Alcohol is only a symptom of the disease alcoholism. You can take the alcohol out of alcoholism but what is left is the “ism” part of this disease. The ism is why we drank, the ism is what drove us to bad neighborhoods in our mind. The ism will quickly get you drunk again if not addressed in recovery. The disease—the ‘ism’ of alcoholism—involves more than the act of drinking. The ism is what the successful recovering alcoholic addresses daily in their reprieve from alcohol in their journey of sobriety. This website is devoted to the ism in alcoholism… a vital part of recovery.

What is this ism part of alcoholism? Good acronyms for ism are : I, Self, Me or I Sponsor Myself or Internal Spiritual Malady (or Maladjustment), or Incredibly Short Memory or InSide Me or I Sabotage Myself. In short the “ism” is all about the alcoholic and how they cope with the many things encountered in life. This ism is one of self-centeredness taken to the extreme. The ism involves more than the act of drinking. Feelings of inadequacy, isolation, restlessness, anxiety, depression, fear and guilt are just a few of the “isms” that the alcoholic wrestles with daily. Other isms rear its ugly head in unflattering shows of over-reaction, blaming others and defending oneself from perceived threats and fears. All of these feelings are internalized and exposed in twisted forms of alcoholic reality to friends and family and treated with alcohol by the alcoholic still suffering from the disease of alcoholism.

No matter what when you take away the alcohol, you still have the traits and characteristics that go with it. The ism is why we drank. The ism has to be addressed. We need a whole new way of life.

 The founders of the AA movement, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, were clear about the ultimate problem of alcoholism. Bill and Dr. Bob called it “spiritual bankruptcy” which is just another way of saying our alcoholism is a result of an ism (internal spiritual malady).

Most alcoholics, for whatever reason, can’t seem to cope with the bumpy road of life without drinking considerable amounts of alcohol. This inability to cope with life without alcohol is the “ism” part. Generally, most alcoholics are egotistical and self-centered people. Some are immature, at least for their age. Basically, they use alcohol, which is a drug, to “self-medicate” them as a tried and true method of anesthetizing themselves from the pains of life.

Stopping drinking is never easy, but if an alcoholic is going to stop for good and lead a relatively “normal” life, they need to realize it is process of changing the way they deal with life and all its myriad of problems. It is actually more difficult to heal the “ism” side of the alcoholism problem, but one that must be done successfully if the alcoholic is going to live a good, alcohol-free existence.




Alcoholism is considered a fatal disease. It kills or injuries thousands of people every year. And like other fatal diseases, alcoholism can be treated and kept in remission if the identified person is willing to take certain significant steps. First, is admitting they have the problem. Next, is going through the process of rehab and recovery. The final part is addressing the “ism” part of their alcohol problem by working the 12-steps to the best of their ability.

Alcoholism is composed of two word elements.

Alcohol – the substance which alcoholics use. And ism the underlying motives or needs which can be addressed in recovery. This article will discuss the ism’s and associated fears.

The Ism’s

These ism’s are part of normal life, everyone has them to varying degrees. Specifically, the ism’s are an attempt to make life bearable, as a way of “interpersonal control and coping.” This is, of course, what we all strive to do on a day-to-day basis, we need these thinking patterns and behaviours to cope, most people seem to be doing alright, while the alcoholic seems to be sinking fast.

One of the main ism’s with alcoholism is the ism of fear.


Recovery is mostly about letting go of fear. In fact, fear produces most all my insane moments. Any time I need a reality check, I try to stop and ask myself if there is a fear at the root of what I’m doing.

These are the fear demons I’ve identified in myself – so far.

Fear of failure,
Fear of loneliness,

Fear of intimacy,

Fear of risk,

Fear of pain,

Fear of abandonment,

Fear of rejection,

Fear of looking/sounding stupid,

Fear of what someone might think,

Fear of punishment,

Fear of poverty,

Fear of exploitation,

Fear of missing the big chance,

Fear of fear,

Fear of ….

Letting go of fear

With self awareness of my isms and associated fears I can now know when I am acting or even thinking from fear.

If I know when I’m acting from fear, or about to act from fear, then I can usually let go of the fear and remain in the calm centre. For me, recovery works when this “check-up” is my first response to a fear producing situation.

If the fear overwhelms me, or I miss the cue and act out of fear, my life gets unmanageable.




Other emotions and fear

What sometimes helps me identify fear are the other emotions it produces in me: Anger and Self-pity (helplessness). If anger is the corresponding emotion, I know I need to detach my “self” from who or what is causing the fear and the anger. I return to Step One and admit powerlessness.

If distress or worry is the corresponding emotion, I know I need to let go of the fear, accept (which sometimes includes facing the fear), and quit focusing on feeling sorry for myself, or wishing someone or something would rescue/help me out of the fearful situation. I return to Step Three and reliance upon my Higher Power to show me how to take care of/help myself or regain trust that what is worrying me will be taken care of by my Higher Power.

Fear v Trust (Faith)

Fear, for me, is always the opposite of trust (faith). Faith means that my Higher Power is big enough and powerful enough to see me through any situation. When I doubt that the Higher Power is big enough, I try to become my own higher power, and that’s when serenity and sanity fly out the window.

For me, serenity is the reality that the Higher Power is always there for me, always available. It’s my responsibility to remember I am not alone; I am one with the Higher Power and the Higher Power has a plan and a will for my life, even in the fearful moments.

By Anonymous

‘ism’ (I, self, me) is still very much alive and well kept at bay daily by working the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

It is easy to let up on our program of action and rest on our laurels too…and before you know it,you are in a funk.
The desire to drink has been removed,and the desire to do good is here,but sometimes the ole ism pops it ugly head up and roars…

It was not until I learned to deal with the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Terror, frustration, bewilderment & despair) that sobriety was worth having.

True sobriety rides on the coat-tails of serenity (the deluxe edition of sobriety).

The name of the illness is Alcohol-ISM, the alcohol is but a symptom, to which as Dr.Silkworth said in ,’The Doctors Opinion’ p.xxv ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ 4th Ed.

Some people have alcohol-issues and treatment centers do work for them. Their problem centers in the substance.

Some people have alcohol-ism and need a whole new way of life. Their problem centers in the mind.

The “Isms”

Ever wondered why life with your alcoholic can be so challenging, even if they’ve stopped drinking? That’s because of the “isms”. Isms are the behaviors and attitudes that are typical of alcoholism and that usually continue, even when the alcoholic finds sobriety. These can include control-ism, egoism, paranoia, manipulation, impatience, withholding of information, quick temper, quick to defensiveness, etc.

We have isms of our own: we jump to take blame, defend people, over-compensate for the weakness of others, micro-manage, move too quickly into catastrophic thinking, and more.
These isms are hard to live with, on both sides. And when the drinking or other addiction stops, the isms continue unless we work to reprogram ourselves. By reading this blog, you are taking steps to help overcome your own isms. How do you live with those of your alcoholic? Here are some suggestions:

First and foremost, remove yourself (and your children) immediately from any dangerous situation;

Improve your radar – learn to realize when an “ism” is happening and consciously decide how to act, instead of reacting with your own counter-ism;

Have some compassion: if he or she doesn’t have a program, the alcoholic probably doesn’t know how to recognize the isms in themselves, let alone change them;

At the same time, set and maintain boundaries for how you wish to be treated. When they’ve been crossed, follow through with the consequences (if you’re going to yell at me I’m going to have to leave the room until you calm down);

When I learned about the isms, I realized that I had been modifying my behavior around my alcoholic to avoid triggering his isms. My sponsor explained that this was actually controlling and enabling behavior, and that I was also not honoring myself. We shouldn’t have to tip toe around those we love, or who are supposed to love us. But with compassion, neither do we purposefully act in ways to put the alcoholic in harm, such as goading them into a fight. My sponsor encouraged me to recognize and ask for what I needed in each situation. While this might or might not change the behaviors of my alcoholic toward me, the point was to advance my own growth by understanding and then putting my needs on the table. In this way, I was breaking through the habits of my own isms.



In time and in a healthy, recovering relationship, the alcoholic and the supporter should be able to have conversations about the isms and even help each other to recognize when an ism is occurring, so that behavior can be modified by personal will to do so. We can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. But it’s been my experience that quite often when I make a shift, those around me tend to make them as well.

Humility and the “ism” of Alcoholism

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. “Ism” = Insecure, Selfish Me. “Ism” = I, Self, Me (Not a quote from Big Book or 12 & 12 but seems to reflect the spirit of the two)

The alcohol part of the alcoholism is a self induced illness, something the alcoholic inflicts everytime they take a drink. The ism part of alcoholism is emotional and I believe genetic in orgin. The ism is that gnawing sence of restlessness, anxiety, depression and guilt the alcoholic feels. The ism of alcoholism makes us self-centered. All of those feelings are parts of the disease. That is the dis-ease of not being at-ease. Cancer is a disease but alcoholism is a dis-ease. Having the dis-ease is the opposite of at-ease.

Recovering alcoholics always say that they are alcoholics, not that they were, no matter how long they have been in recovery and without a drink. We believe that the “ism” of alcoholism is always with us and that complacency about our recovery is dangerous. We are always “recovering,” never “recovered.”

the “ism” of alcoholism. In other words, when you take away the alcohol, you still have the traits and characteristics that go with it.

One thing we know: The disease—the ‘ism’ of alcoholism—involves more than the act of drinking. Feelings of inadequacy, isolation, …

The name of the illness is Alcohol-ISM, the alcohol is but a symptom, to which as Dr.Silkworth said in ,’The Doctors Opinion’ p.xxv ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ 4th Ed.

In his book I’ll Quit Tomorrow (1973), Vernon Johnson described the same experiences when he wrote that the ism of alcoholism is shared by other family members. In his words,

The founders of the AA movement, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, were clear about the ultimate problem of alcoholism. For them it was “spiritual bankruptcy.” This is what I have described as the problem of co-dependency. This ism of alcoholism or any addiction is the inner self-rupture called, variously, internalized shame, self-will run riot or co-dependence. Each is a way to describe spiritual bankruptcy.

It is the spiritual malady This symptom can continue to stay with us or even new ones can develop even though we are alcohol free. It is the ism’s of life which is dealt with by our higher power.

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