It is rather generally believed that "causes" or "reasons" for alcoholism are to be looked for in the sober life of the alcoholic. Alcoholics, in their sober manifestations, are commonly dubbed "immature," "maternally fixated," "oral," "homosexual," "passive-aggressive," "fearful of success," "oversensitive," "proud," "affable," or simply "weak." But the logical implications of this belief are usually not examined:
If the sober life of the alcoholic somehow drives him to drink or proposes the first step toward intoxication, it is not to be expected that any procedure which reinforces his particular style of sobriety will reduce or control his alcoholism.
If his style of sobriety drives him to drink, then that style must contain error or pathology; and intoxication must provide some —at least subjective — correction of this error. In other words, compared with his sobriety, which is in some way "wrong," his intoxication must be in some way "right." The old tag In vino veritas may contain a truth more profound than is usually attributed to it.
An alternative hypothesis would suggest that when sober, the alcoholic is somehow more sane than the people around him, and that this situation is intolerable. I have heard alcoholics argue in favor of this possibility, but I shall ignore it in this essay. I think that Bernard Smith, the non-alcoholic legal representative of AA, came close to the mark when he said, "the [AA] member was never enslaved by alcohol. Alcohol simply served as an escape from personal enslavement to the false ideals of a materialistic society."110 It is not a matter of revolt against insane ideals around him but of escaping from his own insane premises, which are continually reinforced by the surrounding society. It is possible, however, that the alcoholic is in some way more vulnerable or sensitive than the normal to the fact that his insane (but conventional) premises lead to unsatisfying results.
The present theory of alcoholism, therefore, will pro-vide a converse matching between the sobriety and the intoxication, such that the latter may be seen as an appropriate subjective correction for the former.
There are, of course, many instances in which people resort to alcohol and even to extreme intoxication as an anesthetic giving release from ordinary grief, resentment, or physical pain. It might be argued that the anesthetic action of alcohol provides a sufficient converse matching for our theoretical purposes. I shall, however, specifically exclude these cases from consideration as being not relevant to the problem of addictive or repetitive alcoholism; and this in spite of the undoubted fact that "grief," "resentment," and "frustration" are commonly used by addicted alcoholics as excuses for drinking.
I shall demand, therefore, a converse matching between sobriety and intoxication more specific than that provided by mere anesthesia.
110 [Alcoholics Anonymous], Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, New York, Harper, 1957, p. 279. (Italics added.)
Was this article helpful?