The second chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly known as the Big Book) is titled “There Is a Solution” yet talks a lot about the nature of alcoholism itself. Even so, AA founder Bill Wilson could not have covered everything there is to say about the alcoholic’s condition within a single chapter. This is perhaps why he used “More About Alcoholism” to fill in some of the gaps. This third chapter is somewhat longer than the chapters that precede it, but it is also highly engaging due to the many stories used to illustrate Wilson’s points.
With so many stories being used as examples, “More About Alcoholism” has the potential to lose some readers by the end. Every story contained within “More About Alcoholism” is worth remembering, but it is hard to commit them all to memory in a single sitting. We are not saying that the Big Book should be read once and then discarded, but we do believe that many addicts and alcoholics would benefit from the lessons contained within this chapter. Those who believe that alcoholism and drug addiction are different diseases may see that some of their own behaviors are strongly reflected in the stories that Bill tells of various alcoholics and their struggles.
This is a long chapter, and we highly recommend that you read its full version in the Big Book. But with that said, this reading guide will attempt to cover the most important stories from “More About Alcoholism” and the lessons that these stories might have to teach you. We feel that, if you have been following our articles, you already know quite a bit about alcoholism and addiction. As such, the stories will comprise the bulk of the content covered in the following article.
The Man in Retirement
The beginning of “More About Alcoholism” contains a rather important quote:
The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.
In this one passage, “More About Alcoholism” establishes the reasoning behind AA’s abstinence-based program. The Big Book then challenges anyone who does not agree with this notion to go ahead and try some controlled drinking, and to see how they are affected when (or if) they stop abruptly. They commend anyone who can pull it off, but they also express great doubt that anyone will be able to attempt this feat.
The story of the man in retirement illustrates this point rather well. It begins with a man at the age of 30 who drinks in the morning to quiet the hangovers from his nightly binges. Upon seeing what this did to his career, he decided to stop and remained sober for another 25 years. He entered retirement at the age of 55, believing that his quarter century of sobriety was proof enough that his alcoholism had been cured once and for all.
Unfortunately, it was only two months before the man found himself hospitalized. Within four years, his drinking finally killed him. This man’s story is one that has since been repeated by countless addicts and alcoholics who entered sobriety for a time before jumping headfirst off the wagon and back into their old habits. Many also repeat this story from “More About Alcoholism” by attempting to quit drinking through sheer self-will alone. This seldom works. More importantly, it seldom lasts. We know one patient who stayed sober for six months without any form of treatment or support program, only to hit the bottle harder than ever on month seven. This is not to say that absolutely nobody can accomplish sobriety through self-will. A rare few, such as Kelly Osbourne, have even managed to return to normal drinking. But look closely, and you’ll discover that these are very rare exceptions to the rule.
“More About Alcoholism” demonstrates that there is a lasting need for relapse prevention, even years into sobriety. Remember that emotional disturbances come in the form of highs as well as lows. If we convince ourselves that everything is going well and that we are at no risk of relapse whatsoever, then we will let our defenses down and put ourselves at greater risk of making the wrong decision. Too many people have stories of relapsing while in long-term sobriety. Don’t become one of them.
The Whiskey in the Milk
An early section of “More About Alcoholism” states:
Here are some of the methods we have tried [to control our drinking]: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums—we could increase the list ad infinitum.
They could indeed increase the list, as “More About Alcoholism” continues to tell the tale of a man named Jim.
Jim was a good man with a good family, but drinking made him occasionally violent. For this reason, he sought AA. But much like the man in retirement, he decided one day that he did not need to remain sober. He went to a roadside eating establishment, a place he had visited many times in sobriety. But this time, he decided than an ounce of whiskey would be acceptable if mixed into a glass of milk. He knew intuitively that this was not a smart move, but the fact that his stomach was full seemed like assurance enough. Of this story, “More About Alcoholism” states:
Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity. How can such a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight, be called anything else?
Jim already knew the consequences of his drinking, yet he returned to his habits anyway. “More About Alcoholism” compares this type of behavior to a person with an addiction for jaywalking. They know that what they are doing is dangerous, but they continue nonetheless. They are eventually injured, yet still they continue. Eventually, after ignoring several warning signs, the jaywalker suffers a debilitating (and possibly fatal) spinal injury when walking in front of a fire truck. The addict or alcoholic often follows a similar train of logic, continuing to do what they have promised to stop doing, believing that no harm will come to them. Until, of course, they are proven wrong.
The Story of Fred
The final story contained within “More About Alcoholism” is that of Fred. This story is told after a concession that normal drinkers who occasionally overdo it are not the same as alcoholics. In fact, this particular story of “More About Alcoholism” appears to exist for no other reason than to demonstrate the difference between normal drinkers and alcoholics. If you have encountered a similar story through your use of drugs and/or alcohol, it should not be too difficult to identify which of these categories describes you best.
Fred was much like Jim, a happy family man who has achieved a fair bit of success. Fred believed that his drinking was normal, but that he occasionally overdid it. As such, he refused to take Step One. When the disease of addiction was described to Fred, he saw how it might relate to his own experiences. Even so, he believed that he had the willpower to quit on his own. While Fred was a smart man, he found that his own reasoning failed him in this sense, and he decided that he had learned enough from his negative experiences to begin drinking like a normal person. During a business trip in Washington, he drank several cocktails and eventually flew to New York before spending several hazy days of drunkenness in a cab. When he awoke, he had no idea where he had been or what he had done.
This was enough to convince Fred of his alcoholism. But for many, it could have been too late. He could have run out of money, could have said the wrong thing to the wrong person, or done any number of things that would have resulted in injury, legal issues, or death. He finally saw that he did not control his addiction to alcohol. After jumping back on the wagon, he had this to say:
“My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.”
Fred’s story is much like the other stories in “More About Alcoholism” in that it describes a man who felt like he was not alcoholic, only to realize the true nature of his condition long after he had racked up several consequences. Fred and the others mentioned in “More About Alcoholism” had to hit rock bottom before they could accept who they were. Toward the end of the chapter, “More About Alcoholism” states:
The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink.
Our logic and our reasoning will only takes us so far. But those of us who suffer from alcoholism and addiction will often make grave mistakes if we do not accept the true nature of our disease. If you have tried to solve the problem on your own and have failed time and time again, we urge you to contact us for information about treatment. But we truly hope that you will never fall to the same depths as those mentioned in this article. Accept their cautionary tales for all they have to offer, and make the right decision. Seek help today.