This section is from the book "The Hygienic System: Fasting And Sun Bathing", by Herbert M. Shelton. Also available from Amazon: The Hygienic System Vol III Fasting and Sun Bathing.
Dewey seems to have been the first to call attention to the great value of fasting in alcoholism. His book, Chronic Alcoholism, first published in 1899 is devoted to this subject, although he emphasized the value of fasting in this abnormality in his other and earlier works.
Subsequent writers have also stressed the value of fasting in alcoholism. In his Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition Carrington says: "a fast is one of the easiest methods for the cure of alcoholism." I do not subscribe to the explanation he gives of how and why fasting puts an end to alcoholism, but I am satisfied with the foregoing statement as it stands. In his Encyclopedia of Physical Culture, Macfadden says: "There is no better method of giving a victim of this disease (alcoholism) an opportunity to again secure control of himself, at least in the beginning of the treatment, than can be suggested by a complete fast."
Since, apparently, fasting was first used in alcoholism and later employed in other drug addictions, it may be well to begin with a brief study of this addiction. It is now everywhere recognized that the alcoholic is a sick man (or woman), but nowhere, it would seem, is the true nature of the illness recognized. Any form of drug addiction is an unintelligent seeking after "relief." Those who are comfortable seek no soothing poisons. Restless bodies and irritable nerves are soothed, often with the very occasion for the restlessness and irritability. The coffee user "relieves" her headache with more of the coffee that induced her headache in the first place. The morphine addict soothes his damaged nerves with more of the morphine that is responsible for their damage.
There is no drug-hunger, no craving for a poison of any kind, as is popularly supposed to exist in the victims of drug habits. The supposed craving for poison of any kind is a peculiar and unbearable nervousness arising out of exhaustion and injury. It is not a loud call for more stimulation (irritation) or more narcotization (depression)--nor yet a call for more poisoning, more injury, greater exhaustion--but a cry of distress. The real need is rest and a cessation of abuse. The "relief" that follows the repetition of the poison-dose is fictional and unreal.
Addicts take their beer and tobacco to soothe their distressed nerves. They feel weak and faint without them. They are just as weak and faint with them, but they are unconscious of the fact. The drug merely temporarily wipes out their awareness of their true condition. A man becomes irritable and cranky when denied his tobacco. The irritableness and crankiness are merely part of his general uneasiness--an uneasiness that has grown out of and is perpetuated by his habitual poisoning of himself.
That temporary respite from a sense of weakness and uneasiness, that temporary "relief" from misery and pain may be had from a re-narcotization of the nerves that are suffering from prior narcotization, leads the poor victim of the poison-vice to believe that his misery is a craving for his accustomed poison. This all adds up to the fact that the drug habit is the "relief" habit. Many drugs are said to be habit-forming. It is not the drug, but man that forms the habit. Man is, indeed, a habit-forming animal. For whatever reason he first takes the poison, he later takes it habitually as a means of escape from his intolerable suffering.
The development of the illness called alcoholism is so insidious that even the most thoughtful become enslaved to a remorseless habit, almost before they are aware of it. Starting the use of alcohol, usually in youth, when the energy reserves of the body are so great that almost any amount of indulgence seems perfectly safe, the habit progresses to a chronic illness that seems hopeless to the helpless inebriate. Fettered by chains of his own forging, weakened in body, mind and will by the very indulgence that he would discontinue, suffering unutterably when he does not take his alcohol, he will often commit crime to get the "relief" he seeks.
The suffering of the alcoholic is so much greater than that which his drinking causes the members of his family that he does not hesitate to spend all his money for more alcohol and let the family suffer for want of food or other necessities. He finds temporary "relief" from his suffering by re-narcotizing himself with alcohol. He may have started drinking to drown sorrows that refused to stay drowned; he now drinks because he is miserable--a misery induced by his prior drinking--and he finds a fictional surcease from his unutterable misery in more of the narcotic that induced his misery. He is a sick man. He is profoundly enervated. His injured nerves will give him no peace.
When it is recognized that alcoholism is a chronic illness, it will be easy to understand how and why fasting may be of service in the condition. It is a period of rest during which the much abused organism undergoes much-needed adjustments and repairs and recuperates its wasted energies. When the fast is ended and the system has been freed of its accumulated toxins, and what is even more important, the nervous system has been restored to health, the supposed craving for alcohol is no more.
Alcoholism is an illness involving structural abnormalities. The thickening and toughening of the membranes of the mouth, throat and stomach are necessary defensive expediencies. Fatty degeneration of the liver or sclerosis of the liver are, of course, late developments. When the alcoholic fasts the thickened membranes are removed and new membranes are formed. The new membrane of the mouth, tongue, throat and stomach will not be a thickened, seared one, impervious alike to foods and poisons, but a thin, delicate and sensitive one that permits full appreciation of the fine delicate flavors of foods.
Glands and nerves that have been lashed into impotency by overstimulation, rest into full functional power when given an opportunity. Renewal of their power can come in no other way. Will nerve energy be restored through rest? Just as certainly as a night of sleep will permit recuperation from the expenditures of the day. The abused organism will heal itself through rest as the broken bone will knit through rest. Do we deny rest to a broken bone, a wound, an ulcer? Do these need other means of healing? Can we deny that restorative cell-action resides within and that it operates best while the body is at rest?
Dewey said that the only remedy for alcoholism is "through a rest from all irritation from either alcoholics or food." He says of fasting in alcoholism: "the fast cure is one of the very easiest after the first three or four days, and even the most desperate old chronics can fast on for two, three, or even more weeks with only an increasing sense of comfort, and with no loss except disease and pounds. Was ever a cure for the alcoholic disease more rational, more in line with the very laws of nature?" He declared that there are only the fewest cases of chronic alcoholism so desperate, so long continued that a fast will not result in a new stomach, a repaired and renewed nervous system and a new outlook upon life.
Of this new outlook upon life, resulting from the emancipation of the man from his slavery to alcohol and of his renewed health, it may be well to take a brief glance. Dewey said to the alcoholic: "let me presume that for a whole month you have been absent from your homes undergoing the rest (fasting) cure, aided by my encouragement, your homes the while having the 'peace be still' comfort you have not permitted for years. You will return to those homes saner men, and because of your clearer vision and soul power in reserve you will see far more in the countenance of that long suffering wife to love, honor and respect than you really were able to see in your days of food gluttony even before the alcoholic disease.
"And those children, as soon as they find that it is safe to be in the same house with you, will respond to your soul, born again, as the rose unfolds under the favoring conditions of June. It will take them a little time to overcome fear of your attacks of emotional insanity, but in time they will get accustomed to the dazzling light where they have only found darkness and violence. As certainly will this be the result as you comply with the conditions."
Secret "cures" for alcoholism involve the expenditure of hundreds of dollars, weeks of absence from home and work, the introduction into the body of poisons (dangerous drugs) which are often worse than alcohol, and, usually, if not always, failure. The folly of trying to "cure" one poison addiction by resort to another poison should be apparent to all who read these lines. Occasionally the medical profession announces the discovery of a drug that will cure alcoholism or other drug addiction. As often as these poison-cures for poison-addiction are announced, they fail. Still the merry search for such a magic drug continues.
To the question: How long must I fast for alcoholism, Dewey replies: "Until you get into such comfort of body and mind that fasting will be a luxury. You will fast until there is a perfectly clean tongue and you feel capable of fasting unlimited. You will fast until there is a slight hint that some food of the nourishing kind is craved. Some of you will not get this felicity in less than a month, others sooner, and others will require even more time. The time is of no special account when cure is so certain and for such diseases as yours."
When the alcoholic has fully recovered from his illness and hunger has returned, no form of alcoholic drink will tempt him and should he attempt to drink some form, he will discover that he no longer "likes" it. It will bite and sting as it did when he first took it as a youth. He will be a free man again--no longer a slave to King Alcohol.