ruin man's physical, men­tal, and moral powers, and so overcome the senses that Satan should have full control. Under the influence of liquor, men would be led to commit crimes of all kinds."—Review and Herald, April 16, 1901.

What ends did man hope to gain in drinking alcoholic beverages ? A flight from reality, from the boredom of life, a release from tension, a drowning of the pricks and annoyances of life (as well as its sorrows), a gaining of a sense of importance. The temporary answer to all these needs (and many more) is found in al­cohol. No drug or any other substance offers so quick a release from reality as alcohol. It is the effect of alcohol, rather than its taste, that is enjoyed. Today, surrounded with ten­sions greater than this world has ever known before, we think it not strange that thoughtless people are accepting escape via alcohol more and more readily.

In the developing life of the infant he early discovers that the whole world is not his apple. He finds that other people have to be consid­ered, that there are certain things he cannot have, and that punishments follow when he tries to take them. He learns also that there are many things which he must not do. He be­gins to learn the process of inhibition. As he grows older he finds life is full of inhibitions ; and when he learns this, it often causes tension to develop within him.

All personalities do not react alike to tension, because some are not so well integrated as others. Dr. E. M. Jellinek has made some dia­grams to represent various types of personality. These consist of cleverly arranged circles. He represents the well-integrated personality by concentric circles, and says : "In this well-or­ganized personality, any shock coming from out­side is equally distributed and does not cause any undue stress on any component element of the personality, but is carried by all its parts as an equal burden, that is, as a minimum burden. Under severe conditions the normal personality may sometimes become slightly disturbed and the circles may not be quite concentric, but not to a degree of crossinc, each other. Further­more, the tendency will be to return quickly to the concentric pattern. [ See Figure 3.1]

"There may be then various degrees of less well-integrated but by no means abnormal personalities, and these may be denoted by a smaller or greater de­parture from the concentric pattern. [See Figure 4a.1 If some stress from outside disturbs these patterns there may be a tendency of the circles to intersect, at least temporarily, and in the case of the pattern [in Figure 4b], there may be some difficulty in untangling the intersecting circles, in returning to the original status.

"Then there are the personalities which are so poorly organized that some or all of the circles in­tersect. The neurotic personality may be represented by a pair of intersecting circles [Figure 5], and the psychotic personality by a fully intersecting system of circles [Figure 6].

"When a temporary intersection of circles occurs, as in the less well-integrated normal personalities, or when the permanent intersections exist, as in the neu­rotic or psychotic personalities, the stresses coming from the external or internal environment place the whole burden on such an intersection and the function­ing of the personality breaks down conspicuously."—Alcohol, Science, and Society, pp. 24, 25.

The greater the degree of disorganization, the less the personality is able to tolerate the stresses of life. Such a person looks for com­pensations and props. It is possible that alcohol may be this compensation, but this is not always the case. An "escape mechanism" of some sort is resorted to—an escape from the reality that such personalities dread. They feel inadequate to meet the situations which life presents, and so they run away, sometimes by the route of alcohol.

Disorganized personalities supply forty per cent of compulsive drinkers, Dr. Jellinek says. Here is a definitely diseased personality. It is possible, however, for the person with even slightly irregular circles, through social drink­ing, to learn that alcohol smooths the way for him—makes him less tense. Repeating experi­ence after experience, he uses more and more alcohol until he is definitely depending on this narcotic to resolve his problems for him. He, too, in time, may become a compulsive drinker, a diseased personality. According to Dr. Jelli­nek, "it is justifiable to speak of all compulsive drinking as a disease, but it is not justifiable to say that All compulsive drinking originates in disease." Dr. Robert Fleming, well-known Bos­ton psychiatrist, says that anyone, given a suf­ficient quantity of alcohol over a long enough time, will become an alcoholic.

Early child training seems to loom large as a factor in making the well-integrated person­ality, or the weakling who later becomes an al­coholic, depending on whether this training is wise or faulty. Mothers, nurses, and school­teachers, largely responsible for the training of the child in these formative years, are more to blame than they realize for many of the al­coholics who have cumbered this earth.

"What a sacred trust is committed to parents, to guard the physical and moral constitutions of their children, so that the nervous system may be well bal­anced, and the soul not be endangered ! Those who in­dulge the appetite of their children, and do not con­trol their passions, will see the terrible mistake they have made, in the tobacco-loving, liquor-drinking slave, whose senses are benumbed, and whose lips utter falsehoods and profanity."—Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 568.

Many an alcoholic can trace the beginnings of his disease to the training of his early years. Johnny learns that if he cries hard enough, he gets his own way. Later, if he teases long enough, he finds that his overindulgent mother will give in. Grown into a spoiled child, Johnny expects that if he implores it hard enough, the world will give him what he wants. He does not realize that things are gained by working, not by teasing. When the world refuses his demands, he runs away from his disappointment via alcohol.

Any great sorrow or disappointment in life, any frustration, may be at the base of alcohol­ism in the poorly integrated personality. Here, again, it is the desire to escape from reality which furnishes the drive toward intoxication. The introverted personality, quite as much as the spoiled child, is an easy victim for alcoholism. He drinks to expand his ego—to feel as important as anyone else. In reality, he prob­ably has a bad inferiority complex. Here is a personality lacking normal integration.

Dominating wives quite literally "drive their husbands to drink." How to deal with the dominating wife of the alcoholic was discussed at length recently by a group of ministers who were considering the alcohol problem. One said that he changed the psychology of the wife, and then all was well in the family. He maintained that the alcoholic with the weak personality turned toward the stronger personality of the dominating woman when looking for a mate. The minister explained that he showed the wife how important it was that the husband should be the one who made the plans and insti­gated family action. He taught the wife to suggest ideas in such a way that the husband thought he was the one who initiated such plans. Where the wife could do this the problem of alcoholism often disappeared.

In still other cases alcoholism may be a symptom of approaching insanity. Conversely, insanity, or psychosis, may develop because so much alcohol is used.

There is no given set of characteristics whereby the alcoholic may be labeled or discovered. It is impossible to foretell who will become an alcoholic among a group of persons just beginning to drink. Alcoholics are as divergent in their personalities as are other people. There is no definite alcoholic personality, but all drinkers are alike, in that alcohol has become a problem to them. Many want to resolve the problem. The person who wants to help the alcoholic probes kindly, carefully, but thoroughly until he finds the cause of the drinking. When this can be brought out into the light, when the alcoholic can see what is causing him to drink, the first step toward abandon­ing alcohol may have been taken. Sometimes simply resolving this condition results in the end of drinking.

The next article will point the way toward helping the alcoholic in his struggle to break the bonds of his habit.

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By GRACE CLIFFORD HOWARD, Staff Member, American Temperance Society

February 1948

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