The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

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:



  1. thestate of beinggiven up to somehabit or compulsion.

  2. 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.


Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

6 thoughts on “Stop Calling Alcoholism a Disease

  1. Angiportus Librarysaver says:

    I’ve always been sober, but I think Rational Recovery sounds better, if only because whatever higher powers might be involved, even with Reason and responsibility at the helm, aren’t called gods. That I know of. But I think this language is missing a few words for some things, like a condition, fueled by a genetic tendency, that makes a person need help, however hard they might try. And if people make themselves sick, that’s still a disease, whatever the etiology.
    I didn’t know about the low success rate of AA, though I loathed the religious taint, and I didn’t know that it cost anything to go to those meetings. I do know that my best friend won the struggle against that addiction before I met him, though he doesn’t talk about how.
    Just don’t get between me and the chocolate and everything will be fine.

    1. I agree that the sickness is a disease, but the making thereof is not. Pouring acid down your throat is not a disease. The wanting to do so is an addiction, albeit a very short-lived one. The results of the acid pouring would cause a disease.
      Yes, the religious taint throws a lot of people off. And many meetings are free, but there’s money to be made in selling the books and media and requesting contributions. There are also conventions.
      I’m right there with you on the chocolate.

  2. Sofia Leo says:

    I believe the reason people want to call alcoholism a disease is to keep those who truly suffer from a person’s alcohol addiction from leaving to get the help THEY need.

    For instance, I once posted a comment on a FB post written by a woman who fled with her small child from an alcoholic and abusive husband. “Good for her!” I thought, leaving the man she loved in order to save herself and her daughter. The poor woman was crucified in the comments! “You wouldn’t leave him if he had cancer, would you? You’re a monster for leaving him in his time of need!”

    WTF? I had to jump on that crap – “People who have cancer don’t choose to have cancer. People who drink make the conscious choice to keep drinking. People with cancer can’t just make up their minds to stop having cancer, while alcoholics can absolutely stop drinking any time they make the decision to do so. Apples and oranges!” Then people started calling names and I was invited to leave, even though I hadn’t called anyone anything disparaging.

    Words matter. Having a disease is license to do whatever despicable thing you want – after all, you don’t have any control over your disease, right? I call bullshit on that! No one should be guilted into supporting a person hell bent on their own destruction.

    I don’t date people who drink to excess. I’m not friends with people who drink to excess. I have cut off members of my family who drink to excess. That’s MY choice and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it – MY choice is to not be anywhere near an alcoholic nor let them have any influence of any kind on my life.

    1. I couldn’t have said it better myself Sofia! I agree with you 1000 percent. (Although I will concede that making the choice to stop drinking comes with a whole addictions can of worms that makes it hard, still, I agree, it can be done.)

      1. Sofia Leo says:

        The whole point is that it CAN be done – millions of people on this planet have stopped drinking, unlike, say, pancreatic cancer which pretty much kills everyone who gets it within a year. Addiction is the problem, and those who are addicted need to take full responsibility for their actions without blaming their victims. I have no sympathy, having been victimized alcoholics and addicts – it’s not a noble calling or a point of pride, IMHO…

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