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Drinking becoming a problem?

Bill FoxBy Bill Fox/Columnist

So this is the time of year, in my experience, when drinking increases.  Who does not enjoy a cold beer or other alcoholic beverage during hot summer months?  This is also the time of weddings, cottaging and family get-togethers where there is often more drinking. I know of some families that are living on the edge because a family member can no longer control their drinking.  If this is a concern for you or someone you know, please read on.

Forty years ago, I was invited to work a summer at the first Detoxification Centre in Canada.  The Detox Centre was affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the goal was to dry out alcoholics during the week they stayed with us. Some staff were just completing the addiction counseling courses, so I was quickly trained to be an orderly to help the other staff with new arrivals. We dealt in large part with the ‘street’ people in Toronto’s core.

We did however have an engineer admitted by the police from Lake Simcoe after his houseboat was found floating in the lake with him and a buddy, blacked out from booze.  We also had some other professional people including a lawyer enter the facility for a week.

During the eight weeks I worked there, two residents died from alcohol.  One fellow was ‘dried out’ and ready to be settled in a different part of town with the help of an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) volunteer.  Unfortunately he insisted in going to his old rooming house by himself to pick up his belongings. When he got there, his old roommates insisted he have one more drink, just for old times sake.  Alcoholics cannot have just ‘one’ drink and so within a week, he was dead from alcohol poisoning.

The other fellow I was more involved with.  The police brought him to the Detox.  A very large man, I noticed his breathing was very laboured so I took him to the emergency department at St. Mike’s.  It was a struggle to get him into a wheelchair because of his large size, however after talking to the admitting nurses I left him there.  An hour or so later the emergency department phoned me, as they could not find him.  The next day he was found in an alley a few blocks away.  An autopsy found that he died from pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver.  Yet that poor fellow could barely walk, and presumably had to leave the hospital because of his craving for a drink.

During my short stint there, I was convinced that these alcoholics were just folks who could not hold their own, and had no self control.  I have since learned that alcoholism is, in fact, a disease.  Now, I have had asthma since I was seven.  I don’t know why I have it.  I never smoked.  It’s just a fact of life I have this disease.  The same holds true for alcoholics, though many of them could once drink responsibly at one point in their lives, the disease then progressed.  Others I am told knew they were alcoholics from the first drink they ever had.

With my experience at St. Mike’s, I saw that the only help for alcoholics that worked was through AA.  You see, after drying out at our facility, they would go back to live in the same environment where they abused alcohol, unless they were open to getting help from our AA volunteers.  AA is an international mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. AA’s stated “primary purpose” is to help alcoholics “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”.  With other early members, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, both alcoholics themselves, developed AA’s Twelve Step program of spiritual and character development.  Today this programme is saving the lives of millions of alcoholics.

In our own Durham Region, there are lots of meetings every week.  If you or a loved one has a concern about alcohol you should check out the Durham AA website at www.aadurham.org or you can phone the local AA office at their 24-Hour Helpline (905) 728-1020.