Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Alcoholism is NOT a Disease

Roughly 90% of all lay people are under the mistaken belief that alcoholism is a disease. It's taught in schools, it's mentioned in the press, it's bantied about the watercooler. These same people will be shocked to hear that alcoholism is most assuredly NOT a disease. Then why claim that it is?

Alcoholics and drug addicts have moral failings and poor self-control mechanisms. It has become politically incorrect to say so, in a society where morals have become a questionable concept. "If I question your morals, you may question mine. I'd rather not have you look under that rock, so let's just excuse it all away."

Incidentally, my hat goes off to all the ex-alcoholics and ex-addicts that have made the difficult choice to take the proper steps to stop their behavior. This editorial is actually giving them far more credit than they have been given, because I am about to tell you that it is all choice. And now they are making the right ones.

"You need to start going to AlAnon meetings," a well meaning friend (Tracey) told me recently. I asked her why she would say that, since I wasn't in a relationship with an addict or an alcoholic. (Trust me, I'm familiar with AlAnon and I was simply trying to see where she was coming from).

Tracey is actually unaware that she is attempting to justify her own life choices: an abusive alcoholic ex-husband that she repeatedly returned to, and a current relationship with another alcholic. Being her friend and not her counselor, I chose to not point this out.

"Well, because it's helpful to you!" she said. "It teaches you how to cope!" I'm coping just fine, actually, I told her. I am very in tune with myself and I do a mental check on a daily basis. I know where I am, where I'm going, and what it takes to get there. I even know my quirks and why I do them, and I allow myself the luxury of having some.

Simply because one of only many exes and friends had a drug problem doesn't mean that I need to attend meetings where victims and family members sit around and moan about their bad luck, and try to assess how much of it was their own fault. I don't care to be involved in a recurring Jerry Springer Show. This doesn't mean I'm not coping or that I'm avoiding the issue. The truth is, the issue doesn't exist for me.

Tracey also brought up that addiction is a "disease". This absolves addicts and alcoholics of some of the responsibility. As a recovering addict told me recently, he is responsible for the choices he made but that his "disease" makes him more vulnerable. "So what you're saying is that it's not entirely your fault?" I asked. Oh no, he assured me. It was his fault. Kind of.

As Tracey put it, "Addiction is a disease just as schizophrenia is a disease!"

That's when I turned around, faced her and looked her directly in the eye. "Tracey," I said, "the two are not equivalent. Does the schizophrenic go to the local schizophrenia dealer, ask for some illegal schizophrenia and pay for it, go to the nearby headshop and buy schizophrenia paraphanalia, go home, lock herself in the bathroom, and smoke schizophrenia all day?"

"Er, no..." answered Tracey after a pause.

Certainly there are flawed studies which suggest that there may be an alteration in the brain of addicts and alcholics. But these studies are highly questionable and their results have not been upheld. (Go here to read the debunking of these studies by the famous Stanton Peele).

Alcoholism is not a disease. Addiction is not a disease. They are poor choices made by people who have little to no moral compass. Until we face that, we will never be able to give them the help that they truly need. We are standing at the door, handing bandaids to amputees.


Badoozie said...

or they might have morals but they are wounded and they choose to use as a means of self medication. behind every addict and user is a person who is hiding some hurts

Saur♥Kraut said...

Susie, of course. I agree that it is an attempt at self-medication. An illegal one, which is a poor choice and only exacerbates the situation. But you are correct.

Old Man Rich said...

Some addiction is a medical condition. You have a very real physical and/or mental dependency on whatever your drug is. Yes, I agree you chose to take it initially, presumably knowing the risks. But as someone whe treads a fine line between social drinker and alcohol dependent, I think most of us assume we can cope. I have control. I won't become an addict. And when your unfortunate enough to tip over the edge into addiction then you do have a medical problem. To just say its your choice is a bit like saying anyone who has a motor accident deserves it because they chose to get in a car.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Old Man Rich, yes, and no. Of course it's a choice to take drugs. And addiction or not, it remains a choice every time you raise the bottle to your lips or apply the needle to your arm. Of course an addiction is developed once the product is used - sometimes immediately. However, the mistake is to say that it is a "disease" and that an alcoholic/drug addict has less ability to control their chioces than the rest of us. Read that article, and you'll understand more.

Mindless Dribbler said...

You know what I find absurd? We have a guy at work who has just bailed out on disability. Know what the circumstances are? Dependency on alcohol.

How in the hell can you get disability for being a drunkard?? I find that outrageous!

mckay said...


oh, saur, you've done a great post. you've said things i've thought and i applaud you.

my ex attended SA (sexaholics anonymous) and after he destroyed our family i went to ONE s-anon group meeting and i was appalled at how these women whimpered how their men weren't to blame for their predicament. when it was my turn to speak i vented my anger and frustration at how someone who was entrusted with the well being and safety of my children, CHOSE to become the predator that tore our family apart and hurt my child on multiple levels. i was even more appalled when these women did not validate my feelings, but instead insisted that the men were caught in a disease from which they can't escape. what a blanket of lies those women had thrown over their heads to excuse their reasons for staying in a toxic relationship.

picking up a bottle to guzzle is a choice. smoking weed is a choice.
people may have a mental weakness and may chose to take drugs or alcohol to escape, but it isn't the same as a brain tumor. it just isn't.

you know whose mostly to blame for this? the mental health industries. “let's call it a disease and then we can bill the insurance companies and make a living off of this.” remember what was just classified as a disease? road rage. give me a break. they've given it a fancy name like 'Intermittent Explosive Disorder' and now the pycho doctors can bill $$ for it.

i'm so pissed off now i need a drink.

Ed Abbey said...

I used to have Best Buy disease. I couldn't walk in the store without buying $100 of electronics that I didn't need. I cured myself by pocketing a $20 bill and leaving my billfold in the car. I guess that was the equivalent of wearing a nicotine patch. Eventually I cured myself by moving far away from one of the stores, but I still think about how nice all those electronic gadgets would look in my home. I guess once you have Best Buy disease, you always have Best Buy disease. ;-)

Ed Abbey said...

P.S. I agree completely.

Grant said...

When I worked for BS, they had a hotline where you could call and take a phone quiz to see if you were an alcoholic. It said one of my employees, a guy who only drank a few beers on Saturday, had a serious drinking problem. We think it decided that because one of the questions asked if a health care professional or member of the family expressed concern over his drinking. He had to honestly answer yes because his wife nagged him about it. "Is that a beer?" "Um, yes." "Didn't you have one just last week?"

Paul said...

Whistle! Whistle! Great post. I agree. I'll let mckay speak for me today. She took the words right outta my mouth. 'Specially that last sentence!

~Deb said...

Addiction is not a disease. I totally agree with you. It’s a lifestyle choice. (Can’t believe “I’m” actually saying THOSE words!) But, to compare schizophrenia to alcoholism is unfair. This was not a choice for the person with the mental illness.

Great thought provoking post!

I’m running off to grab a martini. You coming?

Ellen said...

I agree 100% with you on this one too.... and since both you and Mckay said it all so well, I'll leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

since deb brought it up, homosexuality is totally a lifestyle choice. some would have us believe it can't be helped but it can be helped just the same as i can chose not to raise the bottle to my lips, so a homosexual can choose not to engage in that behavior.

Kathleen said...

Mindless Dribbler said...
"You know what I find absurd? We have a guy at work who has just bailed out on disability. Know what the circumstances are? Dependency on alcohol."

"How in the hell can you get disability for being a drunkard?? I find that outrageous!"

Brace yourself. Not only can they receive disability checks, they also can receive housing assistance because they are disabled. More absurd, because the government has classified them a diabled, they are being housed in places that use to be for the elderly ... HUD criteria is that elderly buildings can now house handicapped and disabled. So what has happened is that elderly are being mixed with these alcoholics and drug addicts! Talk about bringing the potential predator to the vulnerable. UNBELIEVABLE!!!

Senor Caiman said...


I agree with you.

I don't know about my moral-compass but I do know I'm way too cheap to buy drugs or go out drinkin.

Nihilistic said...

Saur - I agree as well...I think we have chosen to label things a disease such as alcholism or over eating because too many people can't take responsibilty for their own actions...And where in the hell did annon get the homosexual thing?

Homosexuality has been is proven that a homosexual males brain differs from a heterosexual mans brain. Just as a homosexual females brain differes from a heterosexual womans brain. You are born gay, you don't choose it...why in the hell would you choose to live a life scorned by society and sometimes your family? So yes, a homosexual can choose to not participate in that behavior, but they are still gay! If a heterosexual obstains from sex they are not participating, but they are still heterosexual! And why in the hell does annon care anyway?? How in the hell does it effect him/her??

R2K said...

So common these days to shift the blame away. Rest assured, it is all on you. You buy the drugs or beer, you smoke or drink them. You started it. With the Dr. Philing of america (dumbing down) everything is a disease. Rape is a disease, murder, genocide, planetocide...

The Lazy Iguana said...

I think there are forces beyond "self control" at work with addicion and alcoholism.

In the case of drugs, there are chemicals at work. Powerful chemicals. You body is pretty much one large VERY complex chemical reaction. So toss in a few other chemicals and you can throw the system out of wack.

Some people can cut themself off. Some people can stop at two or three beers. Some people can only drink on the weekend.

Other people can not. Lack of moral compass? I do not think it is that simple. If it were, then alcoholism and addiction would not cut across the entire cross section of society. People with otherwise excellent upbringing can be addicts too.

The point it becomes a "disease" is when you KNOW that you are slipping - but you just do not care. You do nothing about it. Yes, some people can tell they may have a problem and make a choice to do something about it - but others simply can not. DNA? Body chemistry? Some brain thing? Who knows. But observation leads one to conclude that whatever the cause, there is something there.

It is a "disease" in the sense that treatment can "cure" it. Or at least teach people how to live with it and be able to function within the rules of society.

In the classical sense of a disease (like polio or the plague) you are right. It is NOT caused by a bacteria, a virus, or some other single cell critter. But then what about genetic diseases like MS? That is not caused by a little critter - it is DNA. And mental illness (disease), what causes that? Morality? Plenty of people with poor morals are not crazy, and some people with otherwise good morals suffer from some kind of brain problem.

I maintain that in some way, mental illness and diseases of addiction ARE related. In some cases the relationship is strong, in other cases it may be weak or indirect.

Does this excuse addiction? Yes. I do not think people set out to be addicted to alcohol or drugs. Who would decide that they want their life to be controled by a chemical substance? To be a slave to a substance?

Does it excuse other aspects of the problem (theft, violence, etc)? No. You KNOW you are stealing, or using a shotgun to hold up a 7-11. You know you are going to buy chemicals with that money. At that point it seems to me that one ought to seek help.

The key is if the person seeks help before or after they resort to theft, violence, scams, or whatever.

Those that look for help early have more credibility to me. Those that allow the addiction to drive them to criminal acts (other than the act of doing the substance) have FAR MORE to prove before they can be credible.

Christine said...

Anon, of course you have the right to spout off opinions about anything.
But know the facts before you say things you THINK are definitive.

Why post as Anon? Hmmm, makes me wonder.

United We Lay said...

I've written several posts about this in the past and almost wrote another one the other day. These people need to grow up and take responsibility for their own actions.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Chris, Nihilistic, and Deb, I am considering disallowing any further anon comments, so that people are forced to own up to their own opinions. The only reason I haven't yet is that I also like to give everyone the ability to speak freely. It's a real toss-up at this point.

Lazy Iguana, as usual, your observations are well thought-out and interesting. I don't disagree with you about much of what you say here. Perhaps the post on Tuesday (when I'm writing this) will help clarify my thoughts a little more.

Alex, that is precisely my point.

Nihilistic, thanks for weighing in. Please see what I wrote to you, Chris, and Deb.

Senor, but you are somewhat addicted to water skiing barefoot, as I recall. ;o)

Kathleen, I had heard of this, and it's very appalling.

Anon, I do understand that you may want to stay anonymous if you post in here regularly yet want to speak your mind. However, when it becomes a personal attack at a fellow blogger who hasn't focused on you, it doesn't seem to be fair, does it? Perhaps you might reconsider the way you posit your statments in the future.

You bring up an interesting point that I've blogged about some time ago. However, whether or not homosexuality is a choice, the only reason that we can be "offended" by it is from a religious, not secular, standpoint. So if that's the standpoint that you are coming from, please be clear. Thank you.

Ellen, Thanks for weighing in!

Deb, hold a mojito for me! I think that anything becomes an addiction/problem if it's a choice that's done or used in such excess that it begins to destroy a life or supplant important things. That's why I think comparing it to true mental illness is wrong.

Paul, thank you! *bowing*

Grant, ;o) The funny thing is that there really isn't a great set-in-stone definition of alcoholism. Is an alcoholic someone who drinks 1 drink daily? More? A weekend drinker? A weekend binger? At one point is it youthful indescretion if they're young? At one point is it habit (the "cocktail" generation) if they're old?

Ed Abbey, ah. I have The Jewelry Disease, a.k.a. Shoppitus Jewelrius.

...more in a min...

Saur♥Kraut said...

McKay, Well said, and very interesting. Thank you very much for sharing this with all of us. *hugs*

Mindless Dribbler, I wish it were so easy to get disability for my life choices.

Saur♥Kraut said...

UWL, yes, we've always agreed - and that's surprised me! That's what I like about you. We disagree on some things at times, but your positions are always thought-out. I respect that.

United We Lay said...

I'm nothing if not a critical thinker. Thanks!

KristieD said...

in a class i recently had about the physchology & physiological effects of drug use & abuse we had a large debate about whether addiction or alcoholism was a disease. and there is no evidence that it is. there are some studies that show a heriditary tendency, but thats all it is: a tendency. and they are not sure if the tendency is created thru genes or environment. i think by calling it a disease you take the responsibility off the addict. thats what AA is about too. its "out of their control". but for some people that works. but for others, it gives them a self-fulfilling prophecy- they can fall off the wagon and have an excuse waiting to be used - its not their fault- they have a disease. now dont get me wrong. i have some very close people who are fighting addiction. and it is not something to be taken lightly nor does it go away just becuase someone has decided they want to be sober. it takes a lot of work and basically a rewrite of themselves and how they chose to react to life and situations. many have a routine they follow and breaking that routine can be like stopping biting your nails. it takes time and constant attention. good post.