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The Road To Fort Worth

Read » Chapter 8: Danville

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 perspective.

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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