Read CHAPTER III: Getting the Alcohol Out of One’s System of The Old Game A Retrospect after Three and a Half Years on the Water-wagon , free online book, by Samuel G. Blythe, on

A scientist who has made a study of the subject told me, early in my water-wagoning, that it takes eighteen months for a man to get the alcohol entirely out of his system provided, of course, he has been a reasonably consistent consumer of it for a period of years. I think that is correct. Of course he did not mean nor do I that the alcohol actually remains in one’s system, but that the sub-acute effects remain that the system is not entirely reorganized on the new basis before that time; that the renovation is not complete.

I do not know exactly how to phrase it; but, as nearly as I can express it, the condition amounts to this: After a man has been a reasonably steady drinker for a period of years, and quits drinking, there remain within him mental and some physical alcoholic tendencies. These are acute for the earlier stages, and gradually come to be almost subconscious that is, though there is no physical alcoholization of his body, the mental alcoholization has not departed. I do not mean that his mind or mental powers are in any way affected to their detriment. What I do mean is that there remains in every man a remembrance, the ghost of a desire, the haunting thoughts of how good a certain kind of a drink would taste, and a regret for joys of companionship with one’s fellows in the old way and in the old game, which takes time and a good deal of time to eradicate.

It becomes a sort of state of mind. The body does not crave liquor. All that is past. There is no actual desire for it. Indeed, the thought of again taking a drink may be physically repugnant; but there is a sort of phantom of renounced good times that hangs round and worries and obtrudes in blue hours and lonesome hours and letdown hours a persistent, insistent sort of ghost-thought that flits across the mind from time to time and stimulates the what’s-the-use portion of a man’s thinking apparatus into active, personal inquiry, based on the dum vivimus, vivamus proposition.

I know this will be disputed by many men who have quit drinking and who beat themselves on the chests and boast: “I never think of it! Never, I assure you! I quit; and after a few days the thought of drinking never entered my mind.” I have only one reply for these persons; and, phrasing it as politely as I can, I say to them that they are all liars. Moreover, they are the worst sort of liars, for they not only lie to others but commit the useless folly of lying to themselves. They may think they do not lie; but they do.

There is not one of them not one who is not visited by the ghost of good times, the wraith of former fun, now and then; or one who does not wonder whether it is worth the struggle and speculate on what the harm would be if he took a few for old time’s sake. The mental yearn comes back occasionally long after the physical yearn has vanished. My compliments to you strong-minded and iron-willed citizens who quit and forget but you don’t! You may quit, but it is months and months before you forget.

The ghost appears and reappears; but gradually, as time goes on, the visits are less frequent and finally they cease. The ghost has given you up for a bad job. If any man has quit and has stuck it out for two years he can be reasonably sure he will not be haunted much after he enters his third year.

Mental impressions and desires last far longer than physical ones, and by that time the mind has been reorganized along the new lines. Then comes the sure knowledge that it is all right; and after that time any man who has fought his fight and falls can be classed only as an idiot. What, in the name of Bacchus, is there to compensate a man in drinking again after he has won his fight for all the troubles and rigors of the battle from which he has emerged victorious? If he had nerve enough to go through his novitiate and get his degree, why should he deliberately return to the position he voluntarily abandoned? What has he been fighting for? Why did he begin?