In the interests of full disclosure, I have zero tolerance for alcoholics. Zero. (I’ve written about this before, and you can find that post here.) I’m also not a doctor, so please don’t consider this post to be medical advice. This is just me fleshing out the unpopular side of a debate that people have been avoiding for decades, to wit,
is alcoholism a disease?
There is no other disease that I can think of that compels you to take an outside substance into your body. No one calls smoking a disease. Smoking can cause many diseases, but it is not considered a disease in and of itself. Alcoholism, too, can cause diseases. Liver disease, for example, and an alteration in brain chemistry that makes it harder to resist alcohol, which is considered by many to be a brain disease. But there is no disease vector on earth that caused you to take that first drink, or even the second one.
Yes, alcoholism can run in families, but that doesn’t make it a disease, either. That speaks to the behavioral aspect of the addiction. You learn coping skills from your family. Unfortunately, not all coping skills are good ones. And yes, your family might be more susceptible to the brain disease that makes alcohol harder to resist, but still, starting to drink was your bad choice. That brain disease couldn’t get in there until you chose to introduce that substance into your body.
The definition of disease, according to the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. is as follows:
a definite pathological process (in other words, an organic process occurring as a consequence of a disease) having a characteristic set of signs and symptoms. It may affect the whole body or any of its parts, and its etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown.
On the other hand, the definition of addiction in that same dictionary is as follows:
thestate of beinggiven up to somehabit or compulsion.
strong physiological and psychological dependence on a drug or other agent; see alcoholism and drug dependence.
So, why does society want to call alcoholism a disease?
Because the hallmark of addiction is an unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. If it’s a disease, then it’s not your fault, right?
But a much more nefarious reason is that calling alcoholism a disease props up the first step of the Twelve Step program. The first step is: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Until you buy into that step, you cannot really proceed to the others.
Yes, I’ll concede that alcoholism can make your life unmanageable. That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? But are you powerless over it? No.
Yes, you are in the throes of addiction. You need help. And part of that help should lie in therapy, so that you can learn how your choices brought you to this terrible point in life, and also so that you can formulate alternative coping skills to use in times of strife. You will also need medical help to get past the withdrawal, and all the ravages that alcohol has caused in your body.
But those are actions you must take. You. No one else. So that’s your power. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t want you to feel power. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry that has weaseled its way into the vast majority of the addiction programs in the world. But their dirty little secret is that, in a good year, that program is only 10 percent effective. (Read more about these scary statistics here.)
If alcoholism is a disease and AA is the cure, and it’s only 10 percent effective, then somebody better get back to the drawing board in a dang hurry.
They also want you to think that you’re an alcoholic for life, so that you’ll continue to grind your way through the Alcoholics Anonymous money mill. But think about it. With most other diseases, there’s either a cure or, ultimately, death.
Alcoholism shouldn’t be considered a life sentence. It should be seen as a problem that needs a solution. You need to attack the behavioral, psychological and physical aspects of it, and there are ways to do that other than AA. But you can’t find them if you’re too busy working on being powerless.
Rational Recovery is the program I recommend. It teaches you to identify your addictive voice and come up with actions or responses that will allow you to be a healthier, happier you. But part of that is taking responsibility and taking action. Take back your power.
The first step is to stop calling alcoholism a disease. No more excuses. Take responsibility. You are not diseased. You are not a disease. You are not powerless. If you continue down the path of alcoholism, destroying your life and the lives of the people that you love in the process, that’s your choice. But stop hiding from the fact that there are other choices.
I know this post will probably ruffle feathers, but it has been boiling up inside me for a long time, and I had to get it out there. I wish more people would speak up.
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