Who Is An Addict? by Mrs. Marty Mann, Executive Director, National Council on Alcoholism, New York via Silkworth
I am talking about all the old-fashioned concepts with which all of us who are
adults grew up, whether we remember them or not: that alcoholics were
primarily some kind of moral delinquent, moral leper (excepting that they are
trying to get that “leper” out of our thinking, too, and call it by its proper
name); that these were people who, if they chose, could be different; that
they were deliberately this way, that they had no regard for anyone but
themselves. In fact, I have heard wives of alcoholics who said, “Oh, yes, I
know he is sick and all that, but why does he do this to me? Why does he
behave this way? Doesn’t he love me? Doesn’t he care about his family?”
Well, of course he does. He is in the grip of something that goes beyond his
power to control. He has lost control over drinking, and because of this, he
has lost control over his behavior.
Actually, non-alcoholics, if they get drunk, lose control over their behavior.
They can behave just as badly as the alcoholic. The main difference is that
they don’t do it consistently over and over again with increasingly frequency
over many years.
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Who is an Alcoholic?
We have a definition at NCAA that we use, that we think is a pretty good
working definition, and it developed right out of the experiences of AA, as to
who is and who isn’t an alcoholic.
We say the alcoholic is someone whose drinking causes a continuing problem in
any department of his or her life. The assumption is that the person who
drinks too much on occasions, if it develops into a problem, will not want the
problem and will, therefore, take action about it because of the problem. They
either cut down their drinking, or they will cut it out for a while. The
alcoholic would like to do the same thing, but the alcoholic is totally
unable; it is impossible for the alcoholic to cut down on his or her drinking.
This is the nature of alcoholism.
In fact, it is the nature of the test that also grew out of AA’s experiences,
and which I incorporated in my book. I don’t believe any true alcoholic can
pass this test: the limiting of drinks to not more than three on any drinking
occasion, even if it is daily, over a six-month period. Every alcoholic would
love to be able to do this. I have never heard of a real alcoholic who could
pass that test.
Actually, in my original Primer, I had three months, and there were a handful
who managed to pass it. They didn’t say how awful it was, and how
uncomfortable it was. And in the book I point out that this should be a
comfortable process. It should be comfortable to limit your drinks. You may
not like it, you may be on many occasions with people who are drinking too
much, and you would like to go on, but if you are taking this test, if you are
attempting to find out whether you have alcoholism or not, you will be more
comfortable not drinking more than your three because you want to pass the
In other words, it is a possible thing for a non-alcoholic to do. It is not a
possible thing for an alcoholic to do. That is why it is a continuing problem
that is caused by drinking.
We also make a point of that last half, “in any department of his or her
life.” You know AA has had a phrase which has proven very useful in AA, but
has been widely misinterpreted outside of AA, and even within, by some people
– hitting bottom.
The general picture in the non-alcoholic world in which we live, of alcoholics
hitting bottom, is literally that they instantly conceive of somebody who is
in the gutter, who has lost everything, lost everything materially,
intellectually, morally, has just lost everything – this is hitting bottom.
Well, actually in the very early days of AA, that was about right. Certainly
when I went in, and there were just a handful of us, nobody had a dime; we had
all lost everything materially. Nobody had much of anything else. A few still
had their wives, but most didn’t. And only one had her husband, I being that
one. The second woman did not have a husband. The third one still had her
husband, and this was a miracle – we didn’t believe it – because while wives
sometimes stick to the alcoholic, husbands rarely do.
Younger People in AA