The alcoholic has two faces. The first seems very kind and friendly, yet beneath there lies another face, that of the frightened, resentful, aggressive personality who is scared to face his problems and seeks to hide his troubles in the oblivion of alcoholic intoxication. The alcoholic faces disease, disgrace and chaos as he sits in a dazed stupor watching his life fall apart in and around him.
About four to five percent of European people suffer directly or indirectly as a result of alcohol abuse. Perhaps the best known disease resulting from alcohol is cirrhosis, though other forms of more subtle trauma exist. Alcohol is a poison and can cause anything from digestive troubles and pancreatitis to psychological disturbance and infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. It also destroys brain cells which was shown to be true in an examination of alcoholics with psychological disorders.
A well known proverb in my country is roughly translated as 'Drunkards have all the luck', but my own experiences as a doctor dealing with these people have been somewhat different. In the hospitals where I work I have seen gaping head wounds received from a tumble taken during alcohol intoxication, and serious injuries incurred in traffic accidents brought about by alcohol. It is also widely known that alcoholism is responsible for many crimes and has a destructive influence on the family unit, its material standard and the upbringing of children. An alcoholic's child more easily becomes an alcoholic also.
Why then is alcohol so widely accepted by modern society? Psychologically speaking, it arises because of the need to release stress. We seem to have very few real alternatives apart from external modalities such as drugs and alcohol. The urge to drink and to escape into oblivion is perhaps the expression of an unconscious desire to reach final fulfillment, to find true happiness, though we do not really know what this is, and our society has not taught us a better way. However, is alcohol so efficient at releasing our stress and making us happy, really happy, that is? Judging by the crime statistics, records of broken homes, and health of most heavy drinkers, it is a very poor substitute for happiness.
Alcoholism is a real problem for physicians to treat, but the alcoholic is even more of a problem to himself. He is caught in the web of his own making and is unable to control himself. He craves alcohol when he is sober,, and then goes on a binge, drinking more and more, increasing the dose over a period of time in order to get the desired effect. In doing so, he becomes physically dependent on alcohol so that after abstaining for a while, he suffers from withdrawal problems such as delirium tremens, which is potentially lethal, Treatment of alcohol is not easy. One method consists of behavioural psychotherapy in which the injection of drugs such as apomorphin or emitin provokes unpleasant sensations, causing vomiting when alcohol is taken, and is eventually supposed to make the alcoholic abhor his life support, alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous is another attempt to help the alcoholic give up his addiction. As yet, no therapy has had more than moderate success when dealing with alcoholics.
Yoga, however, appears to be coming to the rescue of the alcoholic as well as every thinking man, woman and child. For it offers a myriad of techniques which relieve stress, and help us to leave our addictions by replacing them with something better. Once we experience the peace and relaxation that can be had with yogic practice, we no longer need alcohol.
It is universally accepted that the causes leading to alcoholism can be safely eradicated by a systematic program of yoga. The hatha yoga shatkarmas (purification techniques) go a long way in helping alcoholics out of the crisis. Once the alcoholic becomes interested in yoga and starts to practice regularly, he will not only find himself out of disaster, but will also discover within himself the strength, light and wisdom to journey through the dark abyss of life. The transformation will enrich his life with health, wealth and enlightenment.
Alcoholism arises because of the vacuum many people feel themselves in, created by a society oriented to gaining its security from external things rather than from within. Thus alcohol and other drugs are used as a crutch, a support, an attempt to fill the empty space of our lives. Our society has not taught us how to delve within and discover the treasures that are ours by birthright. For this, yoga is needed.
Yogic practices have been scientifically shown to be of benefit in the treatment of alcoholism and many forms of drug addiction. A growing number of scientists are speculating that meditation and biofeedback may help the individual produce mental states that are so satisfying they can serve as a substitute for drug and alcohol addiction, filling the inner vacuum and eliminating the habit. This form of therapy replaces a bad habit with a good one, and has many benefits such as developing inner satisfaction, security and a zest for life. Yogic techniques also allow powerful pranic forces to generate internal dynamic will, giving mastery over the weaknesses of personality that allowed alcoholism to develop in the first place. Often people take up drinking as a social habit and, feeling insecure, they use it more and more in their daily life, not only as means to relax but to escape from their own minds. Through yoga one learns to face himself again and work out a positive solution to his problems.
As a doctor from Czechoslovakia, a country noted for its alcoholism, I have seen many cases unsuccessfully treated by modern therapies. On the other hand, I have seen men and women, young and old, successfully 'treated' in the ashram environment. The ashram is a 'charged' place; energy pervades the atmosphere. In this kind of environment we can grow in a positive direction and develop positive personalities. A positive personality is one that gives out rather than takes in. You know positive people by the 'good' feeling you get in their presence; they radiate joy and high living. A dynamic personality doesn't need to seek security and satisfaction through external media as he has his own inner life, energy and power. This is what is developed in the ashram environment, and it is the means to stop drinking.
The ashram environment offers much more than just yoga practices to maintain health and vitality, and redirect the energies of the personality in a positive direction. When we live in a yogic atmosphere and adopt a yogic lifestyle, prana and spiritual energies percolate into our consciousness and charge the subtle structure of our body-mind complex. Most people who stay in the ashram for any length of time experience great changes in their inner being. Those who had previously been heavy drinkers too find that the thought of alcohol no longer enters their minds. They are too involved in ashram life and karma yoga to want to escape into alcoholic oblivion!