Some modern research amplifies our alcoholic need for grace. It shows that “alcoholic men, even when sober, …still have impaired balance, which has implications for broken hips in older age and other potentially life-threatening health problems such as a decline in mental abilities,” according to Edith Sullivan, an associate professor and researcher at Stanford University.
Circumstances are worse for women alcoholics, who often suffer more than we men do. The “part of the brain that does thinking, the cerebral cortex, is more affected in women alcoholics than men,” reports Daniel Hommer, a National Institute of Health researcher. MRIs of alcoholic women that he studied showed “up to an 11-percent loss in brain matter and size, compared to healthy female subjects and to men.”
These researchers affirm what this blog has already demonstrated—that we alcoholics damage the hardware of our brains. But do these impairments also contribute to our so-called alcoholic thinking or addicted personalities, which could be described as our brains’ software? Stanton Peele, Ph.D., categorizes this view of alcoholism as “the diseasing of America by recovery zealots.” Other experts disagree. They argue that addicted thought exists, that it does great harm and it contributes to relapse.
Foremost among these experts is Abraham J. Twerski (a rabbi, psychiatrist, chemical dependency counselor and author) who wrote the classic book, Addictive Thinking. Another is Danny M. Wilcox, who captures our alcoholic-styled distortions in his 1998 book, Alcoholic Thinking (The latter includes insightful, third-party descriptions about how AA meetings help to correct our alcoholic thinking and behaviors). A third author, Gerald G. May, M.D., offers precise, psychiatric explanations for how addicted thought functions:
Addiction attacks every part of what Freud called our ‘mental apparatus.’ The attacks seem focused on two primary areas: the will, which is our capacity to choose and direct our behavior, and self-esteem, which is the respect and value with which we view ourselves. Addiction splits the will in two, one part desiring freedom and the other desiring only to continue the addictive behavior. The internal inconsistency begins to erode self-esteem. How much can I respect myself if I do not even know what I really want?
AA literature has long held that damage we do to our alcoholic brains results in mental illness—an “insanity”—about which AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions cautions:
Few indeed are the practicing alcoholics who have any idea how irrational they are, or seeing their irrationality, can bear to face it. Some will be willing to term themselves ‘problem drinkers,’ but cannot endure the suggestion that they are in fact mentally ill. They are abetted in this blindness by a world which does not understand the difference between sane drinking and alcoholism. ‘Sanity’ is defined as ‘soundness of mind.’ Yet no alcoholic, soberly analyzing his destructive behavior, whether the destruction fell on the dining-room furniture or his own moral fiber, can claim ‘soundness of mind’ for himself.
Similarly, once we as alcoholics accept that brain damage and addicted thinking are a reality in our lives, then most of us share four common goals in recovery—regardless of our gender, age, race, creed or life circumstances:
- Reverse the damage we have done, both to our brains and to our thinking.
- Restore our minds, emotions and bodies to a healthier state.
- Learn new, constructive ways to behave and live.
- Avoid relapsing into alcoholic drinking and/or thinking.
Such total mind-body-soul recovery involves a great deal of time and effort. For that reason alone, people with addictions “deserve sympathy and support, even when they relapse,” according to Harold C. Urschel III, M.D., who contends:
We don’t condemn a diabetic for having a sugary dessert or forgetting to take his or her medicine; we don’t revile the person with hypertension who gains weight instead of losing it…. We are understanding, in spite of the fact that people with critical diseases such as diabetes, asthma and elevated blood pressure often do neglect to follow their doctors’ orders. Less than 50 percent of patients with these diseases take their medicines as prescribed, and less than 30 percent comply with lifestyle changes recommended by their doctors. The relapse rates for these three illnesses … is 40-60 percent a year. And these frightening statistics are for people who do not have a chronic brain disease! … Why should we treat addicts differently, and so much more harshly, than we do other people with chronic illnesses? …Unfortunately, we do treat addicts differently. We beg, plead, nag and … bully them into improving their ways, which is about as helpful as ordering a diabetic kidney to work better.
Comparably, this new blog chapter will explore, with medical realism akin to Urschel’s, recovery topics such as spirit-based miracles, advances in neuroscience, Learn.Genetics, intercessory prayer, medicine paired with spiritual healing, relapses and new anti-addiction medications, humility, forgiveness, unmerited grace, plus AA’s fourth and fifth steps….
Copyright © 2009 by Randall E. Greene