A History of Inpatient Alcohol Rehabilitation (A Letter to an Addict)

The psychologist Carl Jung told Ebby that alcoholics needed some form of spiritual awakening and would receive help through helping each other. Ebby told Bill W.

In Akron, Ohio, Bill chose to call the local hospital drunk-tank rather than go to the bar in the hotel in which he was staying. Sister Ignatia referred him to Mary Smith, the wife of a drunken surgeon at the hospital. The next day Bill met Dr Bob and spent the whole day with him. Returning the next day, he asked to see Dr Bob again and was told ‘He’s boiled as an owl’. Bill replied ‘But I’m not’. Three days later Dr Bob had his last drink and AA was born.

Ebby decided to do some ‘sensible drinking’  and he died.

After one year AA had only 10 members. They used to detox people in their own homes, using whiskey. One man hanged himself in Bill W’s home.

The old timers made a presentation to Rockefeller and his friends in the hope of getting money for a rehab, but he said ‘No:  AA was a wonderful idea and it needed to be financially independent. That became an important tradition. Fifteen years ago AA in the UK went to the House of Lords to reject a donation of £250,000 left to them by the widow of an alcoholic in recovery. Dr Henry Kissinger, the former USA Secretary of State, says that AA is the greatest social advance of the 20th Century.

Hazelden (Hazel’s den, at the bottom of her garden) was the first inpatient alcohol rehabilitation programme. It now has over 600 employees, over 400 of whom are in the publications department, sending literature all over the world. Hazelden is based on the spiritual principles of AA (hand it over). St Paul’s Hospital, Minnesota, is based on psychological principles (how would you work it out?). The combination of the two forms the ‘Minnesota Method’.

I met Geraldine O’Delaney (G.O.D.), who was still running a treatment centre in her 90s. She knew Dr Bob and Bill W personally. I have shaken her hand, therefore you are only two handshakes away from Dr Bob and Bill W. Equally you are one handshake away from Dr Kissinger, Fr Joseph Martin, the foremost addiction counsellor in the word, Governor Harold Hughes (who got the Hughes Amendment into the Constitution of the USA establishing alcoholism as an illness), and many of the giants in the field of addiction treatment. It’s rather fun knowing that there is such a close connection.

The 12 Steps were developed from the 5 Steps of the Oxford Group (Buckmanites) of evangelical Christians. Bill W expanded it to 12 steps and took out the religious component, substituting ‘God as we understand him’.

Charles Vetter established Drinkwatchers in the UK and took over the Western Fever Hospital near Brompton Cemetery as a treatment centre specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, art therapy and all sorts of things that the government approves of, such as counting the drinks each day and learning how to drink sensibly. He had immense support (David Ennals, the Minister of Health, spoke on his behalf at a conference I attended, ICI gave him £50,000 a year, and many other companies supported him). When he got comprehensively drunk and joined AA, they all dropped him.

It is an immense privilege to have been handed on the 12 Step Programme that was worked at so profoundly. When the old timers say, in the Big Book, ‘These are the steps we took’, they’re telling us what we have to do to get well. We don’t get well simply by going to meetings.

You have the opportunity now, 30 years ahead of the time when I got well, to get into recovery and stay there, if you wish, and if you’re prepared to do the work on a daily basis.

What is Alcoholism?


Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline


A History of Inpatient Alcohol Rehabilitation (A Letter to an Addict)


Treatment for Alcoholism


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