Alcohol Addiction

As a student in an undergraduate psychology class, I was required to attend an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting.

This simple experience opened my eyes to an important issue as a person and as a future nurse.

Alcohol addiction has no social boundaries. For those affected, it can be personally devastating.

As I later witnessed in my clinical experience, the physical effects of alcohol addiction and withdrawal can be equally as destructive.

From text or lecture, a nurse can learn about the physical symptoms of addiction and withdrawal and how to treat them; but it is difficult to gain a perspective on how personal the disease can be.


Alcohol Withdrawal (with podcast option!)

It is through the nurse-patient relationship that many nurses are able to assist the individual through detoxification.

At an AA meeting, people with alcoholism are accepted and understood, helping many people abstain from alcohol.

As I sat there, I wondered how much more these people could be helped if this understanding extended beyond the boundaries of one-hour meetings.

For a person, compassion and understanding is admirable. For a nurse, an understanding relative to alcohol addiction is essential to providing supportive care.

As a nurse, attending a meeting may provide you the insight such as I experienced.

Every Walk of Life

I attended a 12-Step Meeting in Andover, MA, which was open to the public.

I arrived about 10 minutes early, with the intention of introducing myself to the person running the meeting. To my surprise, it was quite crowded, with 40 or more people in the room.

No particular demographic could be defined. The room was filled with people barely of legal age to drink to senior citizens. Some were dressed in suits, some in well-worn T-shirts and jeans. There were as many men as there were women.


I seated myself in the back, figuring I could just blend in.

Shortly thereafter, a man went to the front of the room, introduced himself, and announced the meeting would begin.

The man to his right then spoke, “Hi, I’m Mike and I’m an alcoholic.”

The room responded in unison, “Hi, Mike.”

This continued around the room. I realized I was not going to be able to maintain a discreet presence.

When it was my turn I said, “Hi, my name is Jacki. I am a nursing student from UMass – Lowell. I am here to observe. I hope it is OK that I join you.”

Again the group spoke in unison, “Hi, Jacki.” Then the leader added, “and welcome.”

The woman next to me smiled and patted my shoulder.

The tone was set, and it was very welcoming.

I was still unsure how I should incorporate myself into this group.

As a “12-Step” meeting, each member would read a paragraph from the current point in the book [sixth step].

Again, I was uncertain whether I should actively participate. This was their “bible” and I was a non-member.

I kept on hoping there would be more people before me than paragraphs; that did not happen.

Much to my relief, when it got to my row, the woman at the other end immediately started reading. I believe she sensed my discomfort. She smiled at me when she was done.

Goal Unites

As the meeting progressed, there were different speakers. They were as supportive to every person in the room as they had been to me. There were newcomers and some who had neared 20 years sobriety. There was laughter, as well as solemn moments.

One thing was clear – their common goal united them all. There are no magic words said here which keep them sober. It is the compassion and understanding they receive here that gives them the strength to abstain.


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As the meeting neared the end, they circled and held hands for prayer. Unsure, I took a step back. An older gentleman turned around, extended his hand and said, “Please join us.”

Soon people started milling around. Several people addressed me with questions and comments.

“How did you like it?” “Please come again dear.” “I am so happy someone from the medical field is coming to see what it is like. They don’t understand us. They think alcoholism can be fixed in 6 weeks.”

I said my goodbye and expressed my gratitude for making me feel so welcome. The goal of this program is to offer support and guidance to people with a common problem. This is exactly what this group was achieving. I was able to gain insight from my attendance.

My hope is I was able to show them the healthcare field wants to support them too. Nurses deal with patients who are dealing with various ailments.

Whether they admit it, or you realize it, your patient may suffer from alcohol addiction. The effects of this disease hurt the person beyond the physical symptoms.

In gaining an understanding of alcohol addiction, nurses can become more empathetic as people and improve the level of care they provide their patients.

Jacqueline Coleman graduated in December with a BSN from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. She is a psychiatric nurse at McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA.

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