By Donal Musgrave
THE National Council on 'Alcoholism is launching a countrywide appeal in November for £750,000 to survey and co-ordinate the work being done throughout the country for Britain's half-a:million alcoholics. Of this number 100,000 are desperate cases and some 40 per cent of the total are believed to be Catholics.
The Council, which is non-denominational, will use the money to examine the work being done by the various organisations in this field. Mr. Richard Perceval, its national field director. said this week that a lot could be done to eliminate overlapping of efforts and to provide information centres for educating people in the nature and treatment of alcoholism.
Meanwhile, experts stressed the lack of provision for treating alcoholics and especially the shortage of Catholic
workers—clerical and lay.
There are only two rehabilitation centres in the entire country. One, St. Luke's, is in London and is financed by Methodists in association with Dr. Donald Soper. The other is run by the Salvation Army in Swindon.
The Church of England runs three out-patient clinics. State hospitals offer a total of 169 beds. The National Council on Alcoholism has four information centres—and needs 100. A number of other organisations up and down the country try to tackle the problem in various ways, often
through undercover groups. The National Council wants to co-ordinate these efforts.
THE urgent need for priests to help this work for alcoholics was outlined for me at the weekend by the Warden of St. Luke's, Mr. Norman Ingram-Smith, a Congregationalist, who has looked after the victims of alcohol for 20 years.
"When a man is lying in his own filth in the gutter", he told me, "he doesn't, mind who lifts him up and oilers to help him. It can be a Catholic, Methodist, Anglican or Congregationalist.
"But during and after his medical treatment. when his mind begins to orientate towards the future, it is essential that he should have someone of his own faith to guide him on spiritual matters. The spiritual side of the cure is just as important as the medical."
Mr, Ingram-Smith continued: "When a Catholic comes to me for help, I would love to he able to bring him in, give' him a cup of tea, and then ring the Catholic rehabilitation centre and ask the priest. to come round. But I can't do this, because there isn't one."
While he does not regard it as essential for the Catholic Church to have its own rehabilitation centre, Mr. Ingram-Smith insists that it would be better for Catholic alcoholics if there were a Catholic chaplain available wherever they are being cured.
He has in fact applied to Catholic sources for help along these lines. He was unsuccessful.
How large a part do religious convictions play in the cure. "Broadly speaking," said Mr. Ingram-Smith, "the men who remain sober for long periods are men with a good relationship with God. Not that this is a guarantee of sobriety, but I find that men who lack this relationship rarely remain sober for long periods?'
St. Luke's is in South-West London. between Lambeth Palace and the Oval. In three years, more than 500 alcoholic men and women have been treated there. About 45 per cent were Catholics, and about 30 per cent were treated successfully.
They come from all walks of life and include men and women of the professional classes as well as skilled artisans and labourers. St. Luke's is modelled on family lines. "We see ourselves as a community living under the fatherhood of God, but on certain matters we have different beliefs, and I am often inhibited in advising the men in spiritual matters," said Mr. Ingram-Smith.
"Sometimes, when I want to hold family prayers, I put the idea away, because these would be for nonCatholics only. The centre would cease to be a family. But all the men here would benefit from a religious service."
There are two categories of alcoholic: the chemically addicted who take methylated spirits and surgical spirit as another would
take purple hearts; and the reactive alcoholic who turns to drink as a way out of tensions, sexual maladjustment, and psychological illnesses, Those who help them insist that the community must learn to recognise them and direct them towards treatment and be prepared to accept them sshen they come back to normal life, it is a common misconception that the alcoholic is a funny, dirty man with a long ragged coat. In fact, anyone in any walk of life may he an alcoholic---like the company director who is never drunk but never sober.
It is a fallacy to suggest that a man who drinks more and more is necessarily doomed to become an alcoholic. But if the unknown factor, the tendency to alcoholism, is there, and is joined with certain psychological and environmental factors, the result is an alcoholica man with a disease.
But the man with the ragged coat, who stinks to high heaven, does exist. You find them all over London, but at night they are drawn, as if by a magnet. to the bomb sites in London's East End and the Elephant and Castle.
Bomb sites visit
To find out what happens to a man who becomes a super-alcoholic or a meths drinker, I walked the bomb sites in London's East End last Friday night between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Friday is "brew day"the day when national assistance is paid out.
The social derelicts poured out of the pubs and gathered round the jellied eel stalls at Aldgate.
One stood by the wall, and fell to the ground. Nobody bothered. The police brought an ambulance. Others stood by themselves, one hand inside the huge dirty coat. A quick look round, a swig from a bottle, and hack it goes inside the coat again. They ignored me when I tried to talk to them, cursed at me, or walked away.
There were 20 men near the stalls, all more than normally drunk. There were a few fights. From Brick Lane, the coloured quarter notorious for drugs, I turned down Montague Street. A few men were curled up under newspapers. Some slept. One or two spoke, told me they were meths drinkcrs, said they had once been Catholics.
It was dark and I couldn't see the faces.
In Fort Street, near Spitalfields Market, a group sat at a small fire in the angle of a deserted house. Again they were drinking meths. Again some were Catholics. When T talked too much I was challenged to a fight.
In all I spoke to 33 down-andouts in derelict houses Irish, Welsh, Scottish, English, and one coloured. Fourteen said they were meths drinkers. Some were incoherent. All stank. Twenty had been Catholics. One had studied medicine.
There are women there, too, but not so many. As a social worker put it: "The community protects its women. If a woman keeps a drunken husband she is said to be mad. If a man keeps a drunken wife he is a good chap-longsuffering."
A super-alcoholic will drink anything from methylated spirits and VP wine to rough cider, anti-freeze. or a mixture ,of coal gas siphoned through milk, or shoe polish mixed with other ingredients. The end is death.