Was Winston Churchill really an alcoholic

September 4th, 2007  

Topic: Was Winston Churchill really an alcoholic

and if so did it affect his performance as a leader?

Rather than hijack another thread (What was Winston Churchills greatest wartime blunder) I figured I would pose the question in a separate thread which if it deteriorates can be closed without affecting the original thread.

I would like to take LeEnfield's post as a starter.
The problem with many of the quotes used are from a different era. Agreed Churchill drank and enjoyed a drink along with millions of other people, but I have never seen a report or spoken to any one that has seen him drunk, so just where did this drunk business come from. Now as we grow older we are all inclined to put on a bit of weight but it not seem to slow him down any.
now for an alleged drunk he wrote a large number of books, did some great paintings, taught him self brick laying, wrote and delivered some of the worlds all time great speeches, was good politician and parliamentarian, he a good grasp of world events and for saw trouble looming long before many other people, he was soldier of some note and also a war correspondent of even a bigger note. For those he would like to stand there and have a go about him all i can say if you can do just a fraction of what managed then I will listen to what you have to say
So whats the general consensus?

I tend believe he was an alcoholic but adapted to it well ie he rarely let it show in public, nor do I believe it affected his performance as a leader.

However this quote is attributed to him.

"You, Mr Churchill, are drunk."
"And you, Lady Astor, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning."
September 4th, 2007  
I think he was indeed an alcoholic too. There is far too much anecdotal evidence to support this view. For example, it was claimed that "Churchill pleaded with William Lyon Mackenzie King, the prime minister of Canada, to shift production in his country's distilleries from raw materials for the war effort to whiskey and gin, twenty-five thousand cases of it." [1] I can't find any further evidence online to back this up though.

Certainly Churchill was a heavy drinker throughout his adult life. It's been stated that "
Churchill refused to moderate his drinking. He believed Europeans liked leaders who could hold their liquor, so he did nothing to discourage rumours about his alcoholic excess, possibly because these rumours were true." [2]

The big question for me though is not whether Churchill was an alcoholic, but whether his heavy drinking ever negatively affected his performance in high office. For my money it must have done, especially if the rumour about him trying to divert war production is true.

http://www.moderndrunkardmagazine.co..._dictators.htm [1]

http://www.chriswoodford.com/church.htm [2]
September 4th, 2007  
There is a rubric doctors use to determine if someone is truly an alcoholic by the medical definition of it and not the common one people attribute off the cuff. It follows the acronym CAGE.

* Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
* Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
* Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
* Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (Eye opener)?


Item responses on the CAGE are scored 0 or 1, with a higher score an indication of alcohol problems. A total score of 2 or greater is considered clinically significant.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:

* Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities;
* Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery;
* Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk; and
* Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking.

Alcoholism is defined as having an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control over drinking, or physical dependence.


I would offer that Churchill abused alcohol but was not an alcoholic.
September 4th, 2007  
Del Boy
Simply- being a heavy drinker does not make one an alcoholic. Being a very heavy drinker does not make one an alcoholic. Being as we say, a boozer, does not make one an alcoholic.

Being an alcoholic does not necessarily make one a very heavy drinker. An alcoholic can have a dependency of, say , 1/2 bottle of wine nightly, but they must have it.

Churchill, and many like him, was not impaired by drink, far from it. Many professional soldiers in days gone by were very heavy drinkers, but impeccable in service and on parade. Many of these were among the very best of soldiers. After and outside of politics, Churchill a great orater, a great author, and a significant painter.

He remains a giant and his record defies destruction by pygmies.
(present company excepted, of course.)

Originally Posted by Doppleganger
I think he was indeed an alcoholic too. There is far too much anecdotal evidence to support this view. For example, it was claimed that "Churchill pleaded with William Lyon Mackenzie King, the prime minister of Canada, to shift production in his country's distilleries from raw materials for the war effort to whiskey and gin, twenty-five thousand cases of it." [1] I can't find any further evidence online to back this up though.

Did he drink the whole damn lot?
September 4th, 2007  
Liver to Brain: "SCOTS in the wire!!!"
September 4th, 2007  
Del Boy
Yeah - but did he turn up for work the next day?? Bet your sweet a** he did.
September 4th, 2007  
Originally Posted by Del Boy
Yeah - but did he turn up for work the next day?? Bet your sweet ass he did.
Seems to me that if you were to use the anecdotal evidence provided with Bulldoggs CAGE test then he would have scored at least 2 points, combine this with the amount of research done on the subject and its hard to conclude that he didn't have a problem.

For Example:
Interpreting problems

I deserve the pasting which Mr Winston Churchill gives me in this week's correspondence columns. In my last Soundings, I dredged up the pseudo memory that the late Sir Winston Churchill had been carried drunk from the War Rooms. Like the amateur journalist I am, I faxed off the piece without checking. I sincerely apologise to Winston Churchill MP for this gross error. There is, however, much discussion of Sir Winston Churchill's drinking in at least three biographies--those by J Charmley, Norman Rose, and Clive Ponting:
At this period, Churchill's heavy drinking became apparent for the first time, although it was not on the gargantuan scale it reached later in life ... there is no doubt that he had an alcohol addiction problem--he drank throughout the day and in large quantities. He wrote to Clementine in April 1924 "I drink Champagne at all meals and buckets of claret and soda in between." (Ponting, pp 287-8)
He would take his first whisky and soda soon after breakfast. For the rest of the day the tumbler was rarely empty. (Rose, p 194)
After his regular afternoon nap he would have two or three glasses of "iced whisky and soda" before dinner, at which "he always had champagne, followed by several doses of brandy"; this would be followed by several whisky and sodas as the night wore on. (Charmley, p 549)
On the 2 April [1940] he had a great difficulty finishing a speech in the Commons and had to be led away. One observer [Cecil King, in his diary entry of 3 May 1940] commented, "It is at times like these that age and excessive brandy drinking tell." (Ponting, p 428)
Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles had met Churchill in March 1940 when in Europe on a peace mission for the President. Welles found him reading the paper, smoking a large cigar and drinking whisky and commented, "it was quite obvious that he had consumed a good many whiskeys before I arrived." Churchill subjected his visitor to a two-hour monologue about how Britain would win the war "in the course of which he became quite sober" [Roosevelt Library, PSF Box 9, 12 March 1940].... Roosevelt observed to the Cabinet that "he supposed Churchill was the best man that England had, even if he was drunk half his time." [Harold Ickes's Diary, 12 May 1940]. (Ponting, pp 497-8)
Perhaps the worst meeting of all was of the Defence Committee on 6th July [1944], which lasted from 10 pm to 2 am. Three separate records exist. Cunningham described Churchill as "in no fit state to discuss anything--too tired and too much alcohol." [Cunningham's Diary, 6 July 1944]. (Pointing, pp 619-20)
Sir Winston Churchill was an immense figure by any standards. He clearly had a huge tolerance for alcohol, however, and it was this physiological adaptation to the drug which allowed him to be the great politican and writer that he was, in spite of excessive, problematic drinking; the argument that he could not have been a problem drinker because of what he achieved fails to recognise that this very tolerance is the core of the addiction. Sir Winston Churchill also showed many of the features of problem drinking which are the close companions of tolerance: depression, aggression, and unpredictability. These are disturbing features in any national leader.
September 4th, 2007  
Now that ^^^ sounds like a "functioning alcoholic".


It in no way detracts from the man or his accomplishments.
September 4th, 2007  
Del Boy

Now look here you chaps - let's not jump to hurried conclusions here. Later.

OK. Nevertheless, I stick my position, which is that Churchill was a great man with a great tolerance for alcohol, which he enjoyed. He did what he had to do, and he did it very well indeed. He spent the thirties under the great stress of just about single-handedly warning Parliament and the world of the threat from Nazism, and at 65 years of age took up the enormous responsibility as PM of conducting and winning WW11, against mighty odds. A further 6 years of the most exacting stress and strain imaginable.

The answer to the question I posed earlier is, ' yes - he did indeed turn up for work next day - from at least 1932 - 1945, and, as it happens, for a great many years before and after those dates. Get off his back Guys, my epitaph for him would be 'He appreciated a wee dram'.

Please all whistle for the great man. See below ;-

Leading Churchill Myths

He was an Alcohol Abuser

Any discussion of this subject absent John H. Mather MD, who has spent a decade researching Churchill's medical history, will be only that - a discussion. But here is a summary of what we know and why we know it.

Most historians reject the commonly held belief that Churchill was an abuser of alcohol. Perhaps "abuser" is a too broad a word. Professor Warren Kimball of Rutgers, editor of the WSC-FDR correspondence and several erudite books on the two leaders, maintains that Churchill was not an alcoholic -"no alcoholic could drink that much!"- but "alcohol dependent," citing his occasional glass of hock with his breakfast(!) and his heavy imbibing at mealtimes. A doctor attending him after he was knocked down by a car New York in 1931, Otto C. Pickhardt, actually issued a medical note that Churchill's convalescence "necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at mealtimes," specifying 250 cc per day as the minimum (FH 101:51). Still, if he were truly dependent, it seems he would have had a hard time winning his 1936 bet with Rothermere that he could abstain from hard spirits for a year (FH 108:24) - which apparently he did.

The story of what his daughter calls the "Papa Cocktail" (a smidgen of Johnnie Walker covering the bottom of a tumbler, which was then filled with water and sipped throughout the morning), is confirmed by so many observers that it could hardly be untrue. WSC's observation that he learned this habit as a young man in India and South Africa (in My Early Life) appears to be literally true: the water being unfit to drink, one had to add whisky and, "by dint of careful application I learned to like it." The concoction he grew to like was, Jock Colville said, more akin to mouthwash than a highball. It barely qualifies as "scotch and water."

Where he did put away copious amounts of alcohol was at meals (see for example A.L. Rowse's description of his lunchtime visit to Chartwell, FH 81:9). Perhaps this was Churchill's secret to sobriety and health. (Dr. Mather, speaking in Boston recently, reported that WSC's blood pressure was 140/80 well into his eighties, asking his rather younger audience if they would mind numbers like those.) Churchill did not nurse a bottle, as an alcoholic would, and occasionally remarked to those who took whisky neat, "you are not likely to live a long life if you drink it like that," or words to that effect. Drinking at meals may be less deleterious than drinking at random, but in any case no colleague who can be taken seriously ever reports seeing Churchill the worse for drink. Thus WSC's famous quip, "I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."

Judging the degree of his "dependence" is obfuscated by his own contradictory remarks. On the one hand he amused himself by allowing people to think he had a bottomless capacity. (There was his famous declaration to the King of Saudi Arabia that his absolute rule of life required drinking before, during and after meals.) At the same time in his writings you catch indications that he knew his limit: the drinking stories with the Russians were exaggerated, he wrote in The Second World War ("I was properly brought up"). Elsewhere he remarked, "my father taught me to have the utmost contempt for people who get drunk." He remarked that a glass of Champagne lifts the spirits, sharpens the wits, but "a bottle produces the opposite effect." When encountered by Bessie Braddock MP with the famous "you're drunk" remark in 1946, his bodyguard, Ron Golding, was with him at the time, insisted that Churchill was not drunk, just tired and wobbly - hence his famous, devastating response. It would appear that his affinity to the bottle was at least partly a prop - like his cigars, which were often allowed to go out, rarely smoked beyond a third, and usually discarded after being well-chewed. Nevertheless he had a formidable capacity.

For Churchill's remarks on Champagne, scotch, and alcohol in general, see Finest Hour 86.

C'mon - now that's a real hero - whistle for Winston!
September 5th, 2007  
Being an alcoholic is a medical condition and as such is nothing derogatory is contained within the diagnosis. Many great leaders throughout history have been alcoholics (Ullyses Grant, Mark Antony...), many have been womanisers (JFK, Mark Antony...), some have been sexual deviants (Augustus Caeser) and some have been homosexual, bisexual, try-sexual (Alexander the Great, J. Edgar Hoover...) in no way do these quirks of personality or genetics detract from their accomplishments.

I'd argue its hard to find a tee-totaller that is worth is his salt as a leader, any takers?

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