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Alcoholic Anonymous Meetings

"Alcoholic Anonymous Meetings, AA DOES Work! "
copyright 2011, all rights reserved

by Toby Rice Drews
author of the "Getting Them Sober" books

There have been many books and "programs" over the decades since A.A. was started, that have tried to say, in various fashions, that "A.A. doesn't work" or that "A.A. is not for everyone" or that instead of alcoholism being a disease, it is a "behavior that can be just dropped".

I certainly would love it if people just outgrew their alcoholism rather than it being a fatal and progressive disease, that left untreated, leads to death or insanity. (On this note, please read the best scientific book on this subject, "Under the Influence", by James Milam).

But about these issues----- a.) A.A. is over three million strong in the U.S...... it is always amazing to most of us who work in the field of alcoholism when we hear people claim that A.A. doesn't work for people who try it!

It is true that only 2 out of 34 alcoholics ever reach the rooms of A.A. -----but once they do, the recovery rate is 75%.

Half the persons who get to A.A. stay sober from day one, and another 25% eventually get and stay sober after relapses, if they keep coming back to the rooms of recovery. It would be wonderful if it were true that many more people than that actually get and stay sober by themselves or through other means!

The problem with much of getting sober through other means is that alcoholism is a very patient disease....... and it is progressive.

As I've discussed in much more detail in an earlier "recovery tip of the month", getting sober through a fundamentalist church often doesn't work because after getting dry, and being saved, most fundamentalist churches then tell the alcoholic that he or she is no longer alcoholic....... and when an alcoholic hears that, he usually does not hear "and therefore you no longer have to drink again"...... he hears, instead, in his heart of hearts, that he is able to drink "normally" again.... which usually leads to his or her doing just that----- drinking again.

Of course, that "normal" drinking is no longer possible.

Once an alcoholic, the body cannot process alcohol the same way as "normal" people, and then the alcoholic is off and running ----- at the same stage of the disease as when he stopped drinking.

Most of us in the field of alcoholism, including myself, personally have known scores of people that have unfortunately tried this course and have died tragically and unnecessarily.

b.) What about people who "just stop"? Ask any alcoholic ----- he'll tell you he can stop anytime! The problem is, as most recovering alcoholics say, they can "stop anytime-----the problem is staying stopped!"

Why is it so difficult to "stay stopped"? The problem is the protracted withdrawal syndrome....... at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, and 36 months, there occurs what is called "withdrawal"..... these withdrawal times cause biochemical cravings in alcoholics to drink again..... And it is often subtle----- the cravings often don't appear as blatant "let's drink" messages to the brain.

They most often appear as depression, rages, terrible fears, etc....... and the alcoholic, after years and years of drinking, reverts to his/her usual method of wanting relief....... drinking. At these times, the oldtimers in A.A. tell the new people to go to lots of meetings during those times, and "it will pass"..... and it does.

When I get calls for counseling and the spouse tells me that her husband "went back to drinking" after being sober for quite a while, I ask her if it was during any of those time periods....... and invariably, the answer is yes. And invariably, she tells me that he was not in A.A., but "did it on his own"...... and that the family all thought that he was "doing fine", and cannot understand "what happened". What happened was the protracted withdrawal syndrome.

The Lancet-- the journal of the British Medical Society-- reported that a very extensive study was done with hundreds of volunteers who were all recovering alcoholics who were each sober 2-1/2 years. They extracted spinal fluid from each of them, and in all of them, they found remaining cells of alcohol.

Is this withdrawal merely a state of mind?

In the central nervous system of the alcoholic, when withdrawal occurs, the cells actually change shape ----- from their normal circular shape, they become box-like in shape, with the four corners looking like they have tentacles reaching out.

c.) Why do people need to keep going to recovery meetings when they have years of sobriety? Two reasons -----

1. to help others who are new...... we have a short time on earth and we are here to be of service and help others..... not to just "get ours".

2.) to be constantly reminded that they have this disease. Why? Because this disease constantly tries to tell the alcoholic that he does not have this disease. And if he is "out there" by himself, he will probably eventually listen to it, and drink again-------thinking he is "five years sober and therefore doesn't have a problem with drinking anymore!"

OF COURSE alcoholics report that they "can get sober anytime by themselves!" OF COURSE alcoholics who drink again tell people that they aren't "really drinking!"

There seems to be a "magic time" of at least five years without drinking -- and doing it without getting any help -- that is a benchmark for alcoholics to drink again. When they reach that five-year mark, oftentimes, they really start to believe that they have "beat it" and that they can "drink normally" again, without getting drunk. And many of them do just that for awhile, but then, the progression of the disease takes over.

d.) What about alcoholism being a "fatal disease" that leads to insanity or death? According to the National Institute on Mental Health, dementia is roughly divided into three parts---------dementia from alzheimers, dementia from what is commonly called "senility"-- and dementia from alcoholism, which accounts for far greater numbers than from alzheimers. And what about the deaths?

My own father drowned when I was 12 years old, because he fell into the bathtub drunk, with all his clothes on, but the death certificate certainly did not mention alcoholism. It seldom does.

When I was writing "Getting Them Sober, volume 3", I detailed the 350 secondary diseases/disorders to alcoholism, but I also interviewed experts about the various denials and misunderstandings that are prevalent. Here is part of my interview with James Milam, author of "Under the Influence" ---- Milam -- "Organs and systems malfunction for various reasons. Alcoholism may be one, if not the exclusive, reason when they do. Often, it's one of the major factors.

"Most diseases have borderline stages as well as full-blown manifestations. Alcoholism very often is the one factor that pushes a "tendency" to have the disease over the edge into a full-blown manifestation.

"Epilepsy is one example. Many people are borderline epileptics. Under normal circumstances, they never manifest the disease. But during even mild alcoholic withdrawal, a borderline patient may go over the edge. Many patients on Dylantin in active alcoholism never need it after sobriety. "Virtually all the other diseases have borderline degrees, except when alcoholism pushes them over.

"I am asked, "what if I take vitamins? Can I stop or ward off the effects of alcoholism?" "The effects of alcoholic drinking are so powerful -- one is in such a chronic toxic state -- it cancels benefits of proper vitamins, jogging, and nutrition. A very watchful-of-his-diet alcoholic just slightly slows the deterioration.

"It's not what gets into your gut that counts -- it's what gets into your bloodstream. Your liver, etc., is constantly fighting to survive the chronic toxic attacks. Also, the cells cannot properly process their own waste materials, and they, therefore, are awash in their own toxins. Nutritional supplements have a very slight effect on this.

"Early researchers studied skid-row alcoholics and found malnutrition. They thought it was due to their poor diets. But, as private patients became available for study, they found the same results.

"Alcoholism seriously interferes with EVERY stage of absorption, conversion, and utilization of nutritional materials.

"So, the entire body is really toxic AND malnourished-- therefore, is less able to ward off these diseases. The liver swells, to try to contain the toxins, so that they don't spread to the rest of the body. The liver is the major organ that has the job of controlling and converting toxins to waste materials. A liver that is THAT polluted doesn't have the capacity to do much else..... i.e., its normal work, in getting rid of toxins, in warding off diseases."

e.) What goes on in the brain that necessitates alcoholics needing a lifelong program of recovery, rather than be able to "go it alone" to recover -- as opposed to what one can do with getting off cigarettes, where people may need 'the patch' or hypnosis, or a short-term support group?

First of all, of course cigarettes are highly addictive. It is one of the shortest-acting drugs out there. Heroin's effects last about 4 hours. The usual hits of heroin needed by an addict are 2 to 3 hits a day. Cigarettes' action last only a few minutes on the brain. So the cigarette addict needs the 20 hits or so from one cigarette, times 20 cigarettes in a pack -- so, 400 hits to the brain a day times 365 days a year, if one smokes a pack a day. Makes it a very hard habit to break.

But -- nicotine does not give the same medicating effects as alcohol. Alcohol interferes with the inhibitory process of the entire front part of the brain -- the forebrain. And nicotine does not.

This 'inhibitory process' of the forebrain is the part of ourselves that tells us to live life properly on life's terms -- tells us to give to others, not be selfish, obey authority, be faithful in marriage, delay self-gratification -- to live by life's and nature's and God's rules. So, after years of alcoholic drinking --

(1.) one needs years for forebrain and central-nervous system repair. During this time, the person is still "foggy" (the A.A. oldtimers tell newcomers that it takes 3 to 5 years to "come out of the woods"). This also means that in that healing process, the alcoholic needs a lot of guidance (hence the need for A.A. sponsors) to re-teach him/her how to not only live, but tolerate, living life on life's terms.

(2) one still has a very patient lifelong disease that keeps telling the alcoholic that he/she does not have the disease ----- hence, as I said above, the alcoholic still needs to go to A.A. to be reminded that he/she indeed has alcoholism and cannot successfully return to drinking.

Recovery Communications, Inc. • P.O. Box 19910 • Baltimore, MD 21211

Phone: 410-243-8352 • Fax: 410-243-8558 • e-mail:
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