Personal Views

Recovery is possible

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 14 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1560

Like a lot of doctors, I did not think much of people who misuse alcohol, and my experience of alcoholic patients during my medical training confirmed all my prejudices. They seemed to be pathetic specimens who lied and cheated, were violent, obnoxious, and aggressive when drunk and slobberingly repentant when sober. They might manage to dry out now and again, but they always relapsed and never got better.

My perspective, however, changed a lot once I discovered that I was an alcoholic. It did not happen overnight, of course—it took a great deal of pain and misery to bring me to that point. Having accepted my condition I feel strongly that alcoholism is an illness rather than a moral failing or a personality defect. By failing to recognise this we do our alcoholic patients an injustice, and often get in the way of helping them to recover.

I was lucky in many ways. My progression from normal drinking into full blown alcoholic drinking was fairly short, and I got sober before I had inflicted too much physical damage on myself, and before I had lost my home, my practice, or my relationship. I was also lucky in that, unlike many doctors who abuse alcohol, it never occurred to me to take …

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