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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington. Vol. 21, No. 8. 2nd July, 1958

Alcohol and Society

Alcohol and Society

Cartoon of three full beer mugs

"And Noah be often said to his wife when he sat down to dine, I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.
. . . But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned; on tipsy feet we trod
Till a great big black teetotaler was sent to us for a God."

With these words of Chesterton's Dr. Robb introduced us to the speakers at a recent panel held by the S.C.M. on the question of alcohol and alcoholism.

The first speaker was Mr. Proctor, a member of the National Society of Alcoholism. "The extraordinary thing about alcoholism," he said, "was that it would affect all and everyone with no respect for the person at all." It did not happen because people had weak characters or lacked willpower, or were lazy or shiftless; once they were smitten they were powerless and could not control it. We, on the other hand, were apt to condemn these people through our lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem. Alcoholism was a behaviour problem, he said—an illness with a psychological background. Once the first stage was passed the only end was in a mental asylum or suicide, unless the sufferer could be persuaded to seek help. The first step then was medical treatment followed by help from Alcoholics Anonymous, whose members are all cured sufferers. Their cure was a twelve-step programme based on a spiritual concept, for the sufferer is taught to realise that he must turn to powers greater than himself and must renew his faith every twenty-four hours. The National Society of Alcoholism, to which Mr. Proctor belonged, was set up to increase public understanding, establish information centres and work for better facilities for treatment in the way of clinics. Mr. Proctor also stressed the need for community help.

Colonel Bramwell Cook, of the Salvation Army then spoke. Five to six per cent. of the community were potential alcoholics, he said. Agreeing that alcoholism was a disturbance of one's personality, he said that most people had enough intelligence to flee to proven methods to free themselves from this problem — they went to prayer, their Bible, their Minister, and cultural interests. But six per cent, flew to lower instinctive ways and soon found that alcohol acted as an anaesthetic and softened their problems. "Then arises a fresh problem which is in turn solved by alcohol until the solution itself becomes a problem. As the alcoholic is not sick because he drinks, but drinks because he is sick, the continued drinking makes him doubly sick."

The problem that concerned us, Colonel Cook said, was how far alcoholism was a sin, how far it was a crime, and how far it was a disease. He himself considered that it had a sin element in the beginning since all transgression against the moral law was strictly sin, but that once the symptoms had gripped a person then it was a disease. Again he stressed the fact that unless the sufferer was "converted" the end was insanity or suicide. Any change would have to be a psychological conversion—a point at which there would have to be a complete change of personality with the sufferer coming in contact with a greater personality than his own.

The third member of the panel was Mr. K. T. Usmar, Secretary of the National Council of Licensed Trade. He declared that man was vested with his own rights of determination (Colonel Cook later said that this was a weak plea as the tragedy of alcoholism was that people began feeling they had control but soon found willpower was not the answer). He agreed that it was unfortunate for a person among the five or six per cent, who are potential alcoholics, and stated that his industry supported the efforts of both the Alcoholics Anonymous and the National Society. However, he thought that there was a policy of moderation in everything. There was a definite distinction between use and misuse, he said, and we should not allow emotionalism to overcome logic; nor should we confuse association with causation. Discussion was then adjourned over harmless cups of coffee.

(Slightly abridged.)

Cartoon of three full beer mugs