Who Is An Alcoholic?

Who Is An Alcoholic?

At CORE, we use the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as a textbook.  The word “alcoholic” conjures different images.  They might include a college student who gets drunk every weekend, a TV character like Norm Peterson on Cheers, a drunk driver, an Absinthe-swilling artist, a lawyer at a three-martini lunch, or a bum sleeping on a park bench.  For still others, this word may bring to mind a certain family member or friend who has been troubled by alcohol.

The images are many but, who is the alcoholic?

Significantly, being alcoholic isn’t necessarily the same as suffering from an “alcohol use disorder.”  The latter is something that might be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or counselor.  The most current manual for diagnosis, the DSM-5, offers many criteria for a so-called AUD.  There are eleven in all.  We will mention them below for comparison.  They include:

1. Drinking more, or longer, than intended;

2. Wanting or trying more than once to cut down or stop drinking but can’t;

3. Spending a lot of time drinking or getting over the effects of drinking;

4. Craving alcohol to the point of distraction;

5. Drinking and accompanying consequences interfering with home, job, or school;

6. Continuing to drink despite it causing trouble with family or friends;

7. Giving up or cutting back on important activities in order to drink;

8. Engaging in a dangerous activity while or after drinking;

9. Continuing to drink despite feeling depressed or anxious over it, or after it exacerbated another health problem; 

10. Having to drink more to get the same effect; and

11. Suffering withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off.

While all of these criteria are discussed in some fashion by the Big Book, the scope of an AUD is broader than alcoholism.  This is because of the way the DSM-5 applies these criteria.

According to the manual, a patient who has experienced at least two of these criteria over a year may be diagnosed with an AUD.  It further creates a sliding scale of severity, from mild, to moderate, to severe.  Having only two of these symptoms is mild.  With six, the patient’s disorder becomes severe.  By creating this continuum of severity, the manual broadens the scope of potential patients who may qualify for services.  

Still, having an AUD does not necessarily mean one is alcoholic.  As an example, consider a college student who impulsively ditches his study group to attend a kegger, gets drunk, engages in unprotected sex, and awakes the next morning so hung over that he misses all of his classes.  He arguably meets at least two of the required criteria for AUD.  The young man has a problem.  No doubt about that.  He even may be diagnosed with an AUD.  But, is he an alcoholic?

Without hearing more about our hypothetical college student’s experience with alcohol, we really can’t say.  It’s worth noting here, however, that AA’s cofounder Dr. Bob not only quit a semester of college because of his drinking, but also found himself so impaired during another semester that he could not even complete his final exams.  Dr. Bob’s experience strikes us as more consistent with alcoholism than our hypothetical student’s poor choices.   

The Big Book’s authors didn’t write for every person who suffers problems from drinking.  They wrote for alcoholics.  While every alcoholic may be considered to have an AUD, the reverse isn’t always true.

Moreover, while there were hospitals, facilities, and treatments for alcoholism even in Bill W. and Dr. Bob’s day, the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were written for a special class of persons for whom all such treatments proved futile.  According to the Big Book, the alcoholic is bodily and mentally different from other drinkers, in one critically important sense:

“We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking.  We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control.”

Loss of control is the criteria for deciding whether one is alcoholic.  As the book states, “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”  It is this loss of control, the utter inability to leave alcohol alone no matter how great the necessity or personal desire, that is the defining characteristic of every alcoholic.  

Thus, the alcoholic is considered to be “powerless” over alcohol.  This is so far beyond the ordinary experience of most people as to be baffling, even unbelievable.  Why not just stop drinking?  Or, having stopped, why ever start drinking again?  These are fair questions.  They are the same questions that every alcoholic will ask themselves, many times, during their drinking careers.  

Whether one begins as a moderate or heavy drinker, it is upon losing control over their liquor consumption that they become alcoholic.  Once that line is crossed, the alcoholic will experience cravings for more alcohol while they are drinking, and they will obsess about it even when they are not.  There is no turning back from this condition, unfortunately.  Further, the alcoholic doesn’t simply suffer from two criteria from the DSM-5 list.  They fall into the living nightmare of experiencing all (or very near all) of them, all the time, with no way out.

We may think that today, 80 years after the AA Big Book was written, with all of the progress made by researchers, the medical breakthroughs, the building of so many facilities, and with insurance coverage, that a significant dent might have been made in the successful treatment of alcoholics.  After all, new pharmaceuticals have been developed.  We now have counseling, all sorts of therapies, and further treatments on top of these.  

CORE’s recovery program is based on the 12 Steps.  From our vantage point, our business shows no signs of slowing despite the advances of medicine and science.  Moreover, most of our clients come to us with histories that include medication assisted treatment and interventions at medical centers, rehabs, and counseling centers.   They still come to CORE, looking for recovery.  In our experience, the following Big Book observation remains just as true today as when it was written:

“The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense.  His defense must come from a Higher Power.”

Happily, our clients who work the 12 Steps uniformly do recover.  They experience a psychic change – a deep and effective spiritual experience which revolutionizes their attitude toward life, their fellows, and God’s universe:

“Strange as this may seem to those who do not understand  once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules.”

Helping our newcomers discover this necessary spiritual experience is what CORE’s all about.   

Kelsey Muñoz: Walking in Newness of Life

Kelsey Muñoz: Walking in Newness of Life

Meet Kelsey Muñoz!  Over the past year, Kelsey has been busy as a honey bee, with awesome results!

This month, Kelsey commences CORE’s one-year recovery program.  Additionally, she: (1) is starting as house manager at our 6th Street facility, (2) has been accepted into our Second Mile group, and (3) has begun working for CORE.  On top of this, Kelsey’s successfully making her way through Stone County’s drug court program, too.  Whew – we’re worn out just thinking about it!

We recently sat down with Kelsey to talk about her addiction and recovery.  At the outset of our interview, Kelsey made plain that she credits God for her return to health.  She pointedly told us, “‘But God’ – that means so much to me.  I was a struggling addict with no ambition who didn’t know what she was doing with her life.  ‘But God.’”   

Indeed!  In so many Bible stories, those two words signal God’s intervention to make everything right again.  When all seems lost and we read “but God,” we just know He’s coming to the rescue.  God redeems and makes all things new if we seek His will.

Kelsey said several things, in fact, that indicated how diligently she’s been studying the Bible.  Our interview, moreover, lasted almost two hours!  We’ll do our best to abbreviate her testimony below.

She grew up in nearby Cassville and married shortly after high school.  The marriage was not a happy one, however, and about three years ago, Kelsey and her husband separated.  She found herself alone, with children, and working full-time at a factory job.  Coming home, once the children had been put to bed, Kelsey began self-medicating with alcohol – drinking to wind down and help her sleep.  We who are recovered can see her situation as a disaster waiting to happen.  And happen it did.    

Her mother arrived to take charge of the children, and it was agreed that Kelsey would get herself clean and sober.  By this time, however, she was powerless.  She had no idea what to do and spiraled downward.  She discovered methamphetamines, then fentanyl, in quick succession.  Kelsey remembers, “I had friends saying, all you do is do drugs, nod out, and throw up.  That’s all you do.  You’re not a person.”  She also remarked how quickly she went from depression into full-blown addiction, saying, “I was not prepared.  But it goes to show, I think, if there’s no self-care or mental awareness of what is going on around you, you can plummet.  It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.”

Then she got into criminal trouble, which made the local paper.  The good people of her hometown were scandalized.  They knew her parents as reputable folk.  They were dependable people, with good careers, who went to bed every night at 9:00 p.m., like clockwork.  Now, she’d alienated her family.  Nobody was coming to her support.

At Kelsey’s court hearing, things looked bleak.  She might have gone to jail, but the professionals working her case spotted Kelsey’s problem and acted.  Significantly, it was a prominent judge who decided that what Kelsey needed, more than anything, was help.

If there is a dean of drug courts in America, Judge Alan Blankenship is that guy.  When Congress recently sought testimony about federal funding for drug court programs nationwide, they asked for Judge Blankenship.   He knows his stuff.  He also approved drug court as part of Kelsey’s sentencing.  She recalls, “Judge Blankenship told me it was a tough program, but it was all about getting help and being honest.  He said it was a big opportunity for me.”

Kelsey arrived to Branson in the autumn of 2021 – her first time ever living away from home.  Initially, she bounced from one sober living place to another and was subjected to all sorts of influences.  In fact, Kelsey divulged that she had tried working the 12 Steps using “mother earth” as her Higher Power.  I was trying to figure it out, but I really had no clue, to be honest.  I was into this hippie stuff, praying to mother earth, spreading positivity.  I would ground, walk barefoot, and meditate every day.”  Not surprisingly, that wasn’t working for Kelsey, but things turned around when she got to CORE:

I had to figure out my Higher Power and not be influenced by anyone who was going to gain anything from it.  I just had to buckle down, and that’s what I did at CORE.  I gave it my absolute all.  I started studying the Bible, educating myself.  I really hit the ground running.  And from not having a conception of who my Higher Power is to now having a personal relationship with God, that’s huge.  All that time I was trying to run the show, He was there, just waiting for me.”

Today, Kelsey walks in newness of life.  She expressed her gratitude for the many people who helped her along the path to recovery.  She mentioned her counselor, attorney, and people at drug court, all of whom took an interest in her recovery and, in her own words, “saved my life”.  Of Judge Blankenship she says, “He saw me when I was lost, like a puppy.  Now he sees me, once a month, and he’s proud.  That means so much to me.”  She also mentioned CORE’s Jen Brinkman (Women’s Coordinator) and Kevin Hunt (Program Manager), who have accompanied her to every appearance at drug court.

Kelsey also spoke favorably about CORE’s recovery program, saying:

CORE is different.  I’d been to other programs here in Branson, but something is different about CORE. It gave me the support I needed not only to find recovery, but also to manage it.  Every day is a little different, you know?  CORE teaches me that recovery is possible through all of them.  There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.  Because in other programs, or in life altogether, it doesn’t always seem that way.  There was a time I couldn’t even wrap my head around the fact that sobriety and happiness were possible.  I found those here at CORE.”

Kelsey is still relatively young in her recovery, but she’s actively working the 12 Steps to reclaim her life.  This includes making proper amends to her children, and to their grandparents.  Over the holidays, she met personally with her parents.  She’s also been in daily communication with her oldest children.  She understands, moreover, that apologies are mere words unless her actions are aligned with just principles.  So, Kelsey is making amends by showing her new way of life in recovery.  My goal,” she said, “is to have all of my children once I’ve accomplished everything I need to do here.”

She doesn’t have a specific deadline in which to complete the drug court program, although she’s phasing up according to expectations.  Until her work there is done, Kelsey is busily discovering the many blessings that recovery has in store.  As an example, she jumped at the chance to come work for CORE, telling us, “There’s no amount of money in the world that compares to doing God’s work.  And I do believe that that’s what this whole CORE program is doing, every single day, by just helping people.”

We at CORE well understand that what Kelsey wants more than anything is to return home and be with her family.  We’ll continue to support her efforts to accomplish this as we are able, even though she will be missed.  When the happy day arrives, we’ll celebrate with her, giving all glory to God!