Chances are better than fifty-fifty that you know someone who drinks too much. The National Council on Alcoholism estimates that at least one out of every ten people who drink in the United States suffers from the disease of alcoholism. That fact translates into ten million alcoholics! And less than five percent of them are on skid row. The other 95-plus percent have "skid row between the ears," but otherwise live and work at all levels of society. They are bankers, corporate executives, politicians, truck drivers, teachers, secretaries and housewives. They are your friends, your fellow workers, members of your family. And when one is a close friend, relative or mate, you suffer right along with the alcoholic. It isn't true that people with drinking problems hurt only themselves. Experience shows that at least four other persons are affected by the behavior of a problem drinker. He can't keep his problem contained within himself. It extends to his family, friends, fellow workers, and employers. What can you do? First, realize that the situation is not hopeless. People can recover from alcoholism. Effective help is available. The excellent program of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is available in hundreds of communities from coast to coast. A.A. claims its program has helped over one million people achieve sobriety. Here are some dos and don'ts to effectively deal with a problem drinker and steer him toward a recovery program.
• Learn about the disease of alcoholism and how to recognize the symptoms by reading the literature printed by health agencies. Alcohol ism is a complex progressive disorder that involves a physical and psychological dependence (addiction) on the drug alcohol. The alcoholic can't stop drinking once he's started, even though alcohol is destroying his life. Unless the nonalcoholic person understands the nature of the disease, he cannot deal effectively with a person suffering from it. Most people know little or nothing about alcoholism. And what they think they, "know" is probably mostly made up of myths and misconceptions. (Two excellent information agencies on alcoholism in the United State's are the National Council on Alcoholism, 733 Third Ave., New York, New York 10017 and the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol Information, Box 2345, Rockville, Maryland 20852) • Learn about the resources in your community for dealing with alcoholism. Ignorance of the resources available to treat the disease is as great as ignorance of the disease itself. Visit an alcoholic treatment center or an open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, a fellowship of men and women who help each other maintain their sobriety. Look into Al-Anon, an organization which deals with the problems of those who five with alcoholics. (In recent years more and more experts have come to realize that alcoholism cannot be treated as if it involved the alcoholic alone. It is a family disease and successful therapy must involve the entire family) • Discuss the situation with someone you trust — a clergyman, social worker, a friend — preferably someone who has experienced alcoholism personally or as a family member. • Remain calm, and be factually honest in speaking with the problem drinker about his behavior. • Let the problem drinker know you are reading and learning about alcoholism. Let him know where he can go for help. • Establish and maintain a healthy atmosphere at home, and try to include the alcoholic member in family life. • Explain the nature of alcoholism to the children involved. • Encourage new interests and participate in activities that the alcoholic enjoys — except drinking, of course. • Be patient. Live one day at a time. Alcoholism generally develops over a period of years. It can't be cured overnight. Expect and accept setbacks with perseverance and calmness.
• Attempt to punish, threaten, bribe or preach. Guard against "holier-than-thou" or martyr like attitudes. • Lose your temper and thereby destroy any possibility of helping. • Allow your anxiety to compel you to try to do what the alcoholic can only do for himself. • Cover up or make excuses for the alcoholic person or shield him from the consequences of his behavior. • Hide or dump bottles, or shelter the problem drinker from situations where alcohol is present. Such measures are self-defeating. Remember, the alcoholic is addicted to alcohol, and one way or another he will obtain the drug he craves. • Argue with an alcoholic when he is drunk. • Drink along with the problem drinker. • Ride with the alcoholic person if he insists on drinking and driving. Drinking drivers are responsible for 800,000 auto crashes and the slaughter of over 28,000 lives in the United States each year. • Accept guilt for another's behavior. In short, don't ignore the problem or be afraid to be involved. Do learn about alcoholism, guide the drinker to help, and support him in his battle with the bottle.