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The Road To Fort Worth
The Difficulty In Diagnosing Early Stage Alcoholism
Alcoholism was recognized as a disease by the
American Medical Association in the 1950s. Prior to that time,
many people viewed alcoholics as having a weak moral character.
The AMA's classification has helped to ease the social stigma
attached to the disease and opened the door to the evolution of
therapeutic techniques and facilities to treat the disease.
In its early stages, the diagnosis of alcoholism is problematic
because it does not present clearly observable physical
pathology. Therefore, it is not measurable, quantitative,
although, it is highly observable from a behavioral
Unlike the victim of other diseases, the alcoholic, in general,
does not seek or want treatment. The usual model of early
detection, early cure does not apply. In fact, there isn't a cure
for alcoholism, only remission through abstinence.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease that can be best seen as
lying on a continuum from teetotaler, to user, to abuser, to
problem drinker, to functional alcoholic, to all but hopeless
alcoholic. There are individuals who have abused alcohol that
moderate their drinking or abstain completely and do not become
alcoholics. Once someone has crossed the line into alcoholism,
there is no reversal of the disease.
One characteristic that sets alcoholics apart from casual users
is that the alcoholic invests an immense degree of importance to
alcohol once they've started drinking. For some, alcohol is more
important than family or a job, and they protect their supply to
be able to continue drinking. Denial of their problem leads to
more drinking, and it's unlikely for many that they would ever
stop unless something got in their way.
Intervention is one method of helping the alcoholic. It is a
meeting of the people who are most important to him or her and is
designed to confront the alcoholic's denial of his disease. The
goal of intervention is to convince the alcoholic to enter
treatment. Often, someone skilled in intervention techniques will
lead the group because confronting a person's denial system is
difficult to do without training. A failed attempt could further
alienate the alcoholic. Sometimes the intervention is in the form
of a court order to enter treatment after a DUI or other crime
has been brought before the judge.
Father Joseph Martin, a pioneer in treatment, defined alcoholism
simply when he said, "Whatever causes problems is a problem."
This ended the debate in some circles over the definition of
alcoholism. If a drinker has problems as a result of his
drinking, whether it's his health, relationships, his job or
criminal problems, then the solution is to find help. In his
lifetime, Father Martin helped thousands of alcoholics with his
pragmatic philosophy, a message carried in part by his film
"Chalk Talk," a thorough discussion of the disease centered
around his illustrations on a green chalkboard. He realized that
some people require treatment to begin their recovery in
Alcoholics Anonymous, the program that works the best for the
most, as he put it.
It has been said that AA is a simple program for complicated
people. AA's founders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, discovered that they
could stay sober a day at a time by sharing their stories with
each other and by helping other alcoholics who still suffered. I
have found the 12 steps to be flawless in concept. Millions of
people have now been able to stay sober by not picking up the
first drink. How many people with other diseases would trade
places with the recovering alcoholic if they could do so with the
simple, but often difficult treatment of not picking up a drink
one day at a time?
Copyright ©2012 Michael Jackson Smith
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