The Case Files: Bill W.

So this past weekend, I walked downstairs after sleeping in until noon – hey, sometimes it needs to be done – and I saw my sister watching Forks Over Knives. Given that I am a vegetarian, I was quite excited she had taken the initiative to watch this documentary. After we had finished watching “Forks Over Knives”, she inquired if there were any other good movies on Netflix that were similar to watch next. I suggested Food Matters. It’s slow-moving in comparison Forks Over Knives, but it has valuable information. I will also say up front it’s a little more propaganda-like.

Anyway, I was reminded in the documentary about Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Griffith Wilson a.k.a. Bill W. Bill had lifelong struggles with depression that were the motivating factors for him to drink. I will get to what “Food Matters” said about Bill, but first I’ll give you a short background on Bill and on AA. I hear AA and “the steps” thrown around often in movies and the media, but I rarely hear an explanation. I actually remember this scene from “Clueless,” where Cher inquires about Travis’ struggles with drinking/drugging and he tells her he’s working the steps. I was so confused as a young gal and wondered what the hell the 12-Steps were. I actually assumed he was taking a dancing class.

Bill W. was born in Vermont and grew up with his maternal grandparents. This is because his mom and dad peaced out when Bill was a wee little lad. Kind of a buzzkill, right? Well, he lived a decent life by all other accounts regardless. He was captain of the football team and quite popular in school. However, at 17 years old, he experienced his first serious bout of depression when his first love died (Kind of like Lincoln!).

Then Bill met his future wife and ended up getting solicited to serve first in the Vermont National Guard and then in World War I. It was during his time in the Vermont National Guard as an artillery officer that Bill had his first drink. He said, “I had found the elixir of life,” in regards to working through some of his shyness.

After his service, Bill attended and failed to graduate from law school because he was too drunk to pick up his diploma. Things got worse as he became a traveling stock speculator, doing well momentarily but falling into the bottle more often than not. Eventually, Bill put himself in the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions. He went there four times with little effect, even being warned that he would have to quit drinking or he would die or be locked away for Wernicke encephalopathy, also known as wet brain.

Then one of Bill’s old drinking buddies came into the picture and explained that he got sober spiritually with a collection of people known as The Oxford Group. Bill had a spiritual experience and felt he had “seen the light,” so to speak and got clean. But oh no, there’s a difference between being clean and being sober. Soon, Bill learned the difference when he was a few months into his recovery and he had the urge to drink. He determined the best option would be to seek out someone else struggling with alcoholism and talk them through what he was going through. He met his AA counterpart Dr. Bob and they began working to create what later became Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA brought the spiritual element to sobriety that has been a huge piece to the success of the program. The 12 steps are a good example of how spirituality acts as a guide for others toward a life of sobriety:


  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What I find most interesting about Bill’s story is that he continued to be a flawed human being. Bill cheated on his very faithful wife of 30+ years. He was notorious for being difficult to work with and even demanded whiskey on his death bed from emphysema. The guy kicked alcohol, but he loved his cigarettes.

He also continued to struggle with depression. At one point his depression was so terrible, he had to resign from the board of AA. Food Matters spoke about how Bill eventually cured his depression with a heavy dose of niacin (vitamin B-3). Turns out that drinking can cause a decrease in B-3 in our bodies and leads to depressive moods. Knowing Bill’s love of alcohol, he was in desperate need of some nutritional assistance.

Bill actually tried to get AA to recommend alcoholics take niacin while in recovery to help with alcohol-induced depression and what may likely be a driving force for people to relapse. AA doctors quashed that suggestion. Food Matters claims it was because Big Pharma had already infiltrated AA. I don’t know what it was, but it seems silly to avoid recommending something like that (a harmless vitamin regimen) for no reason.

I wanted to write this post because as I mentioned yesterday, I get questions about my mind-body ideology often enough to write a few posts about it. I don’t claim to be a nutritionist or an expert on the matter by any means, but I have personally reaped the benefits of health from a holistic approach choosing a healthy diet, vitamins, minerals, and exercise. I have 23 years of medicating myself with prescription medications and experiencing all the unpleasant side effects that can be offered. If a little niacin is proven to help with depression, then why not take it? You can’t die from an overdose of vitamins. You can die from an overdose of prescription medications.

Just some food for thought. Haha, get it? Getttt ittttt?

Also, Bill W. is an awesome dude. He created an organization that is at the cornerstone of most recovery plans for sobriety. He was flawed and human, but he contributed to the world. He gave millions of people a way to live a better, cleaner, and more fulfilling life. Thanks, Bill W.

Sources (1, 2, 3, 4)

P.S. If you’re interesting in reading more about the story behind niacin and depression, be sure to read the source links.

Author: Jennifer Bingaman Mazur

I like writing about what I think about what I think. I also like writing about what other people think and what I think about that. Yes? Yes.

5 thoughts on “The Case Files: Bill W.”

  1. Alcohol zaps most of your B vitamins, and minerals like magnesium. Likewise as you mentioned you get hit at your brain,nerves, and metabolic functions. A b complex and magnesium can help IMO. Though as the movies you mention allude to an over all diet change maybe the case of what’s needed.

    1. Amol, you’re speaking in doctor. What’s IMO? As you know, I’d be an advocate of an overall diet change, but clearly B vitamins are a start. If it’s a non-damaging holistic remedy and it had the potential to work (within reason of course, I’m not advocating things that aren’t backed by some kind of research), why not give it a shot? Thank you for commenting. 🙂

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