The "logic" of alcoholic addiction has puzzled psychiatrists no less than the "logic" of the strenuous spiritual regime whereby the organization Alcoholics Anonymous is able to counteract the addiction. In the present essay it is suggested:
(1) that an entirely new epistemology must come out of cybernetics and systems theory, involving a new understanding of mind, self, human relationship, and power;
(2) that the addicted alcoholic is operating, when sober, in terms of an epistemology which is conventional in Occidental culture but which is not acceptable to systems theory;
(3) that surrender to alcoholic intoxication provides a partial and subjective short cut to a more correct state of mind; and
(4) that the theology of Alcoholics Anonymous coincides closely with an epistemology of cybernetics.
The present essay is based upon ideas which are, perhaps all of them, familiar either to psychiatrists who have had dealings with alcoholics, or to philosophers who have thought about the implications of cybernetics and systems theory. The only novelty which can be claimed for the thesis here offered derives from treating these ideas seriously as premises of argument and from the bringing together of commonplace ideas from two too separate fields of thought.
In its first conception, this essay was planned to be a systems-theoretic study of alcoholic addiction, in which I would use data from the publications of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has the only outstanding record of success in dealing with alcoholics. It soon became evident, however, that the religious views and the organizational structure of AA presented points of great interest to systems theory, and that the correct scope of my study should include not only the premises of alcoholism but also the premises of the AA system of treating it and the premises of AA organization.
My debt to AA will be evident throughout—also, I hope, my respect for that organization and especially for the extraordinary wisdom of its cofounders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob.
In addition, I have to acknowledge a debt to a small sample of alcoholic patients with whom I worked intensively for about two years in 1949-52, in the Veterans Administration Hospital, Palo Alto, California. These men, it should be mentioned, carried other diagnoses — mostly of "schizophrenia" — in addition to the pains of alcoholism. Several were members of AA. I fear that I helped them not at all.
* This article appeared in Psychiatry, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 1-18, 1971. Copyright © 1971 by the William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation. Reprinted by permission of Psychiatry
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Alcoholism is something that can't be formed in easy terms. Alcoholism as a whole refers to the circumstance whereby there's an obsession in man to keep ingesting beverages with alcohol content which is injurious to health. The circumstance of alcoholism doesn't let the person addicted have any command over ingestion despite being cognizant of the damaging consequences ensuing from it.