October 2nd, 2012 / 5:25 pm
Author Spotlight

DIED: Griffith Edwards

Griffith Edwards, Oxford-educated MD and addiction specialist, invented alcoholism. In 1976.

That is to say, he and a cowriter named Milton Gross first published a description of Alcohol Dependence Syndrome in the British Medical Journal in 1976, making the whole darn thing official.

Edwards spent his life considering, studying, talking about, writing about, and helping others with addictions.


ALCOHOL in HISTORY: Edited Highlights

1) Noah is the first drunk in the Bible. In Genesis 9:21, Noah drinks wine and falls asleep naked in his tent. While he is passed out, his son Ham does something to him, but the Bible does not really specify what. The Bible has a blackout. In defense of Noah getting drunk, he had spent three chapters saving humanity and animalkind from a flood.

2) In the 18th Century, gin was big and made people crazy. In 1736, a tax on gin caused riots.

3) In 1935, two men started an organization called Alcoholics Anonymous. One of them was a man named Bill Wilson. AA members sometimes refer to themselves as “Friends of Bill W.” I’ve heard that if you are in an airport, and you hear a page for “Bill W.” to come to the airport bar, an alcoholic who feels himself tempted is reaching out to any other alcoholic who might be willing to head over to the bar to talk to her or him. According to Susan Cheever’s book, MY NAME IS BILL, on his deathbed, Bill Wilson asked for whiskey, but no one would give him any.

4) The first time I got drunk, it was 1989, and it was on a Kirsch. My friends Andy, Namir (and possibly Todd) and I were skateboarding in my basement. I knew where my folks had shelved away the booze. (They were strictly beer and wine types and had the hard alcohol on hand for company.) Having no idea how much a person could drink, I had ten shots. I was sick for two days and decided never to drink again. I didn’t stick with that decision. Kirsch is short for Kirschwasser, which is German for “cherry water.”


I checked a copy of Griffith Edwards’s book, ALCOHOL: THE WORLD’S FAVORITE DRUG out of the local library. Someone has underlined words and phrases throughout the copy. Especially in the chapter about AA. The marks get more frequent as the chapter progresses. The lines also get more frantically scribbled. In the final section of the AA chapter—called “AA and the question ‘Does it work?'”—the underliner becomes a full-blown book vandal, commenting in the margins and within the body text of every single sentence. When Edwards uses the phrase “hard-nosed,” the vandal writes “red.” When Edwards says: “Many researchers who accept controlled trials as the only standard of proof will therefore argue that ‘There is no evidence that AA works,'” the vandal circles “no evidence” and comments, “right! don’t bother us!” When Edwards—not a skeptic or an AA loyalist, but simply an advocate of multiple ways to treat addiction—summarizes: “While we wait for the exact science, it seems evident that the reason why people sit around in church halls, hospitals, prisons and all manner of other settings to attend AA and talk its talk is because this fellowship meets their needs,” the vandal has crossed out the first “that,” circled “sit around,” and written “no,” underlined “church halls,” and underlined “meets their needs.” And the vandal has followed up with: “YES & yours also. Afraid of AA? Try it. You’ll like it.”

The vandal is talking not to the author, of course. The vandal is talking to the person (curious? drinker? problem drinker? alcoholic?) who has picked up the book. The vandal is talking to me. Or you.

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  1. Seth Pollins

      Great, Simmons. Thank you for this brief, fascinating history.

  2. Bobby Dixon

      Before I read the last line I thought, the vandal is denying, then the vandal negotiates. Then, the vandal wants help.

  3. Matthew Simmons

      It was really interesting reading the earlier chapters and trying to figure out what the person was interested in based only on the underlines. There are some inside the book cover, too.

  4. Matthew Simmons

      Thanks, Seth.

  5. Bobby Dixon

      we lose the serendipitous vandal’s voice when ebooks take over

  6. Matthew Simmons

      Might make for some very interesting vandalism, indeed. Imagine scrolling through a book and finding little bits of art like this guys:


  7. qingtian996