By Peter Nolan
MIDDLE-CLASS Catho lics in London stand a better than average chance of becoming alcoholics, and guilt feelings affect their recovery. the Helping Hand Organisation said this week.
Mr. George Lanagan, a Catholic who runs one of Helping Hand's six London centres for alcohacs and drug addicts, admitted the figures were based on a very small sample. "But they reflect my experience and that of others working with alcoholics," he said. "The statistics, based on Hartley House, Ealing, are correct.
"The belief that the Catholic group is large because it contains a lot of Irish labourers is a myth. Alcoholism is a disease that affects all sections of society equally, the drunken dosser people notice on the street is merely the tip of the iceberg."
Despite increasing education, alcoholism was still seen as a form of delinquency rather than disease, said Mr. Lanagan. "The Catholic feels guilty at the sort of things his need for drink 'mists him into doing. Confession, followed by a return to drink and letting down his wife and children especially trouble him."
While I was talking to Mr. Lanagan his phone rang. It was a mother from Cork inquiring about her son, whom he knew. "Don't worry," he said. "If he was in prison or hospital I would know about it very quickly."
While 99 per cent of residents stayed off drink while at Hartley House, only 25 per cent. remained "dry" afterwards, he said. "But to get a man who has been drinking solidly for ten years off it for even a month is a success."
Mr. Lanagan is not easily discouraged. His phone is rarely free from calls from exresidents and their relatives, which come at all hours, even to his home.
The therapeutic community principles practised at Hartley House recently helped an Australian to return to his wife and children who had been waiting for him for ten years. "We had a send off party for him the other night," said Mr. Lanagan.
The problems of the house's residents were discussed at two group therapy sessions with a qualified worker each week. "People talk through their difficulties," he said.
"A recovering alcoholic's first need is to make relationships," said Mr. Lanagan. "By the time he is homeless or in hospital, all he has left are acquaintances."
The majority of Hartley House's intake has been of single people, average age 40, though one was 72 and others are in their early twenties. The greatest temptation to return to drink occurs after an alcoholic has stopped drinking and gets depressed by the anti-climax of finally achieving his aim.
"Often they leave us to go into accommodation where they cannot bring in their friends. Unable to make social contacts, they begin drinking again," said Mr. Lanagan. "We are now looking for a house in the area which could provide self-contained bed-sitters with a common kitchen, giving residents both the privacy and company they need."
Helping Hand, which describes itself as the largest rehabilitation centre for alcoholics in England. also has
a special "assessment centre" in South London, a residential centre in, Buckinghamshire and a day centre in the West End of London for drug addicts.
Mr. Peter Harle, the Catholic editor of The Harr, the ecumenical Ealing area church magazine, is one of the 12 members of Helping Hand's management council. "I •hope to have arranged a meeting with a number of priests and Catholic organisations 'intereste n the problem within a month," he said.
STARTED BY BUDDHIST
Many Catholic groups were working in the field, and if they got together to discuss the problem something might emerge from the meeting.
"The Helping 14 and organisation was started in 1964 by Mr. Barry Richards, a Buddhist and associate of Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, who founded the Cheshire Homes and is a patron of our organisation," said Mr. Harle.
Launched with a generous interest-free loan from Mr. Richards. Helping Hand set out to fill a gap in the social services by providing "rehabilitation experience for those suffering from dependence on alcohol or other drugs."
Their report this week is the first the organisation has published and marks the beginning of their expansion outside London, the first centre being opened in Manchester last month. "We arc making a radio appeal in October," said Mr. Harle.
Mr. Travers Cousins, executive director of the Bristol Council on Alcoholism, who recently read a paper to the new Catholic Social Welfare Commission said Catholics might be picked out as a group because they had a high rate of recovery. "One does not hear about the failures," he said.
Mr. Travers said the Council was started with the support of Bishop Rudderham of Clifton and ran an information centre and day centre for alcoholics in Bristol, working in co-opera tion with Alcoholics Anonymous. He said his alcoholic "indentikit" would roughly agree with Helping Hand's middle class Catholic.
"The man 'in his thirties with a home, good job, wife and children,' is most likely to be an alcholic," he said, "But to my own knowledge probably no fewer than 500 priests ordained for England and Wales are also practising alcoholics, as I told the Commission.
"Doing research on the problem in Italy this year, I had a private audience with the Pope and he agreed that as my -45 million Catholic lives throughout the world were affected by alcoholism. "One in 12 of regular drinkers is likely to be an alcoholic. Much more education is needed on the problem,"
"Michael," president of Calix, the Catholic organisation which helps alcoholics, many of whose members have suffered from the disease, said statistics on alcoholism were so vague that Helping Hand's figures could neither be proved nor disproved.
"But there is no doubt about it from my own experience that the number of lapsed Catholics referred to alcoholic centres is disproportionately higher than one would expect from their numbers in the population," he said.
He disagreed with Mr. Lanagan that Irish labourers were no more likely to be alcoholics than others. The incidence of alcoholism was about 11 times higher in Ireland, and immigrants had to adjust to a foreign environment here, he said.
"Helping Hand is a marvellous organisation. Public facilities for alcoholics are disgracefully few. The practice of every Irish hospital board to have a full-time social worker for alcoholics could be fruitfully imitated here."
Mr. Lanagan said the next stage of attack on the problem was to identify and treat "incipient alcoholics." He blamed collusion between married couples in hiding a partner's drinking problems.
"Men we help have often said to me 'If only I had known this kind of aid was available 10 years ago, I would have kept my job.' We are trying to attract calls for help from alcoholics at an earlier stage. This is one of the reasons for the report."
Looking at the success of Helping Hand, which has grown at the rate -of a centre a year, each backed by a team of specialist advisors, he said': "We don't offer any magical cures-only a confidential advice service."