Alcoholism has been with us throughout the ages, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that anyone ever tried to really do anything about it. Before that you were usually only sent to a sanitarium to “dry out” but there wasn’t any treatment. Along came Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, struggling with alcohol addiction, who decided to help each other stay sober. This was the humble beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous. But it still wasn’t, and isn’t, treatment. AA provides a social model of recovery with the intention of those afflicted helping each other to stay clean and sober.
In 1948, Hazelden opened the first residential center for alcoholic men. This, too, was not treatment. It was merely a place for men to live while practicing the 12 steps of AA and hopefully get a running start at a life of sobriety. This then, became the model for many such residential centers. In the 1980s and 1990s, the concept of co-occurring disorders came into popularity – the concept that there may be another issue that needs to be addressed that can be contributing to the alcohol addiction. This is the first time treatment truly became a part of the equation as mental health therapies were introduced into treatment for alcoholism. Since then we’ve added quite a bit of science based and psychological therapies and treatments that help give the addict a better chance at a normal life.
So, how are we doing? Well, not that well, as it turns out. Alcohol is still the most widely abused substance. There are an estimated 17 million alcoholics in the U.S. (1 in 12 people) with many more exhibiting risky behaviors.
Alcohol is legal. It is part of our culture and even getting drunk is acceptable and commonplace. However, there is an attitude change slowly taking shape. Public drunkenness is not as acceptable, or understandable as it once was. Employers watch for signed of an alcohol problem. Once many comedians were famous for portraying drunks, such as Foster Brooks or Dean Martin. You don’t see that any more. So, we’re making progress. But there’s still much more work to do.