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Posted by on Jun 22, 2008 in Health | 2 comments

The Personal Tragedy And Challenge Of Alcoholism Progression

How insidious a disease is alcoholism? Everyone knows by now that it can destroy lives and is hard to cure, but some lose sight of the ways in which it snowballs and grows — often when the person who has it doesn’t realize the extent of what’s going on.

A MUST READ for everyone comes from Dean Esmay (even for those who have clashed with Dean on the Internet over the years). It’s too important to be taken out of context, so here are only a FEW quotes and it MUST be read in full by everyone. In fact, show it to a young person after you read it:

One of the most insidious things about the disease of alcoholism–and it is a disease, despite the best efforts of thundering moralists to deny the science and the plain medical and biochemical facts–is that it plays on your character defects (which all people have) and, worse, it progresses slowly. Biochemically, it’s known to generally progress faster in women, for a variety of reasons that are understood (women are generally smaller, with consequent lower blood volume on average, and may also be able to conceal drinking better if they’re stay-at-home moms) and some of which undoubtedly are not currently understood.

What’s also well-documented about the disease, even symptomatic, is that the alcoholic will occasionally under go “dry spells” where they “prove” to themselves and others that they’ve got the problem “under control” by just not drinking, or by moderating their intake. I myself had such a dry spell 3-4 years ago, where I went about 100 days without drinking, trying a few meetings and then giving up on them because I hated them–the ones I got to were mostly pity-parties, which is one of the negative things you see at some AA meetings. I also did a lot of reading on alternative approaches, and tried some of them with mixed levels of success.

Dean then does what he does in his posts: he bluntly gives it to you between the eyes, except in this case he’s giving it to himself between the eyes. Here’s what he writes after detailing his first attempt to ditch alcoholism:

[W]hat I do regret is that I did go back to drinking, with firm intention never to get out of control again.

But, as is yet another symptom of the disease, I soon was back pretty much where I’d left off. What is quite typical of the progression, which typically takes 3-10 years in women and 5-15 years in men (or so I was told in the hospital last fall), is that you go through periods where you don’t drink at all, or where you convince yourself that you’re moderating successfully. You have instances where you do indeed don’t-drink, or succeed in your goal to drink less. But you don’t notice that the times you fail are increasingly more frequent than the times you succeed.

He reviews his personal history in some detail then writes this:

Then around 2003 or so I had stomach surgery that is now known to tend to aggravate alcoholism in some people. I can see why. It caused alcohol to hit my system much faster than in normal people. Yet at the same time, strangely, my capacity went up. You can see why that was a disaster. From 2003 to about 2005, my progression went from slow to extremely rapid, aggravated both by physical factors and severe isolation and career/school stresses. It also made me a bear to live with, and my then-wife struggled to deal with it, usually valiantly. I quit for a while on my own, but the obsession wouldn’t leave, the factors making me miserable didn’t change, and so I went back, and took up almost exactly where I left off.

No matter what, the disease gets worse and worse, and no matter how much you convince yourself that you’re getting better, you’re not getting better at all. You convince yourself that the problems you’re having, most particularly in your personal life, are the fault of everything and everybody (including yourself) except for the one thing that’s really aggravating everything: the alcohol.

This is only a small part of the highly personal and insightful post which is today’s MUST READ and MUST be read IN FULL by all readers.

Alcoholics Anonymous

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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • jdledell

    Life for an alcoholic is exactly what Dean described. I should know – I am one. With the help of G-d, my family and AA, I have not had a drink in 10 years. I wish alcoholism were a more open public topic in Blogs. There are a lot of problem drinkers out there who, if they could read a description of an alcoholic’s life, would see themselves. The first important step in turning a life around. For those who believe Jews can’t become alcoholic (I heard this more times than I could imagine) I am testement that it that is an old wives tale.

  • StockBoySF

    Thanks, Joe. It’s important to educate and remind us all about this disease. Most people think that alcoholics can just stop drinking and all problems are solved it’s not that simple.

    Just to help others understand alcoholism a little more… As an analogy, let’s say someone wants a new car so badly they can taste it, but it’s out of their price range. Most people can summon the willpower to not buy a car that will bankrupt them. It’s not the same for an alcoholic. While willpower is extremely important in overcoming alcoholism, the disease is so pervasive in all aspects of one’s life that it’s impossible to overcome without help.

    To illustrate with a car analogy (and if drinks were cars), then an alcoholic would buy a car, then another and another. Eventually the alcoholic would lose his house because he couldn’t make house payments. And the alcoholic might choose to become homeless so he would have more money to buy yet another car. If you tell the person, the car buyer, that they had a problem, that person would say, “I don’t have a problem because I wanted to buy three cars in the last month but kept myself from doing so and I only bought one today. Therefore I don’t have a problem.” If you think that’s bad, with drinking the effects are even worse and go further because the alcohol destroys the body, mind and spirit on a physical level. (See the chart Dean’s post links to.)

    The worst part of the disease, I suppose, is that it is progressive and it takes years before alcoholics finally admit they need help. The recovery is lifelong, particularly in a society where virtually every occasion, office parties, marriages, 4th of July events, etc. serve alcohol. The alcoholic has to be ever vigilant against temptation because it only takes one drink to completely fall off the wagon.

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