The term alcoholic is one that is bandied about regularly; however, the recognition of alcoholism as a disease is relatively recent.
In fact it was 70 years ago last week that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was first founded, based on a moral model of alcoholism, offering a spiritual framework for understanding, accepting and recovering from alcohol abuse.
In the late 1950s, the American Medical Association recognised alcoholism as an illness, and in the mid-1970s, alcoholism was redefined as a chronic, progressive and potentially fatal disease.
Since that time, the definition has expanded and there is a greater understanding of the condition, but through it all Alcoholics Anonymous has consistently been one of the greatest supports for many people who have alcohol problems.
A New York stockbroker and a surgeon from Ohio who both battled with alcohol addiction were the founding fathers of AA. The stockbroker, known only as Bill W, had overcome his drink problem by attending meetings of a fellowship organisation called the Oxford Group.
With the support of the group, which promoted the idea that daily life should be led according to spiritual values, Bill became sober and began offering support to other alcoholics in his local hospital.
When he met Dr Bob he convinced him that alcoholism was a disease caused by a malady of mind, emotions and body and with his support the surgeon started his journey of recovery.
Together the couple, with another former alcoholic they had helped at the hospital, became the first Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship or support group.
In 1939, Bill wrote what was to become the AA bible -“ a textbook called Alcoholics Anonymous which spelt out the 12 steps of recovery.
The Alcoholic Foundation was established and subsequent fundraising efforts were successful -“ enough money was collected to open a small office in New York to take enquiries and sell copies of the book.
Within two years, and following wide publicity, membership of AA had spread across the US and Canada and by 1950 it had reached other parts of the globe with an international membership of more than 100,000 recovered alcoholics.
Today its membership has reached the two million mark with groups in 150 countries.
Many people in the alcohol and other drugs field do not use the word alcoholic, preferring the term alcohol dependent, and it is important to remember that this sort of support group is not for everyone. Some people have issues with the concept of a belief in a higher power and as a result find AA confronting.
However, AA says that everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the AA group, still others don’t believe in it at all. There appears to be room in AA for people of all shades of belief and non-belief.
If you believe you may have a problem with your drinking and want information on any of the services available in your local area, you can call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 9361 8000.