Science in Christian Perspective




A Consideration of Sociological And Psychological Principles Used in Alcoholics Anonymous
Beverly Farms, MA

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 4-7.

There is a tendency among Evangelical Christians to view the alcoholic as an individual who is of his own volition and desire an alcoholic. Very few people realize that an alcoholic is one addicted to or taken over by alcohol, and unable to help himself.1 To reach this type of person for Jesus Christ and to help him overcome this addition is a physiological, psychological, and spiritual problem.2 The Holy Spirit will lead this person into spiritual truth; however, we must be cognizant of the fact that the church and individual Christians can be helpful to the addicted person in the physiological and psychological areas.

After he becomes a Christian we can only expect the alcoholic to change as the Holy Spirit leads and convicts him. The fact that the new convert is an alcoholic means that he has certain psychological needs which must be met by means other than the use of alcohol. The use of alcohol in excess is usually a symptom indicating deep psychological needs. 3 These needs do not change after the alc6hiolic becomes a Christian but the means of meeting these needs should change!

An alcoholic is generally considered to be mentally ill.4 It is this illness which may be considered to be the source of difficulty for him because he has certain basic psychological needs which are prevalent due to the sickness. Thus, after he becomes addicted to alcohol, his difficulty is twofold-psychological as well as physiological. The fundamental difficulty of course is his psychological needs which caused him to originally turn to alcohol.5 Thus, let us consider the basic personality factors of the alcoholic personality.

There are certain personality factors in the makeup of each of us which influence our actions and desires. This is true of the basic personality structure of the alcoholic. He is generally considered to be fixated6 in the oral period7 of personality development. Having little tolerance for feelings of depression, anxiety, and frustration, he resorts to taking into his body something that will give him temporary relief. He is primarily a narcissistic8 individual who is still in the infantile oral stagehunger-gratification.9 He is so dependent upon oral gratification that all else yields to this need. The alcoholic derives his pleasures chiefly through tactile sensations in the oral area and other cutaneous tissues. Because of his narcissism, dependency, and desire for gratification without giving anything in return, he has little capacity for loving others in a mature way. 10

Realizing this type of personality we can understand that it is possible to be an alcoholic type and never be addicted to the spirits of alcohol.11 There are many persons within the framework of the church who have the alcoholic type of personality, but they do not satisfy their oral needs as he does. These people do that which is more likely to be accepted such as eating food in excess, drinking large amounts of various beverages, gossiping, and using tobacco.

The purpose of this paper, therefore will be to enable us to realize the needs of the personality which is addicted to alcohol and how we may meet them after the alcoholic has become a Christian through application of the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. This will mean applying certain sociological and psychological principles which are actually within the local church structure, but need to be augmented, emphasized, and practiced.

The local church gathering is often a very good example of group therapy in action as Christians assemble for worship and prayer. Man is a gregarious animal and therefore especially subject to many types of gregarine influences or associational attitudes. Every sort of familial or social group can be utilized advantageously for psychotherapeutic purpose. Every aspect of better socialization has its curative value in dealing with, all forms of the neuroses and ever milder phases of psychoses. Even the hospitalization of a psychiatric patient has certain values from the standpoint of treatment in that it does away with his sometimes almost complete isolation.

Alcoholics Anonymous, the recent movement having to do with reclaiming of alcoholics, is after all a form of group therapy. This organization served to illustrate the value of the assembling of persons who have common problems to solve, and who can be of mutual help in sharing experiences and providing for social encouragement and moral support. In the Church we have common problems of sin and a common enemy in Satan; however, we are not addicted to drug as the alcoholic. Thus this person needs special help when he becomes a Christian and this help can be given by the Church as it is aware of the problem and uses its influence and testimony in a therapeutic manner.

To realize the problem of the alcoholic in its proper perspective, we must examine his personality and his needs somewhat closer. These individuals are characterized by very marked emotional immaturity.12 and there is nearly always a very definite ambivalence toward authority.13 They crave independence, earnestly desiring to be free fromi the maternal bondage which so irks them, but they are utterly unable to break away from the mother's domineering influence; and it is this ambivalent attitude, the commingled alternating love and hate for the mother, that accounts for the hidden frustration and the otherwise unrecognized mental and emotional conflict which so markedly characterizes them.

Many of these alcoholics were more or less serious problems at "weaning time". The majority of them were not weaned until the second year, sometimes well into the second year. It must be remembered that many of the infant's emotional troubles are almost instantly cured by nursing.14 As the youngster begins to suckle, his face flushes, he sometimes coos and gurgles while gently patting the mother's breast and many times, even before being fully satiated, falls asleep. It thus develops that milk (at least in association with the act of nursing) is in a way the baby's nervous or emotional anesthetic. That is, it does for the perturbed or nervously tense infant exactly what alcohol temporarily does for frustrated and nervously tense adults. Such fear-ridden and worry-harassed adults find in a bottle of alcohol exactly that surcease and relief from tension that an infant finds in a bottle of milk.

The alcoholic personality is an individual who demands quick relief from his troubles, and it must be admitted that, if such an unhappy and harassed personality is going to resort to drugs to obtain such relief, alcohol is the least psychologically dangerous.

It appears that very early in his experience thealcoholic personality wants his liquor without solid food. He does not drink during meals; in fact, he tends much to hurt and neglect eating. He will, however, take alcohol along with liquid foods.15

Various writers who discuss alcoholic personalities differ as to their temperamental trends. Some agree with Strecker, who estimates that around 90% are introverts. If this, is true, then their alcoholic episodes represent strenuous efforts to attempt to extravert, to compensate for their innate introversion.16, 17

We have found most alcoholics to have poorly organized personalities - delayed integration - rather than to present any evidence of defectiveness, but they are universally ambivalent and victims of chronic indecision. Alcoholics are also impatient. They are that type of person who "wants what he wants when he wants it". They suffer from general nervousness-that is, they are restless, always craving something, always facing some new trial. In general, they have kind dispositions and are cruel or sadistic only when extremely frustrated, but they do like to be humored and coddled.

Clinebell has found many of these alcoholic personalities to be good salesmen, especially if they can get jobs "on the road." The majority of them are willing to work hard all day in order to enjoy an evening with wine and friends, and they are sometimes passingly successful in the professions and in moderately responsible executive positions.18

Realizing fully the issues involved and by employing a few principles, we can better help the alcoholic after he has accepted Christ into his life. He has now come to the place where he realizes that he is completely unable to stop drinking in his own power, and as a result has accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. The alcoholic, however, if he truly is addicted to alcohol, will still probably have the desire to drink. It is at this point that we can well afford to investigate the practices of Alcoholics Anonymous and their methods of helping those who are addicted to alcohol.

Each member of A. A. is to be a living testimony of what A. A. is attempting to do. If at all possible, encourage Christians who have been addicted to alcohol to testify to the alcoholic. If he talks to someone who has had his experience, he feels that he is understood. A converted alcoholic will always be the best person to deal with the alcoholic because they have a common problem. It must be noted here that once a person has become an alcoholic, he always will be addicted to alcohol and at any time the convert may revert to his former way of life. Tn becoming a Christian his desire is only arrested, not removed. Thus, as the alcoholic is converted, his victory is found only in the power of God at work in his life. However, those who have the same problems can be of mutual help in prayer for one another and in sharing experiences.

In A. A. when one member feels the urge to drink, he calls a fellow member who will usually come to his aid and attempt to keep him from drinking. This giving of aid satisfies the alcoholic's

desire to be important, for every member is important in that he can give aid to other members. Thus, those A. A. members who help others are actually helping themselves. So it should be in the Church that the converted alcoholics should be able

to depend upon one another and expect to receive help in times of need and temptation. However, this should be a learning situation in which the alcoholic does not become overly dependent upon his human helper but learns to trust in Christ and is pointed to Him as his never-failing, all-dependable Lord. But during this learning experience the

Church can use its influence and membership to bear one another's burdens increasing the therapeutic value of the church group.

The A. A. meetings are usually meetings for testimonies of victory over alcohol. The Church should possibly encourage meetings especially for converted alcoholics and non,Christian alcoholics. These meetings in themselves would not only be evangelistic in nature but also would strengthen the faith of the Christians. Many of the A. A. meetings, held for alcoholics only, are especially held for those who are new members of A. A. At these meetings there are testimonies given by those who were so called hopeless alcoholics and as could be expected, an unbelievable amount of coffee is consumed. This consumption of coffee is obviously an attempt to satisfy the oral needs of the members with something other than alcohol. Also, after the formal portion of the meeting, there is a mingling of the members among the group and a constant exchange of social encouragement and

moral support. This type of meeting could, we feel, easily be encouraged and sponsored by the Church. For although this type of meeting is only found in A. A. circles, we feet that it could be employed by Christians in pointing men to Jesus Christ as the Author and Finisher of our faith and through fellowship with those of like mind, encourage those who are young in the faith.

Although we may not be able to employ all of A. A.'s techniques in the Church, yet we can realize that there are many psychological and sociological principles which can be employed in the local church situation for the evangelization of the alcoholic and for the strengthening of the converted alcoholic's faith.

1. Howard J. Clinebell Jr., Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), p. 17.

Joseph L. Fetterman, Practical Lessons In Psychiatry (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas Co., 1949), p.232.

M. M. Brown and G. R. Fowler, Psychodynamic Nursing (Phil.: W. B. Saunders Co., 1954), p. 195.

           Fritz Kant, The Treatment of the Alcoholic (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas Co., 1954), p.12.

2. Howard J. Clinebell Jr., op. cit., p. 37.

3. Samuel W. Hartwell, Practical Psychiatry and Mental Hygiene (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1947), P. 162.

        Carroll A. Wise, Religion In Illness and Health (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1942), p. 38.

4. Mental illness is used here to indicate deviation from mental health which is, "A state of being which is relative rather than absolute, in which a person has effected a reasonably satisfactory integration of his instinctual drives. His integration is acceptable to himself and to his social milieu as reflected in the satisfactory nature of his interpersonal relationships, his level of satisfaction in living, his actual achievement, his flexibility, and the level of emotional maturity he has attained", as quoted from A Psychiatric Glossary (Washington D. C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1957), p. 16.

5. Marty Mann, Primer On Alcoholism (New York: Rinehart Co., 1950) 5 p. 1.

6. Fixation-"The arrest of the changes and stages which characterize the development of the psychological aspect of sexuality during the period from birth to adult life", as quoted from A Psychiatric Glossary, p. 18, 38.

7. Oral period-" Includes both the oral erotic and oral sadistic phases of infantile psychosexual development, lasting from birth to 12 months or longer. The oral erotic phase is the initial pleasurable experience of nursing. The oral sadistic phase is the subsequent aggressive (biting) phase. Both oral erotism and sadism normally continue in later life in disguised and sublimated forms," as quoted from A Psychiatric Glossary, p. 31, 32.

8. The term "narcissism", or self-love, was born of Freud's own preference for poetic euphemisms and mythodical allusions (e.g., "Oedipus Complex"). Narcissus was a Greek god who fell so deeply in love with his image as reflected in a pool of water that he lost interest in all else.

9. Jules H. Masserman, Principles of Dynamic Psychiatry (Phil.: W. B. Saunders Co., 1946), p. 22.

10. Fritz Kant, op cit., p. 43.
11. Jules H. Masserman, op cit., p. 22.
"Case History of A Dry Drunk", (anonymous), The A. A. Grapevine August 1954, p. 8.

12. Fritz Kant, op cit., p. 21.
13. Howard J. Clinebell Jr., op cit., p. 49.
14. 0. Spurgeon English and Gerald H. J. Pearson, Emotional Problems of Living (New York: W. W. Norton Co., 1955), P. 39.

15. Marty Mann, op. cit., p. 19.
16. Introversion-"Preoccupation with oneself, with accompanying reduction of interest in the outside world. Roughly the reverse of extroversion, a state in which attention and energies are directed outward from the self" as quoted from A Psychiatric Glossary, p. 23, 17.

17. E. A. Strecker, The Fundamentals of Psychiatry (Phil.: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1944), p. 187.

18. Howard J. Clinebell Jr., op. cit., p. 27.



Brown, M. M. and G. H. Fowler. Psychodynamic Nursing. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1954.

Clinebell, Howard J. Jr. Understanding and Counseling The Alcoholic. New York: Abingdon Press, 1956.

Committee On Public Information, American Psychiatric Association A Psychiatric Glossary. Washington, D. C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1957.

English, 0. Spurgeon and Gerald H. J. Pearson. Emotional Problems of Living. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 1955.

Fetterman, Joseph L. Practical Lessons In Psychiatry. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Company, 1949.

Hartwell, Samuel W. Practical Psychiatry and Mental Hygiene. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1947.

Kant, Fritz. The Treatment of the Alcoholic. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Company, 1954.

Mann, Marty. Printer On Alcoholism. New York: Rinehart Company, 1950.

Masserman, Jules H. Principles of Dynantic Psychiatry. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1946.

Sadler, W. B. The Practice of Psychiatry. St, Louis: C. V. Mosby Company, 1953.

Strecker, E. A. The Fundamentals of PsychiatrY. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1944.


Anonymous. "Case History Of A Dry Drunk," The A. A. Grapevine, August, 1954.


Wittman made a study of alcoholism in Cook County Psy chopathic Hospital and Elgin State Hospital, Elgin, Illinois.
One hundred alcoholics from 25 to 30 years of age were studied in comparison with the control group of a like number. They were rated on the following points:
1. Sociological date.
2. Mother relationship.
3. Father relationship.
4. Sibling relationship.
5. Home life. 

6. Religion and standards. 

7. Sex development.

8. Love affairs. 

9. Physical development. 

10. Intellectual development. 

11. Vocational adjustment. 

12. Social adjustment.

13.  Emotional adjustment. 

14. Marital adjustment. 

15. Miscellaneous.

The conclusions of this study are summarized as follows:

1. A domineering but idealized mother and a stern, autocratic father whom the patient somewhat feared as a child.

2. A marked degree of strict, unquestioning obedience demanded in family life, with little latitude and freedom allowed.

3. A sense of insecurity as evidenced by an insistent feeling of need for religious security and a strong sense of sin and guilt.

4. Marked interest in the opposite sex, with many love affairs but poor marital adjustment.

5. Lack of ability to get along with others and to be socially acceptable to them.

6. A keyed-up emotional level, resulting in work done under high nervous tension.

7. A definitely expressed and disproportionately greater love for the maternal parent than for the paternal.1

1 W. S. Sadler, The Practice of Psychiatry (St. Louis: C. V. Mosby Co., 1953), p. 139.