Philip Leon on “Dipsomania”
July 23, 2008, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Philip Leon’s Philosophy of Courage is scanned and corrected. We expect to have it online sometime in August. In the meantime, here is another gem from the book, Leon’s thoughts on “dipsomania,” otherwise known as alcoholism.

What are the characteristics of a mania, say of dipsomania? The desire for drink which is called dipsomania is, in the first place, compulsive: the dipsomaniac is its victim; he cannot help himself, he feels; he must have his drink, or else—so it seems to him—something terrible will happen, the end of the world. Closely connected with the compulsiveness of the desire would seem to be what we may call its narrowness or rigidity or inelasticity or lack of plasticity. By this I mean that there is little or no variety in the modes of its satisfaction. Whereas ordinary thirst, for example, can be satisfied by water, tea, coffee, etc., the drunkard’s “thirst” can be satisfied by alcohol only. Being incapable of seeking for variety, as most desires do, it replaces variety by infinity of repetition …

It ends by infecting the whole of its victim’s life with its own characteristics, or rather by reducing the whole of his life to itself. Every activity becomes for him merely a means to satisfying his desire for drink; it becomes for him something which is not itself real living, real living being just drinking …

If we look more closely at the dipsomaniac, we shall see that it is also a rejection and running away—in short, unmistakable fear. For his secret is not that he makes for drink and takes delight in it as desirous people make for and take delight in that which they desire. Of delight there is very little in his life, and as his dipsomania grows he cannot be said even ordinarily to like drink, still less to delight in it. But as his dipsomania grows, there is something which does grow along with it and proportionately to it, and it is that something which explains it. It is his fear or even horror, of life without drink. That life is a wild beast which pursues him, and his dipsomania is just a running away from it. He desires or makes for drink only in the sense in which we make for a refuge; drink is for him a refuge from life. His repetition of the doses is the action not of a desirous lover but of a coward desperately defending a position with a repeating rifle against an oncoming foe.

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