What does Alcoholics Anonymous mean by “Physical Allergy”?

Alcoholism is a threefold disease that encompassed the mind, body, and spirit. Within the disease, there are three parts referred to as the spiritual malady, the physical allergy, and the mental obsession. All of these components in conjunction make up the disease of alcoholism, as defined by the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Just like people have allergies to certain foods, those suffering from the disease of alcoholism have developed an allergy to alcohol.
The sort of allergy that a person suffering from alcoholism can be explained as a “phenomenon of craving.” Dr. William D. Silkworth, in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, explains, “We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lose their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.” In short, we lose all power and control over our drinking once alcohol enters our bodies. Drinking to excess and entering into binges and sprees is the allergic reaction that occurs when we drink. Dr. Silkworth, in a 1937 speech entitled Alcoholism as a Manifestation of Allergy, explains, “The spree is characterized by certain definite physical symptoms in all such cases. The phenomenon of craving is prominent; there are complete loss of appetite, insomnia, dry skin and hypermotor activity. He has a feeling of anxiety which amounts to a nameless terror. He presents the picture of a person who has just finished a race but must have more stimulation to start again at once.” We must manage the symptoms of alcoholism in the same way that we would manage any other allergy—avoiding the substance that causes the allergic reaction. Alcohol is the allergen, and if we are to recover, we must abstain entirely from alcohol in any form.

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