The Big Book discusses three distinctly different types of drinkers on page 20 and 21: the moderate drinker, the hard drinker, and the real alcoholic.
I suppose that I was once a moderate drinker, because in my early drinking days, I could “take it or leave it alone” (p. 20). I could force myself home from the bar before closing motel time with youthful willpower . . . but yet, the phenomenon of craving held strong, yet controllable. I have seldom, if ever, really wanted to quit drinking once started. I doubt that I have ever possessed a normal reaction to alcohol, but at that youthful time I could make use of self-will and self-knowledge. I was then a moderate drinker – albeit barely.
But by the time I was nineteen, I found myself in the drunk-tank three times in one year, causing the judge so remand me to ninety-days in the Indiana penal farm; but luckily the sheriff knew my father and I was let off the hook. At his point I would consider myself a hard drinker because I would stop drinking for months at a time using strong self-will and self-knowledge. I seemed to have a choice before taking that first drink, although once started I often couldn’t stop for days. So, through my early twenties, I believe I was a hard drinker.
But at some point in my late twenties I became what the Big Book describes as a real alcoholic; that is to say, I had no choice before the first drink. The term alcoholic insanity fit me perfectly. As Joe McQ. used to say: “I couldn’t stop when I started, but when I stopped I couldn’t stop starting.” By mid-thirties I would not dare drink during the work week, but I did anyway and, of course, fired again. I had lost all choice before that first drink. Self-will and self-knowledge no longer worked because there was something wrong with my noodle. I had progressed to the stage of a real alcoholic. To sum up:
* The moderate drinker can use self-will and self-knowledge.
* The hard drinker can also use self- will and self- knowledge.
* The real alcoholiccannot use self-will and self-knowledge.
The Big Book uses the phrase real alcoholic seven times; I believe it is obvious that Bill had a specific idea in mind when he wrote that expression. I can easily see that alcoholism is a progressive disease.