Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol or a mind-altering substance – that our lives had become unmanageable.

People often refer to step 1 as the most important. The fact remains, if you have not taken any step in its entirety, you will fail. Miss one, you miss them all. Another critical requirement is you need to be committed to lifelong progress and honestly dedicated to that ideal. “because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort.” (Anonymous 1939 p 26). If you are not enthusiastic and looking forward to your new life and all the work that “lies ahead”, then again you will not make it (Anonymous 1939 p 83). Willingness is “indispensable” (Anonymous 1939 p 76). Alcohol or your drug of no choice, however, is the great persuader (Anonymous 1939 p 48).

Historically newcomers were taught to listen, consider, respect, regarding power, choice, and control (Peter G. UK, personal communication). Nowadays newcomers are told to “listen for the similarities rather than the differences”:

He is male (tick); he breathes (tick); he’s lost his driving licence (tick); he has two arms and two ears (tick); he drinks larger (tick)… None of the aforementioned are qualifying attributes that discriminate you as being a real alcoholic or drug addict.

When I was actively drinking, I used to go out and spot the alcoholic. It was that guy over there throwing up; it was that woman falling asleep on her barstool; it was that fella tottering about and falling over; it was the guy who wet his bed; it was the woman who fouled her underwear; anyone but me. I had a preconceived idea of what an alcoholic was, and it was not me. I was 100 percent wrong.

In my informative months in Alcoholic Anonymous (AA), I realised that my previous conception of what an alcoholic was had to be “cast to one side” (Anonymous 1939 p 27). I also needed to know if I was, or if I was not, a real alcoholic. If not, I was not going to hang around AA for long. I looked at step 1 and wondered what powerless meant. Had I not stopped drinking for days albeit very hard at first? Had I not gone to meetings and tried to understand what was on offer? I was confused by the mixed messages I heard with no clear definition of what alcoholism was nor how powerlessness manifested. How could I have stopped if I was powerless? Some members thought they were powerless only when they picked up the first one. Others could not answer my questions satisfactorily but claimed years and years of sobriety. Some people came back in from drinking, exclaiming they had it this time. Had what?

My idea of what alcoholism was or how powerless manifested was irrelevant. It seemed plain to me that I cannot admit to being powerless over alcohol unless I fully understand what it is to be powerless.

The only definition of alcoholism and powerlessness that matters is described in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (Anonymous 1939). People are welcome to have other definitions outside of AA but not whilst claiming AA membership.

I would never dream of going to a Christian church with a self-written version of the New Testament and say to a group of people:

“You lot come over here and start learning this.”

And yet, we tolerate this type of behaviour in AA every day of the week. We then wonder why people die and numbers dwindle… None of this is rocket science.

If the above irks you, I urge you to read the long form of tradition 3. It states: “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover” (Anonymous 1930 Appendix 1C, p 563). From this, we learn that our members ought to be suffering from alcoholism and be willing to recover the AA way by taking the 12 steps. Otherwise, we can refuse them. That is how I understand it and fail to see any other way of interpreting it. One could argue that the word “include” implies that other people are welcome, however, the tradition then clarifies its meaning by the words “so we may refuse no one who wish to recover”. You cannot recover from alcoholism if you do not have it.

That in mind:

What exactly is alcoholism and how does powerlessness manifest?

Below I will endeavour to explain powerlessness and alcoholism using exclusively the testimonies of real alcoholics most of which are contained in the Big Book. Not the stories at the back, but generally the contents of Bill’s Story, chapters two and three with reference to other passages. That means the Doctor’s Opinion will not be included.

On page xiii, The Forewords to the First Edition, the opening sentence reads: “WE, OF Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” Page 20 reads: “we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body.” (Anonymous 1939 p xiii; p 20). This is our first clue, the thing that these people have recovered from was a hopeless state and it had something to do with their mind and their body. Not as others will lead you to believe today, something to do with they are feeling.

There are two “either/or propositions” made at the top of page 44. “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely (mind), or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take (body), you are probably alcoholic.” The first describes an example of when you have made promises to never use drugs or drink alcohol again and you find yourself relapsing. It is clear, something happens to the alcoholic to make it impossible for them to make a firm decision to never touch another drop and stick to it (mind). The second proposition describes when the alcoholic commences drinking, they are unable to reliably control their intake (body).  

Any confusion is introduced by the suggestion that you can have either of these phenomena occur, and that qualifies you as being alcoholic. However, the book then clarifies if you experience either of these: “you are probably alcoholic”. Thus implying, it is a good indication but not a definitive diagnosis. We shall later fully understand the “trap” of alcoholism and realise both the above components “mind and body” occur in people who are real addicts or alcoholics. 


How does hopelessness of the body manifest? Doctor Silkworth suggested that the response of the body was an allergic reaction. This is another erroneous but well-intentioned observation made by the good Doctor. In those days science did not know what an allergy was and did not understand why it occurred.

Science has since recognised that an allergic reaction is one mediated by the immune system. Essentially, it is an overreaction to a substance to which the immune system has been previously sensitised. The immune system mounts a defence in such an extreme manner, that it leads to anaphylaxis with potentially fatal consequences (Reber et al 2017). This is not the reaction that occurs in alcoholism nor the reaction non-addicts and non-alcoholics may also experience. Yes, both non-alcoholics and addicts can experience the reaction of the body in what appears to be an identical way to real alcoholics or addicts.

The first drink I ever had in a public bar was at 17 years old. I did not know what to order so ordered cider, I promptly drank seven pints, vomited, then wanted more. This is an unusual reaction to alcohol that was there from day one. Neither I nor other people know if this reaction of the “body” can also be acquired over time and still qualify you as having a hopeless body (Anonymous 1939 p 39). The science says that you can drink your way into having a hopeless body (Speece 1987).

Scientist think they have explained alcoholism. In precis, the interaction of beta-endorphins and tertrahydroisoquinoline (THIQ) combined with the by-products of ethanol digestion, namely acetone and acetaldehyde, promote craving and a state of euphoria. The deposition of THIQ in the brains of chronic drinkers and heroin users, explains why alcoholics and abstinent heroin users, after the first one, drink like alcoholics (Speece 1987). However, science only explains one aspect of alcoholism. It is plain therefore the reaction of the body can be acquired by chronic drinking for many years; someone drinking their way into a non-alcoholic dependency. My abnormal reaction and hopeless body were there from the first proper drink. To remain objective, we cannot draw any conclusions from this. The discriminating factor, therefore, is the aberration of the mind that only manifest in those with alcoholism, real addicts, and alcoholics.

All that is required for chronic heroin users or drinkers, who are not real addicts or alcoholics, to remain abstinent is decide to never pick up the first drink or drug again. Simple! No steps, no Higher Power, no action required. One of the problems currently in AA is that these people have been told they are real alcoholics or drug addicts and are the physical and vocal majority. They have been told that by other people like them. In AA and most 12 step fellowships, including Cocaine Anonymous (CA), real alcoholics and addicts are inundated with people who are not like them. Like me, real addict or alcoholic newcomers know that instinctively.  In my hometown, I can go to an AA meeting, be surrounded by people, yet be the only real alcoholic in the room. According to the long form of tradition three, it is therefore not a meeting.

I have observed people who have this reaction. Once they start to drink, they get what they describe as “a taste for it” and they drink-and-drink-and-drink until they run out of booze, money or pass out. They might do this for many days. This is exactly what the book describes as spree drinking. This is what occurs to at least one of my friends on Facebook, yet these people are not alcoholic. I have known them to attend AA meetings. They do not work any steps. They sit in meetings with or without sharing and they can do that indefinitely without drinking or using again. They have made a decision in step 1 to never touch another drop and they do not. Some of those people also keep taking drugs recreationally and still do not relapse on their drug of choice.

I am not saying those people have not been through hell. They likely received spiritual wounds from their primary caregivers at informative ages that lead them to believe their existence was threatened. Hypothetically, in that aspect of their personality, this type of trauma in an infant, stunts their growth and their ability to mature. Regardless, their drug or alcohol intake has a cause, a pronounced spiritual malady. I too had trauma in childhood albeit my alcoholism was not caused. It was exacerbated by my early experiences but not caused by them.  Alcoholism as far as we understand it has no cause, it just is… Alternatively, some people want to drink and drug excessively. Just because like us, someone has been to hell, does not mean their presence in a fellowship is warranted nor safe for real alcoholics/addicts. There is help for those people in the form of clinical psychologists. These trained medical professionals will be more than willing to help those people with their inner child work in line with the principles set down in Bradshaw 1991. Those people might then be able to regulate their intake and drink moderately. Others because of an accumulation of THIQ might not. They still are not real alcoholics or addicts.

To be clear I have a hopeless body. Once I start to drink, I get a craving for another, and another…and so on…ad infinitum. I experience a craving with no ceiling and experienced that from drink one. That is a hopeless state of body albeit my mind is most definitely engaged in the craving. Nevertheless, this what the Big Book describes as having a hopeless state of body. From the science, it is plain to see that not all people who experience this reaction are real alcoholics or drug addicts. However, at some time or another, all genuine alcoholics and drug addicts have this reaction.

How did the above manifest in my life? If someone knocked at my door and invited me for a couple of pints in an afternoon, if I had things to do, I would refuse. I would also refuse the “one” drink my parents offered me over the table on Christmas day. I would get there late and leave early. If I was going to drink, I required sufficient money to buy supplies that I considered enough. If I had a couple of drinks and had to stop, I would be fidgety and would not sleep. The drink made me high, it stimulated me. It did not as I have since observed in others, subdue me or relax me. Once again, I am recounting the abnormal reaction of the body to alcohol described by the editors and writers of the Big Book. The late Joe Hawk used to ask people which they would prefer: a single shot of whiskey a day for a month or nothing. Potential alcoholics invariably would answer nothing. Normal drinkers would say “something is better than nothing”. One guy answered I could not have a single shot a day. When asked why he replied: “that would be too much to drink” (Hawk, personal communication). This person was in AA being told he was an alcoholic. Go figure… For the alcoholic, a single shot per day would be excruciating torture.


On page 32, the book reads “These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centres in his mind, rather than in his body.” (Anonymous 1939 p 23). As discussed earlier the authors ask: “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely.”

Page 24 reads: “We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defence against the first drink…”

“…When this sort of thinking is fully established in an individual with alcoholic tendencies, he has probably placed himself beyond human aid” (Anonymous 1939 p 24).

The page sums up what I am going to describe in the following passages. It is worth giving it a read in its entirety. I read that page many times and other relevant passages in the Big Book, however, my prejudice prevented me from fully understanding what the authors were driving at.

“At Certain Times”

The above three words are probably the most important when diagnosing yourself as an alcoholic. I knew my head persuaded me it was okay to drink when it most certainly was not. Despite previously making a firm decision not to drink and meaning it, my head persuaded me to drink in such a subtle way, that I thought I had made the decision. Sometimes there was no thought before drinking – a mental blank spot – I just ended up with a drink in my hand and then wondered why and how it had occurred (Anonymous 1939 p 24). For the last ten years of my drinking, the following morning, I decided to not drink that evening and still ended up drinking. Apart from around three consecutive days in a decade, each night for ten years I drank and each morning I had hitherto made a decision to not. One could argue that unless I had been clear from alcohol for three to four days, it was still in my system and therefore it was part of a ten-year spree; I was still experiencing a craving.

Once I started to go to fellowship meetings, I had a stronger desire to stop albeit not forever. My first relapse in fellowship occurred three months after I had managed to stop and was planned from day one. I had made a half-hearted attempt at the steps up to step 5 then felt the benefit and relapsed shortly afterwards.  The “mental twist”, if that is what it was, that occurred on the cusp of relapse persuaded me I was not an alcoholic and it was now safe for me to return to my old life. The second relapse in AA was after a period of six months and I was with another member, a woman, we decided to go for a drink together because the sun was shining. There were no memories of the mental and physical suffering that always followed my drinking bouts (Anonymous 1939 p 22). Notwithstanding my incomplete understanding of what alcoholism was, my head persuaded me it would be okay, and I was not an alcoholic. The person I drank with was a non-alcoholic member of AA. I turned up at her house the next day with cans, and she told me to go home. I was stuck in another spree for a couple of weeks.  She never drank again until she decided. 12 years later she has left AA and now moderates her use.

The above anecdote exemplifies how dangerous non-alcoholics are to real alcoholics in fellowship. Nonalcoholics can do things we cannot. In the early days, resentments cause us great discomfort, yet those people can do whatever they wish. They can do harm and do not need to make amends or can go for a drink then coming back in pretending to be sober. I saw one member do this.

Once I start, I cannot stop, and I shake uncontrollably. I cannot hide a drink from anyone. I make no secret of the fact I would rid every fellowship of nongenuine members. I would present them with the correct definition and give them two years to decide for themselves then hold them accountable. Just as I would hold a genuine alcoholic or addict accountable for their recovery.

The third time I drank in AA I had been dry around seven months. My mind told me I needed to find out whether I was powerless and if I needed to be in AA for the rest of my life. The breaks came off and I drank as I wanted for two and a half months. Unarmed with a real understanding of what alcoholism was, I drank-and-drank until I was having to pour a half bottle (a half litre; one pint) of vodka straight down my throat every 20 minutes of consciousness. This went on all waking hours for several days. I was buying half bottles because I did not want to be doing it but found I had absolutely no power to stop. Luckily, a few days in, my Higher Power intervened with a moment of clarity which after many years of dedication to the program, has proven thus far to permanently separate me from alcohol.

My step 1 became I was completely powerless over alcohol, so much so, that I had gone past the point of stopping on my own power. I was actually dying and thus the second part of step one became, my life was unmanageable because I was dying. One cannot get a more complete definition of an unmanageable life, as dying. This appears to agree with some of the experience of the earliest members of AA (Anonymous 1939 p 157; p 56; p 6; p 10; p 17; p 26).

All of us real alcoholics and addicts drank or used to the detriment of our health, however, I am the first person in recovery to date that I know who has their second part of step one as I was dying; it was killing me. My life was not unmanageable because I kept relapsing, lost my driving licence, could not get my trousers on or pay my bills. I was dying… If you have no recovery, so are you…

Optional Consumption- In my opinion which I said I would endeavour not to present, I think every second part of step 1 should be: it is, or it will kill me. Excluding divine intervention, the trap of alcoholism ensures we are all heading in that direction. For every real alcoholic or addict, both their body and mind are 100 percent hopeless.

When we drink or use, we take far more than is safe and we cannot make a firm decision to stay dry and stick to it. That trap is responsible for killing legions of alcoholics (Anonymous 1939, p 24-25). Perhaps more than 2 million per annum (WHO 2018).

In the chapter entitled, Working with Others, page 92 of the Big Book reads: “Show him the mental twist which leads to the first drink of a spree. We suggest you do this as we have done it in the chapter on alcoholism. If he is alcoholic, he will understand you at once.” (Anonymous 1939 p 92).

Real alcoholics or drug addicts reading the above will understand instantly. They know this happens to them. If from the section entitled, Mind, you think I am bonkers and I am suffering from a strange personality disorder, then you are not a real alcoholic or drug addict. You do not get it… 

At certain times my head will tell me it is okay to use or drink and once that has happened, there is no reason for my will power to operate and dissuade me from doing something that ordinarily, I would know is so harmful.  Once that switch has turned in my head, wild horses would not stop me from drinking.

The linage I have had the recent privilege to be of a part of, suggests that at these “certain times” three things will leave me: my will power, my ability to reason and the memory of the terrible consequences. If one of these things is still operative, it will be enough to hold me in check, however, lose all three and relapse occurs.   

So, the most discriminating part of alcoholism, the “main problem” is that “at certain unpredictable times” a mental aberration will turn a switch in my head and then nothing will stop me from picking up my drug of no choice. I have used the werewolf analogy. If I was a werewolf, which for those of you who already doubt my sanity, I do not think exist, I would know when to lock myself up and therefore I would have a strategy to stop myself from tearing the throats out of innocent animals and humans. The people on films that are supposed werewolves think that locking themselves up once a month is inconvenient. Try being a real alcoholic or drug addict. We cannot put in place strategies to stop us from relapsing because not only does the main problem centre in the mind, but it will and does occur at times that are completely random and unpredictable. It has nothing to with the way I feel…

There is another interesting and not so obvious aspect, the times when the alcoholic mentality is not operative, times other than on the cusp of a relapse, it must be in remission or as some have suggested, dormancy. Periods of dormancy appear completely random and therefore hypothetically someone can relapse after 20 years of being dry. To be clear, mostly during the late acutely progressive stages of alcoholism, periods of dormancy get shorter and relapses closer together (Riley 2010; Riley 2018; Riley 2019).  

From the above, it is clear that the suggestion that I am always insane, and it is something to do with the way I feeling is psychobabble. It has nothing to with the message within the Big Book. It is purely fictitious. The main problem with alcoholism, the aberration of the mind, is only operative at certain times, seconds to minutes before relapse. To clarify, the thought of a drink or use is not a relapse. It is only a relapse if you pick up when previously deciding to stay abstinent.

If dormancy occurs, then during such times, thoughts of drinking can easily be pushed aside using our will power. Why, because we are not at that moment technically insane through re-emergence of the alcoholic mentality. People often then think they have successfully fended off a relapse which reinforces the idea that they can beat the game themselves (Anonymous 1939, p 23).

To demonstrate: Have I not stopped for three months? Have I not resisted temptation therefore I must not be powerless or alcoholic (mental twist)? I am going for a drink (relapse).

Once I reconnect using the 12 steps with a Power greater than myself, at certain times when I am effectively insane, my Higher Power may restore me to sanity and prevent relapse. I guess this process has prevented me from relapsing now for over ten years. Nothing else explains it apart from an extended period of dormancy albeit I most definitely had a sudden, deep and profound spiritual experience identical to Bill and others (Anonymous 1939 p 56; p 14).

Chapter 3 describes two pertinent anecdotes: Jim (Ralph Furlong) and Fred’s (Harry B.) stories. In Jim’s, his mental twist is as follows

“Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn’t hurt me on a full stomach. I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sense I was not being any too smart, but I reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach. The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another.” (Anonymous 1939 p 36).

Fred’s story is perhaps the most informative as Fred was unusual in many respects.

“Fred is a partner in a well known accounting firm. His income is good, he has a fine home, is happily married and the father of promising children of college age. He has so attractive a personality that he makes friends with everyone. If ever there was a successful business man, it is Fred. To all appearance he is a stable, well balanced individual. Yet, he is alcoholic.” (Anonymous 1939 p 39).

No obvious or pronounced spiritual malady there…

At the “end of a perfect day, not a cloud on the horizon” – in the absence of irritability, restlessness or discontentment – Fred experiences two mental twists separated by a period of dormancy. Most unusual, however, I am convinced like others, Fred’s story was included by the authors to illustrate a point:

 “I went to my hotel and leisurely dressed for dinner. As I crossed the threshold of the dining room, the thought came to mind that it would be nice to have a couple of cocktails with dinner. That was all. Nothing more. I ordered a cocktail and my meal. Then I ordered another cocktail. After dinner I decided to take a walk. When I returned to the hotel it struck me a highball would be fine before going to bed, so I stepped into the bar and had one. I remember having several more that night and plenty next morning.” (Anonymous 1939 p 41).

Fred had two strong drinks then went for a walk. It took another mental twist and another strong drink before he was into craving and a spree. One could argue that during the walk, the alcoholic mentality went into remission or became dormant.

Rowland Hazzard & Carl Jung

On page 26, the book reads: “A certain American business man had ability, good sense, and high character. For years he had floundered from one sanitarium to another. He had consulted the best known American psychiatrists. Then he had gone to Europe, placing himself in the care of a celebrated physician (the psychiatrist, Dr. Jung) who prescribed for him. Though experience had made him skeptical, he finished his treatment with unusual confidence. His physical and mental condition were unusually good. Above all, he believed he had acquired such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden springs that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short time. More baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory explanation for his fall.”

“So he returned to this doctor, whom he admired, and asked him point-blank why he could not recover. He wished above all things to regain self-control. He seemed quite rational and well-balanced with respect to other problems. Yet he had no control whatever over alcohol. Why was this?”

“He begged the doctor to tell him the whole truth, and he got it. In the doctor’s judgment he was utterly hopeless; he could never regain his position in society and he would have to place himself under lock and key or hire a bodyguard if he expected to live long. That was a great physician’s opinion.” (Anonymous 1939 p 26).

…and on page 27: “He said to the doctor, Is there no exception?”

“Yes, replied the doctor, there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods which I employed are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description.” (Anonymous 1939 p 27).

The struggles Bill had with booze described in Bill’s Story are detailed below. Look for the mental states that precede a relapse including any strategies he relied upon in an attempt to avoid the inevitable.

Page 5: “A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen bottles of beer would be required if I were to eat any breakfast. Nevertheless, I still thought I could control the situation, and there were periods of sobriety which renewed my wife’s hope.” (Anonymous 1939 p 5).

Page 5-6: “Then I got a promising business opportunity. Stocks were at the low point of 1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was to share generously in the profits. Then I went on a prodigious bender, and that chance vanished.”

“I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did.”

“Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been no fight. Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn’t know. It hadn’t even come to mind. Someone had pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it. Was I crazy? I began to wonder, for such an appalling lack of perspective seemed near being just that.”

“Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cocksureness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. As the whisky rose to my head I told myself I would manage better next time, but I might as well get good and drunk then. And I did.” (Anonymous 1939 p 5-6).

Page 7: “It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholics the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor, though it often remains strong in other respects. My incredible behaviour in the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three or four months the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and even made a little money. Surely this was the answer-self-knowledge.”

“But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me.” (Anonymous 1939 p 7).

Page 8: “Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken man. Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on Armistice Day 1934, I was off again.” (Anonymous 1939 p 8).

The Lobby Moment

This is a story about when Bill went to Akron for a business meeting hoping to make a deal and acquire sufficient money to pay for his hotel stay and more. The deal was not made, and he was left wondering how he could pay his hotel bill. The entire story tells of how Bill Wilson met Doctor Bob Smith; the founding members of AA. Bill’s mental twist and restoration to sanity were as follows:

“One dismal afternoon he paced a hotel lobby wondering how his bill was to be paid. At the end of the room stood a glass covered directory of local churches. Down the lobby a door opened into an attractive bar. He could see the gay crowd inside. In there he would find companionship and release. Unless he took some drinks, he might not have the courage to scrape an acquaintance and would have a lonely week-end.”

“Of course he couldn’t drink, but why not sit hopefully at a table, a bottle of ginger ale before him? After all, had he not been sober six months now? Perhaps he could handle, say, three drinks-no more! Fear gripped him. He was on thin ice. Again it was the old, insidious insanity-that first drink. With a shiver, he turned away and walked down the lobby to the church directory. Music and gay chatter still floated to him from the bar.” (Anonymous 1939 p 154).

Bill was restored to sanity because he turned his thoughts to others

“But what about his responsibilities-his family and the men who would die because they would not know how to get well, ah-yes, those other alcoholics? There must be many such in this town. He would phone a clergyman. His sanity returned and he thanked…”(Anonymous 1939 p 154).

He at that moment became less selfish. His Higher Power restored his sanity preventing relapse. This tale informs us, if real alcoholics use the 12 steps as a strategy to keep sober, they may not make it because their motive is selfish… The pure and selfless motive for working the steps is the honest desire to grown in understanding and effectiveness for the next person (Anonymous 1939 p 84). It is to help others.

An Obvious Contradiction

To reiterate on page 23 the book reads: “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.” (Anonymous 1939 p 23). Why then on pages 31 to 32 does the book present us with a diagnosis tool that only tests the reaction of the body?

“We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself, Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get a full knowledge of your condition.” (Anonymous 1939 p 31p 32).

This is not the only incongruous passage in the book, however… Just as we have no reason why the aberration of the mind occurs, there appears to be no explanation of why the authors present these two opposing statements. Thank goodness modern science has contributed to our understanding and supports what is written here. 

If you have just had a visceral experience of step 1., you will be sick to your stomach. You will feel hopeless and scared that you are going to die. That might not sound like a good place to be, however, it indicates you have had a moment of clarity which is indeed the beginning of a spiritual experience necessary for recovery. Even recovered readers might experience the same thing. Try to take the above and match your personal experience with what is described. Remember you must have both a hopeless body and hopeless mind to be a real alcoholic or addict. Notwithstanding introducing step 2 principles above, next time we will explore step 2.

I will leave you with this share from what I believe is a real addict


Anonymous (1939) The “Big Book”. Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition (first printing 2001). Alcoholics Anonymous World Service inc. [last accessed 1 May 2020].

Bradshaw, R. (1991) Home Coming: Claiming and Championing your Inner Child. Judy Piarkus Publishing Ltd, London, UK.

Reber, L., L., Hernandez, J., D. & Galli, S., J. (2017) The pathophysiology of anaphylaxis. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology. 140(2), 335-348.

Riley, L. (2010) Alcoholics Ambiguous: Unravelling the Message of Recovery.

Riley, L. (2019) Addicts & Alcoholics Controversial: Booklet I, 12 Questions about relapse.

Riley, L. (2018) Addicts & Alcoholics Controversial: Booklet II, 12 Questions about Relapse Dormancy.

Speece, S., P. (1987) β-Endorphins and THIQ and Their Relationship to Alcoholism. The American Biology Teacher. 49(1), 37-39.

WHO (2018) World Health Organisation: Alcohol. [last accessed 29 May 2020].

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