By Michael Morse
Our good friend Ethyl Alcohol is ready to infiltrate the body, mind and spirit of those who suffer from alcoholism, making their lives a contradiction of joy and despair. The holiday season amplifies the need to imbibe and pushes away the urge to abstain.
For most the pleasant buzz from the ingestion of a cocktail or two is a grand accompaniment to the sounds and sights of the season: A few drinks loosens the wheels of conversation, makes a mundane get-together magical, puts a spring in an old man’s step and serves as the glue that binds humanity together as we enjoy each other’s company over a snifter of cognac, a fine wine, a single malt scotch or a nice cold beer.
For many, Ethyl is a non-issue, and they might have a sip of punch to be sociable, or pass – it matters not to those who simply don’t see what all the fuss is about. Alcohol doesn’t work its magic for these folks; they have no desire, no need, and no interest in what it offers.
Some battle an insidious disease, a relentless attack. These people live life one day at a time, with each day sober an achievement in its own right, another day without succumbing to the relentless media barrage glorifying the very substance that will be their undoing. They live life on different terms, avoiding situations where the temptation beckons to indulge in something that their friends and family do with nary a second thought, so that they can lead a life of contented sobriety.
Then there are those who have yet to experience the spiritual awakening essential to their recovery. Alcoholism is cunning, baffling disease, misunderstood by nearly everybody who does not suffer from the condition. It is easy to label the alcoholic as a person with no self-control, somebody whose misfortune is nobody’s fault but their own.
In a 1992 JAMA article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published this definition of alcoholism:
“Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.”
Active alcoholics often find themselves on the street, homeless and at the mercy of society. Given the choice, they would not be the combative, intoxicated chronic abuser of both alcohol and emergency medical services that they are.
Knowing that “the drunk” is actually a person suffering with a deadly disease is imperative. A combative person with diabetes is no different than a combative intoxicated person, legally or ethically. They are both suffering from impaired consciousness. It is not up to EMS providers to distinguish between the two, and make bad choices as to how the patient is treated.
It is our duty to treat the sick and injured without passing judgment as to how they became that way.