Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home > Topics > Health and Wellness
December 26, 2013
All Articles

Behind the Patient: Street Portraits
by Michael Morse

The season of ‘cheer’ is hard on alcoholics

Combative drunks are no different than combative diabetics — both suffer life-threatening disease that affects their behavior

By Michael Morse

Our good friend Ethyl Alcohol is ready to infiltrate the body, mind and spirit of those who suffer from alcoholism, making their lives a contradiction of joy and despair. The holiday season amplifies the need to imbibe and pushes away the urge to resist.

For most the pleasant buzz from the ingestion of a cocktail or two is a grand accompaniment to the sounds and sights of the season: A few drinks loosens the wheels of conversation, makes a mundane get-together magical, puts a spring in an old man’s step and serves as the glue that binds humanity together as we enjoy each other’s company over a snifter of cognac, a fine wine, a single malt scotch or a nice cold beer.

For many, Ethyl is a non-issue, and they might have a sip of punch to be sociable, or pass – it matters not to those who simply don’t see what all the fuss is about. Alcohol doesn’t work its magic for these folks; they have no desire, no need, and no interest in what it offers.

Some battle an insidious disease, a relentless attack. These people live life one day at a time, with each day sober an achievement in its own right, another day without succumbing to the relentless media barrage glorifying the very substance that will be their undoing. They live life on different terms, avoiding situations where the temptation beckons to indulge in something that their friends and family do with nary a second thought, so that they can lead a life of contented sobriety.

Then there are those who have yet to experience the spiritual awakening essential to their recovery. Alcoholism is cunning, baffling disease, misunderstood by nearly everybody who does not suffer from the condition. It is easy to label the alcoholic as a person with no self-control, somebody whose misfortune is nobody’s fault but their own.

In a 1992 JAMA article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published this definition of alcoholism:

“Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.”

Active alcoholics often find themselves on the street, homeless and at the mercy of society. Given the choice, they would not be the combative, intoxicated chronic abuser of both alcohol and emergency medical services that they are.

Knowing that “the drunk” is actually a person suffering with a deadly disease is imperative. A combative person with diabetes is no different than a combative intoxicated person, legally or ethically. They are both suffering from impaired consciousness. It is not up to EMS providers to distinguish between the two, and make bad choices as to how the patient is treated.

It is our duty to treat the sick and injured without passing judgment as to how they became that way.

About the author

Michael Morse is a rescue captain with the Providence Fire Department and the author of Rescuing Providence and Responding. He has worked on engine, ladder and rescue companies during his 21-year career. His current assignment is Rescue Company 5. Michael blogs at RescuingProvidence.com.
Comments
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EMS1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Ruth McGuire Woolery Ruth McGuire Woolery Friday, December 27, 2013 1:34:53 PM Well put. Thank you.
Genny White Genny White Friday, December 27, 2013 2:10:16 PM Though Morse’s article speaks to duty of caring for those with life threatening diseases, and calls particular attention to challenges that this time of year produces for alcoholics I would like to expand upon his topic and discuss the carnage and catastrophic events caused by the homicidal driver that drinks while driving, who also most probably suffers from alcoholism. According NHTSA 36 people a day in the United States lose their life in a traffic fatality where an alcohol impaired driver is involved, the number goes to 45 a day over a 3 day Christmas Period, and jumps to 54 per day over the New Year Holiday. I would add that in addition to providing care for the sick and the injured without passing judgment on how they became that way; there is a duty to report a crime to the police when an attempted murder has occurred by one driving while under the influence of alcohol. I have other additions to Mr. Morse’s article also: This “good friend” Ethyl alcohol is also referred to by the state of CA when it is imbedding in the blood system as the causative agent for all the carnage and destruction strewn across the states highways and byways. We are truly a depraved society if it is “the drinking of a few drinks that is the glue that binds humanity together.” With due respect to Mr. Morse granted my perception is jaded. My 18- year old daughter was one of the 54 traffic fatalities a day where an alcohol-impaired driver was found to be involved occurring during the New Years Holiday in 2010. Her boy friend was driving her home from their seeing the first Sherlock Holmes movie. They were legally parked at a red light when a 4x repeat offender drunk driver struck their car traveling over 60 miles an hour on a surface street. That driver who suffers this life threatening disease, who had previously been served the Watson Notice committed murder, after countless attempted murders and is now serving 31 years in state prison. Just as collisions that occur are not accidents when an alcohol impaired driver is involved, but are crashes. An alcoholic suffering a “life threatening” disease, though I would add threatening to the lives of innocent civilians when they take the wheel intoxicated, are criminals with criminal intent and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to be judged by a jury.
Rescuing Providence Rescuing Providence Saturday, December 28, 2013 7:23:51 AM Anybody, alcoholic or not who drives while intoxicated or otherwise impaired is breaking the law and should be treated accordingly. http://rescuingprovidence.com/2013/12/making-it-home/ I'm sorry for your loss
Adam Moore Adam Moore Saturday, December 28, 2013 9:26:51 PM well written article
Julia Harris Julia Harris Saturday, December 28, 2013 10:03:59 PM Thanks for writing this, especially at this time of year. I'm a paramedic and an alcoholic who has been sober for 4+ years. You're absolutely right that this time of year can be difficult. I'm very fortunate to have survived in one piece. The fact that I can now help those who aren't as fortunate is a gift from my higher power. People with addiction issues will always make up a large portion of our calls. When I say addiction, I'm not just referring to alcohol or drugs. Obesity is evidence of an addiction just like cirrhosis is of alcoholism. Invariably when we use things outside of ourselves to try and fill the emptiness and pain within our health, among other things, suffers. Every patient I encounter deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion. While this can be easier said than done; it is imperative that we always try. If nothing else these patients remind me to be grateful for all the blessings I have in my life.
Rescuing Providence Rescuing Providence Sunday, December 29, 2013 6:06:44 AM thank you Julia, it's all about the gratitude, without that resentment creeps in and makes compassionate care nearly impossible to deliver. We have a friend in common, a guy named Bill W :)
Julia Harris Julia Harris Sunday, December 29, 2013 8:35:56 AM I kinda thought that that might be the case. Thanks for sharing your journey with the rest of us. It helps to know that there are others trudging the happy road of destiny a day at a time!!
Charlene Thomas-Simmons AlwaysPaid Charlene Thomas-Simmons AlwaysPaid Monday, January 06, 2014 5:56:19 AM Bitch don't no one CARE ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER .. SINCE YOU COMING ON SITES TALKING TRASH... SO WHAT ABOUT HER ORGANS WHO IS SHE... SO WHAT A DRUNK DRIVER HIT HER WHO WAS SHE.. AND WHILE YOUR TALKING TRASH ABOUT JAHI MCMATH WHO ARE YOU.. BECAUSE THE WHOLE WORLD KNOW JAHI BABY... WHAT...
Charlene Thomas-Simmons AlwaysPaid Charlene Thomas-Simmons AlwaysPaid Monday, January 06, 2014 5:59:47 AM WHO CARES IF A DRUNK DRIVER HIT YOUR DAUGHTER OOOO WELL.. JAHI LIVEW BABY AND HER MOM WAS SMART NOT LIKE YOU LAZY ON A FIGHT TOSSED IN THE TOWEL NOW YOUR ON FB... LOL WHO CARES PELL FACE.... LOL

EMS1 Offers

We Recommend...

Connect with EMS1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+

Get the #1 EMS eNewsletter

Fire Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
Enter Email
See Sample

Online Campus Both

Health and Wellness Videos