Social drinking begun by college-age youths today is one of the major causes of the alcoholism of tomorrow.
Both Dr. Robert E. Fleming, instructor in Psychiatry at the Medical School, and Charles Gaughan, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Commission on Alcoholism, agreed yesterday that the early age at which drinking is now begun is the main reason that there are more alcoholics or "potential alcoholics" in the United States today than ever before in history. Recent reports indicate that there are one million actual alcoholics and four million on the way.
Few College Alcoholics
"There are very few alcoholics in college today," said Fleming, an expert on the problems of alcoholism and director of the Alcoholics Clinic at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. "The reason for this is that it takes approximately ten years of drinking to produce an alcoholic--and few undergraduates have had this much experience."
The psychiatrist can spot the potential alcoholic before the case becomes chronic, Fleming said. There are no clear-cut "symptoms" of a tendency to become addicted; they vary with the individual. He advised against amateur psychiatrists going to work on their friends, because the signs--nervousness, insecurity, a feeling that drink is necessary--may be signs of other mental difficulties.
Fleming said that people begin to drink for social, psychological, or physical reasons. Some find that their ackes and pains are eased by a highball. Others find that they feel more at home in a group with a cocktall in their hand.
"There is no harm in this initial stage," Fleming said. "But in some cases, it is only a way station. Plainly and simply, the main cause of an alcohol addiction is alcohol. The more one drinks, the more necessary it becomes."
But frequently new troubles come, also social, psychological and physical. These troubles are the results of the alcohol that was taken originally to cure other problems. These troubles are family difficulties, job problems, digestional disorders and the like. "One of the great paradoxes about drinking is that the only thing that relieves the sufferings of the alcoholic is the very thing that is causing him to suffer."
Fleming said that people who are weak in either their personality or their physical constitution are least able to handle liquor. An interesting exception to this rule was revealed in recent case studies, which showed a surprising percentage of ex-athletes among the patients at alcoholic clinics. These men, because of their exceptional physical condition during their college years, were at first able to take large quantities of alcohol without apparent harm. But their systems were affected by this overdosage, and when their condition weakened, their progress to chronic addiction was hastened.
Gaughan said that the Massachusetts Commission on Alcoholism has made studies which indicate that the surplus of money in circulation due to the nation's war economy is a large factor in the increase of alcoholism. "People have more money to spend, so they spend it on liquor, just as they spend it on other recreation."