If I could recommend only one book to gain a comprehensive understanding of alcoholism, I would recommend Under the Influence. There are so many myths associated with alcoholism it’s truly amazing, and I’ll bet that the average person who reads this book will be astounded at how much they learn. This book will likely astound even healthcare professionals who think they understand alcoholism.
Even in Alcoholics Anonymous there are still old-timers who tell new-comers to eat something with sugar in it to kill the craving for alcohol. Not a good idea, and the book will tell you why. One reason there’s so much misunderstanding regarding the myths and realities of alcoholism is our definitions. Most people call all problems related to alcohol either alcoholism or alcohol abuse, yet the two are different in fundamental ways.
A “problem” drinker might not be an alcoholic. Alcohol is selectively addicting. About 10% of the people who drink become alcoholics, and that’s based on physiological factors that aren’t present in 90% of drinkers. The “problem” drinker might simply misuse alcohol when things are going wrong. The alcoholic drinks when things are bad, good or indifferent. The alcoholic drinks because he/she gradually becomes physically, mentally and emotionally dependent on alcohol.
You’ll never understand the alcoholic until you understand alcoholism itself. The reality of alcoholism doesn’t excuse the alcoholic of all actions under the influence, but it does explain a lot, and when the alcoholic is treated and understands alcoholism then the person is responsible to do something about the condition. Understanding alcoholism is not about excuse making, it’s about learning how to treat or deal with alcoholism — it’s about what works and what’s counterproductive or deadly harmful.
Society can continue to look down on alcoholics as moral weaklings, failures or irresponsible jerks, but this will only compound the problem. More importantly, though, is what the alcoholic understands about his/her drinking. Regardless of what society thinks of alcoholism, the alcoholic must know the truth if recovery is to ever happen.