Dying for a Drink: What You and Your Family Should Know about Alcoholism

Dying for a Drink: What You and Your Family Should Know about Alcoholism

by Anderson Spickard M.D., Barbara R. Thompson

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In the United States, alcoholism leads to 100,000 unnecessary deaths per year. Nearly 3 in 10 American adults are "risky drinkers." 18 million Americans are abusing alcohol regularly. More than ½ of Americans have a close family member who is an alcoholic.

Despite the scope of this problem, there are currently no books published for the broader Christian


In the United States, alcoholism leads to 100,000 unnecessary deaths per year. Nearly 3 in 10 American adults are "risky drinkers." 18 million Americans are abusing alcohol regularly. More than ½ of Americans have a close family member who is an alcoholic.

Despite the scope of this problem, there are currently no books published for the broader Christian community that offer Dying for a Drink's unique combination of strong writing, compelling stories, the best in medical science and practice, and clear explication of the timeless spiritual principles of recovery.

The revision of this classic work incorporates new information on topics such as:

  • The role of mental illness, childhood trauma, and family origin issues
  • Human motivation and new methods of intervention and treatment
  • Understanding the role of the Holy Spirit and the church community in recovery
  • Prevention and the church's role in an alcohol-saturated society

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Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
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5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Anderson Spickard Jr. Barbara R. Thompson

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2007 Anderson Spickard Jr.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-0847-7

Chapter One

An Equal Opportunity Epidemic

* * *

James leans against a telephone pole in a liquor-store parking lot, drinking a forty-ounce bottle of beer. On the sidewalk, five teenagers do a brisk business in an open-air drug market, selling cocaine and smokable heroin to affluent young people from upscale neighborhoods. James takes another long drink. "What kinds of fools mess with drugs?" he wonders aloud.

Across town, Eleanor, an attorney, unwinds from a long day in court with a bottle of wine and the evening news. The lead story is another drive-by shooting in a low-income neighborhood. "Who cares?" Eleanor asks herself. Drug-related violence is an old story and not a problem in her affluent neighborhood.

Despite the economic gulf between them, James and Eleanor share a common bond: they are both addicted to alcohol. The intoxicating liquid that more than a hundred million Americans drink for pleasure, they drink from necessity. If unchecked, they will both drink themselves to an early, painful, and completely preventable death.

Only a small percentage of addicted drinkers, like James, live on the street. The rest are our neighbors. Some are infants born with alcohol on their breath; some are grammar-school children. Others are among the millions of teenagers who bounce back and forth between alcohol and illegal drugs. A startling percentage are college-age binge drinkers, and a growing number are well-heeled baby boomers heading into retirement.

At the same time, loneliness, a sense of uselessness, and retirement communities where social drinking is the norm are sending thousands of unsuspecting senior citizens into late-onset alcoholism. Isolation makes it easy for aging adults to hide the amount of their alcohol consumption, and more than one grandparent has taken his or her first drink at sixty, only to be admitted within a few years to a hospital detoxification ward by a shocked and disbelieving family.

Sadly, often neither doctors, mental health professionals, nor faith leaders are equipped to respond effectively to this epidemic of addictive drinking. In the presence of untrained doctors, alcoholics are extraordinarily adept at disguising their real symptoms. I know of one addict who went to forty doctors, and all but two gave him inappropriate medication and failed to recognize his addiction. Counselors and therapists, pastors, rabbis, imams, and other faith leaders who are untaught in substance abuse can likewise fall victim to the addict's often uncanny ability to hide his or her addiction. Some may spend years addressing the symptoms of addiction without ever recognizing the underlying cause of their clients' distress.

Amid this general ineffectiveness, there is hope for addicted drinkers-and their friends and families. Our sense of helplessness about alcoholism may account for why the majority of alcoholics never enter treatment programs. But this pessimism overlooks the remarkable percentage of addicted drinkers who, having received appropriate help, are living sober, productive lives.

It is important to note that, while the focus of this book is alcoholism, the similarities between alcohol and other drug addictions are greater than their differences, and many, many people are addicted to both. The distinctions are primarily in physical effects, diagnostic tests, and medical management of withdrawal. Effective intervention and treatment methods are generally the same (with some modifications) for all addictive substances.

Our own journey from helplessness to effective action begins with an investigation into the causes of addiction. Why do people become alcoholics? Recent medical research provides some startling answers to this question and brings us face-to-face with a sobering fact: few of us, if any, can say, "It could never happen to me."


Many addicted drinkers combine alcohol with illegal or prescription drugs, creating a complicated cross-addiction for themselves and a substance-abuse nightmare for their communities. Substance abuse is the number one health problem in the United States, and the health costs related to drug and alcohol use exceed one trillion dollars a year. Alcohol and drug-related problems extend across all barriers of class, age, and race, and the affluent are as likely to become addicts as the poor.

Disparities in media coverage, law enforcement, and medical treatment perpetuate the mistaken identification of the nation's drug problem with inner-city youth and exacerbate the cultural ignorance that often separates racial and ethnic groups. This divisive trend is an often overlooked part of the enormous price America pays for the widespread abuse of alcohol and use of illegal drugs.


As a young boy growing up in East Africa, Moses was beaten routinely by his alcoholic father. His mother turned much of the family's millet crop into a potent home brew, and Moses was forced to scavenge for food.

With the help of a caring family friend, Moses went to school and eventually graduated from college. He became a devout Christian, married, and raised six children. Neither he nor his wife ever drank alcohol. "I don't want to see my children suffer like I did," Moses told a friend.

In the mid-1990s, while on a church mission, Moses was killed by a drunk driver. Over the next decade, three of his children became alcoholics. Two daughters were infected with AIDS because of the alcohol-related promiscuity of their husbands, and by the year 2005, more than twenty of Moses' grandchildren were growing up in alcoholic homes.

The experience of Moses and his family is repeated in countless cities, towns, and villages around the globe. Alcoholism is one of the world's most serious public health problems, creating hardship and tragedy for hundreds of millions of people. For example: Alcoholism has helped lower the life expectancy of Russian men to 57 years-two decades shorter than in Western Europe. In South Africa, one in three urban males is addicted to alcohol. In Chile, 70 percent of workplace absenteeism is related to problem drinking.

In Papua New Guinea, almost nine in ten fatal road accidents involve drivers or pedestrians who are drunk. In the United States, someone is killed by a drunk driver every twenty-four minutes. With the exception of drunk-driving accidents, however, the high cost of alcohol abuse around the globe remains largely invisible. This cost includes addiction, chronic poor health, physical and sexual abuse, premature deaths from accidents, violent crimes, and AIDS. "For all the focus on illegal drugs, the number one cause of the spread of AIDS is alcohol," reported a recovering addict and activist. "Get drunk, get stupid, get AIDS."


Excerpted from DYING FOR a DRINK by Anderson Spickard Jr. Barbara R. Thompson Copyright © 2007 by Anderson Spickard Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. Anderson Spickard is the director of the Physicians Wellness Program at Vanderbilt Medical Center. He has spent more than forty years practicing medicine at Vanderbilt University and the Vanderbilt Institute for Treatment of Addiction.

Barbara R. Thompson is an award-winning writer, editor, and writing coach. She has written numerous books and articles. She has an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

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