Jean-Paul Descombey

Alcoholism Publication date : February 1, 1998

In France, alcoholism is the third major cause of mortality, immediately behindcancer and cardiovascular diseases. The victims are both men and women, mainlybetween the ages of 50 and 70. According to Jean-Paul Descombey, who bases hisconclusions on his long career as a medical practitioner, alcoholism is not adisease that may be compared with tuberculosis or cancer; it is a behaviouraldisorder. Alcoholics do not drink for pleasure. Their dependence on alcoholoften masks hidden pain which can only find an outlet in alcoholism--a form ofphysical, psychic, familial and social self-destruction. The author's goal is to make us discover the men and women who hide behind thissocially censured form of behaviour, and to attempt to make us understand theirsuffering. This is not an easy task as the perception of alcoholism iscomplicated by profound misunderstandings and prejudice: the popularimagination views the alcoholic as a drunk, who drives dangerously, abuseschildren, batters his wife, drinks up the household money, disrupts the peace,and is a burden on public health services. Alcoholics who want to be cured must learn to live without alcohol--this,however, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. They must alsoconcentrate on winning a victory over themselves and on finding their ownpersonal solutions with the assistance of health-care workers and family andfriends. L'Homme alcoolique is not a treatise on alcoholism, but aninformative work aimed at a wide readership; its goal is to help readersovercome their prejudices and thus to recognise and understand the dramaticlives of alcoholics, who are sometimes "so close and yet so different." Theauthor addresses the families, friends and colleagues of alcoholics, as well associal workers, all of whom may at various times experience states of disarray,perplexity, or irritation because they feel powerless or confused whenconfronted with the scenario given to them, or imposed on them, by thealcoholic. Jean-Paul Descombey is a former hospital psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He wasfor many years the director of a multidisciplinary team specialising in thetreatment of alcoholism at the Centre hospitalier générald'Orsay. He was also the head doctor at the Centre Henri-Rousselle at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Paris.