Whilst alcohol does not force itself down ones throat, we live in a society where the vast majority of people drink. For most, it will cause no graver problem than the occasional hangover. However, for the one in ten who become alcoholic, it will utterly destroy their lives. It is impossible for anyone to know in advance who will become an alcoholic and the person affected rarely comes to an understanding of his situation until it is too late. Alcoholism affects all sections of society. An alcoholic is no more responsible for their condition than a cancer sufferer is responsible for theirs. Alcoholism is a progressive and ultimately fatal illness for which there is no cure.
On the physical side, when an alcoholic takes a single drink a craving develops and he is unable to stop drinking until he passes out. In the later stages of the illness alcoholics will need to drink almost 24/7 to satisfy their craving. Willpower is of absolutely no use. Once this stage has been reached it is very dangerous to stop drinking without medication and supervision. The sufferer may experience delirium tremens, fits or heart failure - one in ten will die during detox without medical care.
Once the alcoholic is detoxed, psychiatric treatment is needed. He is utterly obsessed with alcohol. The illness tricks him into believing that he does not really have a problem. Within a few weeks or months most will drink again. The cycle of abstinence and binge continues ad infinitum. The belief that one day he will be able to drink 'normally' is the great obsession of every alcoholic. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death. Without ongoing treatment on a regular basis for the rest of his life the alcoholic will always return to drink. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous offers the best chance for recovery.
I am writing, not as a medical professional, but as a recovering alcoholic. I realise that it is a very difficult illness to understand for those who are unaffected. Ignorance in the general population and more worryingly, in some sections of the medical profession and the judiciary, is another obstacle the alcoholic will have to overcome in recovery. NHS provision for the treatment of alcoholics is virtually non-existent and private treatment starts at around £5,000. It is a sad indictment of our society that I am alive today simply because I was able to pay for the treatment I needed; thousands die each year simply because they cannot. If the provision of cancer care were dependent upon ones ability to pay there would be a public outcry, and rightly so. The fact that treatment for alcoholism is allocated in this manner is no less of a scandal.
I strongly urge anyone who thinks they have a problem with alcohol to contact AA without delay. You are not at fault and can get better. Recovery will be the hardest thing you ever do but will utterly transform your life.
To those of you who still think alcoholism is a matter of will power, I urge you to try applying will power next time you catch a cold and see how far you get!