Type: Review
Pages: 5 | Words: 1240
Reading Time: 6 Minutes

You Owe Yourself a Drunk is a book written by James P. Spradley. The author was an Anthropology professor at Macalester College. He is famous for his ethnographic works, qualitative researches and literatures (Benedict, 67). He was an editor and writer; he wrote and edited more than 12 books in less than 12 years. He produced other works such as The Deaf Like Me as well as the research titled the Type of Analysis (Cashmore, 34). The book was produced in 1970 in Boston by the little Brown publishers. The book was reissued in 2000 by Waveland publishers. The book gives an account of experiences. The men under the ethnographic studies are continuously getting arrested for being drunk in public. It further challenges the assumption that society rejects of the public and are incapable of using cultural methods to organize their behavior (Bernard, 78). The author uses an account of different methods of ethnographic analysis to show how a sub-culture in an urban setting interacts with agencies of law enforcements. He gives a thorough description of jail life and further narrates how a jail term transforms the drunken men individual personalities. Jail term also plays a significant role in enabling these men to acquire essential life skills. The skills are essential in the urban sub-culture and they further entice the men to adjust to a transformed livelihood. Overall, drinking is viewed as a result of social values in society (Clifford, 90). The key theme of the book is the relationship between alcohol and homelessness.

According to James Spradley, there is an interactive relationship between drug/alcohol use and homelessness. This relationship is a cause and effect relationship in that alcohol can result to homelessness and consequently homelessness can result in drug or alcohol use. Further, he notes that individuals with minimal finances face a great challenge to remain with housing. On the other hand, when a big amount of the financial resources is spent on alcohol or drugs, the capacity to maintain a stable life in one housing facility becomes more challenging.   

Alcohol as a Disease in Society

On the other hand, if the basic needs such as shelter and food are provided unreliably and precariously, it becomes difficult to focus on alcohol. The dangerous and stressful impacts of urban nomad life may result to a vicious cycle of depending on alcohol or other substances as a source of comfort. The state of homelessness may arise from different factors such as the incarceration linked to the use of alcohol. James Spradley’s ethnological studies further show that the use of alcohol among the homeless people results in several secondary benefits. As a Seattle Anthropologist, he found that many men who lived in skid row and at the same time were employed intermittently relied on the use of alcohol as a form of camaraderie. In this case, the adaptation to alcohol resulted from living in the streets. Alcohol use also resulted to people being ‘vagabonds’. You Owe Yourself a Drunk further uses the studies to portray the so called tramps, homeless, alcoholic, dregs of society and the urban nomads social life (Spradley, 56). The ethnographic book discusses every aspect of these individuals. Firstly, it shows how they are marginalized and discriminated by the society in which they live. It then continues to cover the key setbacks and challenges that the drunken experience. Thirdly, the book tries to cover the misery filled aspect of their lives in the drunken state. It proceeds to give details of accounts after account and narration after narration of the horrible stories that the drunken undergo in jail cells.    In terms of gender, the book mainly represents the drunken men; the main reason why the book covers men rather than both men and women is that it was written in the 1970s.  Alcoholism affected men more than women and few women got drunk from alcohol. In addition, the problem of homelessness became a pressing social issue mainly affecting the single men above the age of 50. Many of these single men above 50 frequently turned up to social and public intervention programs.

The book portrays alcohol as a disease. Society treats this disease differently. On one hand, society consists of minimal agreement and consensus of how to quantify and define alcoholism and homelessness. Few studies and researches had been conducted in the 1970s. On the other hand, many society members have little or no regard for looking or counting their homeless. On the other hand, the homeless members in society prefer to remain anonymous and isolated. The book was a very provocative piece of literature that drew much insight into alcoholism because little had been researched in the field. It gave great wealth of knowledge in regard to the use of alcohol, the consequential treatment and its effects on different people in society. The book stated: “when strangers meet, they become friends more quickly when they have taken a few drinks. Aside from the physiological effects of alcohol, drinking rituals, bottle gangs and sharing a drink with another are a powerful symbol of acceptance and comradeship among those who have known the opposite from outsiders.” In this regard, the impact of alcohol is more than physiological. Those who are discriminated by society find more ease interacting under influence of alcohol rather than on normal sober circumstances. Further, those drunken individuals have composed their own groups of drinking, and constituted rituals as habits of drinking. They find more comfort with each other and are able to defend one another against the society. On the other hand, the book acknowledges that a big number of the homeless and alcoholic are susceptible to diseases; liver diseases, tuberculosis, seizure, gastrointestinal ailments and hypertension. The author acknowledges that the biggest barrier to the analytical studies of the homeless alcoholic arises from the few definitions of the terms. He consequently went ahead to define nomads. The definition fails to include the people of “hidden homeless” and the housed people who develop unconventional unexpected and undefined solutions to meet some of their needs e.g. those living together in camps with their friends and relatives. This limitation translates to limited findings. In his definition, he acknowledged that the term homeless is further complicated by the seasonal nature as well as the chronic versus episodic variety. The major motivation for the definition of nomads in the book is that “homeless” differ in regard to cultural and national context. On a global level, homeless means those with insufficient housing. The analysis is further motivated by the fact that the relation between alcoholism and homeless has an historical root and a consequential stereotyping. In Finland, the term ‘puliukko’ was used to address both alcoholic and the homeless. On the other hand, in Japan, the ‘yosebas’, a term describing the single men in society most of whom are alcoholic are guaranteed cheap housing while they lender construction services but they constantly live out in seasons of unemployment. Historically, in the US, skid rows have been parts of the city where single men and women with alcoholic problems live in mainly in streets or hotels.

In conclusion, this book provided the earliest form of literature into alcoholism. Further, the background of the writer in Anthropology assisted him in gathering information on the homeless and alcoholism. These two issues continue to affect many members of society. Up to date, the issues remain interrelated. Homelessness in most cases leads to alcoholism and consequently alcoholism may lead to homelessness.

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