These myths would be of interest to anyone involved with alcoholism – wives, partners, parents, children, adult children (co-dependents) and of course the alcoholic.
Myth 1: An alcoholic is the falling-down drunk on skid row.
Answer: Only three percent of alcoholics are on skid row. Those alcoholics on skid row are undoubtedly in the last stages of the illness. Most people with alcoholism are in the early and middle stages. They have families, they hold regular jobs, they may not appear to be any different from anyone else. The person with alcoholism may be an automobile mechanic, an officer of a large corporation, an actor, a salesman, a press operator, a stock clerk, a secretary, a housewife.
Clearly the disease of alcoholism is no respecter of persons.
About 80% Americans use alcohol and enjoy the relaxation it brings them. Unfortunately about one in fifteen of theses develops the disease of alcoholism. This disease eventually causes premature death or insanity unless it is treated. But it is a slow progressive illness and often requires five to twenty years before its victim becomes unemployable or incapable of being a responsible employee or housewife.
Myth II: Alcoholics are hopeless drunks.
Answer: Nothing could be farther from the truth. While there is no known cure, alcoholism can be arrested with proper treatment. Fifty to seventy percent of employed alcoholics who receive treatment recover and lead normal lives. For example, the businessman and the doctor who founded Alcoholics Anonymous were once considered by their friends to be “hopeless drunks”. Instead, they demonstrated that alcoholics are anything but hopeless. And the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, through which hundreds of thousands have received help, offers dramatic proof that people with alcoholism can recover.
Myth III: Alcohol is the cause of alcoholism.
Answer: The exact causes are still not known despite continuing research. However, it is known that alcohol by itself is not the only cause. If it were, then there would be 1 alcoholic for each person who drank alcohol.
We can draw parallels with another disease whose cause we do not know– cancer. Some people develop cancer, others do not. Similarly, some drinkers develop alcoholism, others do not. Like cancer. in another way, alcoholism can be treated and the chance of recovery is better in the early stages.
Myth IV: Alcoholics could recover if they had enough will power.
Answer: Recovery from any serious illness requires a strong will to live. This is not what we mean when we talk about will power. People do not recover from illnesses by simply resolving that they will stop being sick! They can resolve to go to the doctor. That can help. They can resolve to follow the doctor’s advice. That can help. They can resolve to follow through with any kind of treatment that is necessary. All theses things can help in their recovery from the illness.
Actually, most people with alcoholism have a great deal of will power. For example, the person who has a responsible job and serious case of alcoholism. By sheer will power he gets to work in the morning on days when with any other illness he would stay home in bed. After a bender he gets up in the morning with butterflies in his stomach and suffers from “the shakes”. Somehow he gets shaved without cutting himself too badly, has a shower, puts on his clothes, and takes a bit of the “hair of the dog that bit him” the night before. The nip of alcohol quiets his shaking nerves enough so that he can get a cup of coffee and a slice of toast to sit in his stomach. Then he goes off to work and somehow gets through the day even though he may feel terrible. This is not the picture of a man lacking will power.
Instead, it is a picture of a conscientious man who wishes to keep up appearances — a person who is suffering from an illness and does not know that he can get treatment for it. Like most people, he believes the myths about alcoholism being a moral problem.
Myth V: Alcoholism is a self-inflicted moral problem
Answer: Some people are ready to admit that alcoholism is a disease — but then maintain it is a “self-inflicted disease”. This is a pretty silly idea if you look at it carefully in the light of what happens with other illnesses. Being overweight may help bring on a heart attack. Yet, we never say a fat person’s heart attack was self-inflicted. Most people have had the experience of mission sleep and fatiguing themselves, and then catching a cold. Again, no one says that the cold was “self-inflicted”, even though, with sufficient rest, they might not have caught the cold. Thus if we say that alcoholism is “self-inflicted”, we also must admit that many other illnesses are “self-inflicted”. In addition, we do not speak of any disease itself as being a moral problem.