The Jellinek Curve
E. M. Jellinek (“Bunky”) is among other things said to be the father of the “Jellinek Curve” which we saw here at AA Agnostica a while back. He was also one of the foremost researchers on alcoholism in his day. It appears that he was one of the first people in the academic world to give alcoholism the status of a disease.
On Wikipedia his credentials are impressive:
In the 1930s he returned to the U.S.A. and worked at the Worcester State Hospital, Worcester, Massachusetts, from whence he was commissioned to conduct a study for the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol. The eventual outcome of his study was the 1942 book, Alcohol Addiction and Chronic Alcoholism.
From 1941 to 1952, he was Associate Professor of Applied Physiology at Yale University. In 1941 he was managing editor of the newly established Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (now the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs). In 1952 he was engaged by the World Health Organization in Geneva as a consultant on alcoholism, and made significant contributions to the work of the alcoholism sub-committee of the W.H.O.’s Expert Committee on Mental Health.
His whole life is documented there. However, a bit more research reveals that his life story is far from well documented. Even his identity in earlier parts of his life is questionable. Very well, he lived in several places around the world, and it was not uncommon in the world before electronic records that a person could bullshit their way into rather prestigious positions of employment. Things were hard to verify. I had two successful 20 year careers myself in fields I knew practically nothing about when I started. A Danish friend of mine, equipped with a fake degree from an American university where he never set foot taught English in Japan for a year. History is full of examples like these. And it appears that Jellinek is no exception from this long and glorious tradition.
According to his second wife, or as she is referred to in one biographical paper:
The CAS archives contain letters written from Thelma Pierce Anderson, Jellinek’s likely second wife, to Mark Keller at the Center of Alcohol Studies:
“I do remember Bunky coming home and saying, ‘How would you like to be married to an alcohol expert?’ I said something along the line of, ‘But you don’t know one damned thing about it’. …I said I thought he could probably learn enough to bull his way along until he needed to know more. Again, Bunky took to the books, and I swear that within ten days he had developed a number of really good and original ideas on a subject about which he (nor anyone else it turned out) had had not one reasonable notion in 50 years.” (Anderson to Keller, 1963)
We in AA would know him from his contact with Marty Mann, one of the first women to sober up within the Fellowship. (“Women Suffer Too”) She was from a wealthy family, and supported his research financially – and at least initially – and also provided the material she wanted to have researched. Again, according to Wikipedia:
Jellinek coined the expression “the disease concept of alcoholism”, and significantly accelerated the movement towards the medicalization of drunkenness and alcohol habituation.
Jellinek’s initial 1946 study was funded by Marty Mann and R. Brinkley Smithers (Falcone, 2003). It was based on a narrow, selective study of a hand-picked group of members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) who had returned a self-reporting questionnaire. Valverde opines that a biostatistician of Jellinek’s eminence would have been only too well aware of the “unscientific status” of the “dubiously scientific data that had been collected by AA members”.
By this time he did indeed have a reputation to uphold, and in the resulting paper, Phases in the Drinking History of Alcoholics (1946), he does indeed in several places cautiously distance himself from his involvement with it. The 36 questions these hand picked alcoholics were asked were much like the “20 Questions” we all know well, though the questions were prefaced by “At What Age Did You First”. We all know the age is not a primary factor. Jellinek points out that such a questionnaire should instead have been prepared by a researcher in order to really do the subject justice, not by someone with a point to prove.
And now the “Jellinek Curve”. (Editor’s Note: Click here for large PDF version of the Jellinek Curve. If you click on the image at the bottom of this article you will also get the PDF. Feel free to print it, if you wish.)
According to the paper “Mystery and speculations – An introduction to E.M. Jellinek’s redemption” by William Bejarno:
Perhaps his most enduring contribution to the field is his idea of “phases” of alcohol addiction (Jellinek, 1946, 1952), later modified by Dr. Max Glatt to include a recovery element (Glatt, 1958), but still popularly referred to as the “Jellinek Curve.” This curve has been modified and applied to all sorts of addiction disorders over the years and remains highly cited to this day.
Jellinek eventually distanced himself from it. Max Glatt was sort of the British counterpart to Jellinek, but apparently much more involved in treatment of alcoholics.
Most of the elements along this curve are familiar to an alcoholic in recovery. Most of us have experienced many of them. What I will focus on here, however are those entries which relate to the realm of the spiritual because there’s something funny going on. On the Recovery side of the Curve we find, relatively early on “Spiritual needs examined”. I don’t think this was foremost on my mind when I was newly sober, though going to AA I eventually would wind up doing this exam because that’s part of what you do in AA. Farther up the curve we find things like “Rebirth of Ideals”, “Application of Real Values” and those make better sense, along with most of the others. It is a bit later. The whole recovery list I find to generally be a reasonable representation of the progress of recovery.
But what really jumped out at me was an entry on the Addiction side. Again most of them I could relate to from my own experience, but not the one called “Vague Spiritual Desires”. This supposedly happens right before the end, a while after “Moral Deterioration”, “Impaired Thinking”, “Indefinable Fears”, “Unable to Initiate Action”, “Obsession with Drinking” – all familiar, but then “Vague Spiritual Desires”?
I dabbled in spiritual things along my way toward active alcoholism. In my 20s I would occasionally go so far off on a tangent as to allow Jehovas Witnesses, or Children of God in for a cup of coffee and a discussion, later on I got vaguely interested in Eastern stuff, later on yet, as the years passed, we’d all sit at 2 AM, drunk on our asses and have deep, deep discussions about god and spirituality, and who created the world, and where he was before he created it and all that, for my own part mostly from an atheist point of view. I did a variety of psychotherapies too, some of which could be said to include spiritual elements. But all that of course fell by the wayside eventually. Later on we were only interested in beer and sex, and later on yet, only beer.
So somehow these “Vague Spiritual Desires” come into the picture at this point. Now I know there are people of a supposedly religious inclination who at this point would start bargaining with their god to see if they couldn’t somehow ease out of the corner they had painted themselves into, but even prayers on such an occasion can hardly be called spiritual desire, rather it’s just a slick attempt to get one over on whatever god there may be.
Personally I had no spiritual desires at that point, vague or otherwise, and I have not known any alcoholic in the twilight before recovery that did. So what is it doing there? I can not see any other explanation than that someone with an agenda put it in there. Time for the white light, folks!
It’s a shame, really. This sort of thing tends to call the whole thing into question about its honesty and reliability when really the rest of the curve is actually quite good. Obvious agendas such as that one do scare honest unbelievers away.
But otherwise: looking over this curve provides a 5 minute overview and reminder of my own alcoholism and recovery, better than most other things I have seen.