Stop Calling Alcoholism a Disease

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!

A Rant About Smokers

I’m sure that the very people who need to read this the most will be the very people who will not do so, but I feel the need to get this off my chest. I hate smoking and everything about it. I’m tired of soft-pedaling that attitude simply because it’s an addiction.

I’m quite sure I’d be just as addicted to nicotine as the next person, but here’s the difference: I chose never to start smoking. If you did not make that same choice, it’s on you. Own it. Yes, tobacco companies tend to target youth, who are more apt to make stupid choices, and heaven knows none of us are the same people we were at 14, but even so, you made that choice. Take responsibility. Stop making excuses.

And for God’s sake, stop throwing your saliva-soaked cigarette butts on the ground. It’s disgusting. I used to love to walk in the rain. It makes the world seem so fresh and clean. But the last time I did that, I had to wade through about a thousand soggy cigarette butts, and it left me dry heaving. I’d rather look at dog poop. Yeah, you’re addicted. But that doesn’t give you license to be a pig. And any smoker who tries to say they’ve never thrown a butt on the ground, not even once, is lying to themselves and everyone else. And as one of the unfortunates who has to clean up after your lazy ass, know that I’m cursing your name with every butt I have to pick up.

And then there’s the stench. You are so used to it that you probably don’t even smell it anymore, but trust me: you reek. Your house stinks. Your car is even worse. When you sweat, it oozes out of your pores. It clings to your hair and your clothes. (My mother died 26 years ago, and her raincoat, which I inherited, STILL stinks.) And if you leave ash trays around, that disgusting odor permeates the room. Many of us believe that you render yourself unkissable and undateable.

Growing up, the first sound I’d hear every morning was my mother’s smoker’s hack. Do you have any idea how terrifying that is for a child? It’s awful knowing that something is wrong with the person who is supposed to keep you safe. Sure enough, she died of cancer when I was 26.

And I suffered from chronic bronchitis because she chose to expose me to that secondhand smoke at a time when my little lungs were still developing. That’s one powerful addiction if you choose it over your child’s health. Shame on you. And don’t even get me started about women who smoke while pregnant. Would you inject rat poison into your own placenta? No? That’s what you are doing to your unborn child.

And if I hear one more smoker complain…actually have the nerve to complain about not being able to smoke anymore in restaurants or on planes or in other public places, I hereby reserve the right to slap the shit out of that person. Even heroin addicts have the sense not to gripe about these things.

The worst part about all of this is that you are an unbelievably selfish human being. You are killing yourself. You know it. Everyone knows it. You are committing suicide in the slowest possible way. And that hurts the people that you love. That leaves the people who depend upon you vulnerable. That in turn puts an unbelievable strain on the economy and the health care system.

You are shitting all over the incredible gift of life that you have been given. And because of that, while I might like you or even love you, I have zero respect for you and your effed up life choice. Zero.

End of rant.

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A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.

Permission to Fail

A friend of mine had been in a dark place for many, many years. He had been struggling with addiction, depression, and isolation. I had been worried about him for quite some time.

And then slowly, little by little, over the course of a year, I started to notice positive changes in him. He got healthier, happier, and began to interact more with people. It was delightful to see.

One day I took him out to lunch, which was in itself a monumental change. Generally he preferred not to leave the house, and therefore turned down all invitations. For a while there, he seemed to have an almost vampire-like aversion to sunlight.

“Okay,” I said over my hamburger, “what’s changed?” I knew he had been going to a 12 step program and seeing a counselor, but he’d tried that before, and it had never “taken”. I was dying to know what was different this time.

He then laid out his theory to me. It occurred to him one day that the thing that kept him paralyzed, kept him from even trying to get better, was fear of failure. But then he realized that if he tried and failed, he wouldn’t be any worse off than he was at that very moment. So he gave himself permission to fail. That meant all he needed to do was try, and that felt like a lot less pressure to him.

Sentimental old fool that I am, this actually brought tears to my eyes. Because I was so proud of my friend. Because his theory made so much sense to me. Because suddenly anything seemed possible.

My friend is a work in progress. Aren’t we all? But the most important thing is that he is, indeed, progressing.


My Own Personal Dallas

The other day I had a unique opportunity. I attended a friend’s extended family gathering. The thing is, no one there knew me except my friend, and they didn’t realize how much I knew about their family dynamics. I’ve been friends with this person for decades, and he confides in me. I know all the family scandals.

Once I connected the names with the faces, I sat back and watched the show. It kind of felt like I was the omniscient voice in a sordid TV drama. I had a running narrative going on in my head.

  • Ooooh, A just rolled her eyes behind B’s back. That’s because he’s talking about being generous, even though he’s constantly borrowing money from A and never pays it back.
  • C and D just brushed shoulders. They’re having an affair. I wonder what D’s husband would think about that if he knew? Especially since C is his brother.
  • E looks annoyed at everyone. As well she should be. She’s the only one who is taking care of their mother with dementia.
  • F and G are siblings, and they had sex with each other when they were teens. Ewwwww.
  • H is secretly gay. It seems obvious to me, but denial is pervasive in this family. How sad that she feels the need to keep it a secret.
  • I is a heroin addict.
  • J isn’t really the father of K.
  • L once got drunk and French kissed Uncle M at a wedding. He was horrified and everyone still whispers about it.
  • N is mentally ill, unmedicated, and once threatened to kill his nephew.
  • Everybody hates O’s wife.
  • P is part of a really lunatic fringe religion.

This was an interesting experience because I got to see the public face that each person put on while at the same time knowing what was hiding behind each of those masks. People can really by duplicitous and complex. The irony is that setting all this inside information aside, everyone was really nice.

The only thing I don’t know is who shot JR. Maybe that will be revealed at the next gathering. It kind of makes you wonder what you don’t know about the people you think you know, though, doesn’t it?


Another Rant About Alcoholism

One of my most popular blog entries is Why I Hate Alcohol, and I genuinely thought I’d gotten all my anger about the subject off my chest when I wrote it. It turns out that that is not the case. Far from it.

The other day, someone who calls himself “Dad” commented on another one of my blog entries, Do You Know This Child? Help Solve a Mystery. In that one, I mentioned that my father told some outlandish stories about the war, and that because he was an alcoholic, I never knew him. “Dad”, without knowing me at all, implied in the comment section that my disbelief of my father’s stories is probably “what drove him over the edge.”

Okay. Hoooo. Wow. That still pisses me off to an unbelievable degree. And when I have such a strong reaction to something, my first instinct is to take a closer look and ask myself what about the situation is pushing my buttons.

First of all, I hate being misunderstood, but in this case that was probably my fault for not clarifying my relationship. When I said I did not know my father because of his alcoholism, I didn’t mean he was present in my life but always “in his cups.” I meant that because he was such a mean drunk and a worthless fraction of a man, he left my family when I was three months old. I never met him, never got child support from him, never received so much as a phone call or a Christmas card my entire life. So yeah, I suppose I didn’t make myself quite clear in that entry. I literally didn’t know my father.

But what really makes my head explode is the implication that, had I known him, I could have in some way “driven him over the edge.” The man came home a drunk from a war that had ended 20 years before I was born. I’m sure he had PTSD, and that was a contributing factor, and that’s tragic, but making the assumption that the blame for one’s alcohol abuse lies somewhere outside oneself is the worst of all alcoholic excuses.

No one forces someone to start drinking. Not once did anyone hold a gun to the man’s head and pour the gin down his throat. Millions of people have experienced horrors and not tried to pour alcohol over those memories.

I’m sorry. I know this probably won’t be a popular sentiment, but dammit, the bedrock of being an alcoholic is selfishness and irresponsibility. Without those two things, you don’t destroy your life and the lives of every person within your sphere of influence. Full stop.

Alcoholics are very adept at blaming the rest of the world for their problems. The whole “poor me” thing may as well be tattooed on their foreheads. But I refuse to feel sorry for an alcoholic. I don’t care how often people try to call it a disease. It’s an addiction, which is a mental health issue, and yes, more often than not one will need help to conquer it. But unless and until you admit to yourself that you have made the bed that you so frequently pass out in, no healing can take place for you or anyone who has the misfortune to love you. You can’t clean up your mess until you first take ownership of it. Grow up!

“Pushed him over the edge,” my ass. Sheesh.


[Image by Somadjinn on]

Why I Will Always Shop at CVS Pharmacy

I’m not someone who sets great store in brand or company loyalty. I don’t even buy American necessarily. Nor do I subscribe to the concept that large conglomerations care about the consumer. The only thing they care about is that our money continues to flow in their direction.

But something happened recently that will make me loyal to CVS Pharmacy for the rest of my life. They decided that they will stop selling tobacco products as of October 1 of this year. This is the second largest pharmacy chain in the United States, and they anticipate losing 2 billion dollars a year in revenue by making this move, but they’re doing it anyway. They felt it wasn’t in keeping with their image of being purveyors of health and wellness.

I can’t remember the last time I heard of a corporation doing the right thing. And this right thing took a lot of chutzpah. Granted, 2 billion dollars constitutes less than 2 percent of their annual sales, but to risk alienating all of their smoking customers? That’s unprecedented, and I couldn’t be more impressed.

Whether you are a smoker or like me you are someone who has had to stand by helplessly while someone you love participates in that slow but inevitable death, I’m sure you have a story about how tobacco has negatively impacted your life. I suspect CVS is banking on the fact that a lot of consumers will be like me and support them with our loyalty, but that’s quite a leap of faith when most businesses would much rather err on the side of caution.

My mother had emphysema and died of cancer. One of my earliest memories of her was of her morning smoker’s hack. That made me never smoke. I’ve seen many people die over the years due to their tobacco use, and it frustrates me no end. I’ve watched the cigarette companies target the most vulnerable among us: young people, minorities, and people in third world countries. I’ve seen people with asthma suffer just from the proximity of smoke. I’ve seen arguments ensue over where smoking is acceptable, and I’ve seen disgusting cigarette butts in every imaginable place.

I realize that smokers will simply go elsewhere to buy their cigarettes now, but if even one person is delayed from smoking for just an hour, it’s worth it. If one sneaky smoking kid is inconvenienced because the CVS is the only thing within walking distance, hip hip hooray!

Whether CVS’ motivations are pure matters to me not at all. What I love most about this is that an influential nationwide company is sending a message that cigarettes are bad for your health and they aren’t going to participate in providing them to the public anymore. That’s a message that everyone should be sending.

My only question for CVS is, why wait until October 1? Yank them off the shelves now!!!


[Image credit:]

Why I Hate Alcohol

I haven’t had a drink in 30 years. Not even a beer. Suddenly one day I realized that I had never left a bar feeling better about myself. And then there was the time when I was 17 and woke up in the trunk of my car. No idea how I got there. Fortunately the lid wasn’t closed.

Over the years, with the benefit of sober clarity, I’ve come to hate alcohol and everything it stands for.

Because of my father’s love of alcohol, I never knew him. I never knew what it was like to feel safe, protected and loved by a father. Because of his alcohol I grew up on welfare, and wound up living in a tent. Because of alcohol I was thrust into a nightmare of sexual abuse. Because of alcohol I never felt confident or self-assured, and was never taught that I deserved good things, or how to choose a decent man to share my life with.

Alcohol not only devastates the drinker, but everyone who is sucked into his or her destructive orbit.

Drunk drivers kill people every single day, and often walk away from those accidents unscathed themselves. They leave children without parents, and parents to mourn their children for the rest of their lives.

I HATE it when alcoholism is described as a disease. Granted, some people are more predisposed to be alcoholics than others, but in my opinion it should be described as a mental health issue or an addiction at most. It’s a disorder in which the individual makes poor choices, and is selfish, selfish, selfish to the point of not caring about the havoc that those choices wreak on family, friends, and the wider community.

I also resent it when people try to pressure me into drinking. They are uncomfortable in indulging in this habit if everyone around them isn’t doing the same, so I get to be bullied, as if I have to apologize for doing what is right for me.

Sure, there are those out there who can drink socially and in moderation. But if that’s the case, why bother? Alcohol, even in moderation, takes away money and time that could be better spent elsewhere. Alcohol is a waste. And those responsible drinkers in question help make drinking seem socially acceptable, and that only encourages alcoholics to remain in denial for that much longer. A certain percentage of society will survive Russian roulette, but does that mean that they should show others who might not be so lucky how to play the game?

Alcohol gives people the liquid courage to be cruel, to be bullies, to be violent and to humiliate the people they claim to love. Alcohol makes you look like a fool. Alcohol destroys families, weddings, reunions, holidays, birthdays, funerals, graduations, concerts, parties, and untold numbers of public events. Alcohol encourages criminality and causes suicides. Alcohol destroys businesses, ruins livelihoods, causes homelessness, devastates relationships and undermines trust.

Alcohol is a fluid wall that you thrust up between yourself and the people who want to spend time with you. It’s a sword that you use to strike out at others. It makes you feel that screaming and shouting and hitting and hurting are acceptable. And in the end, alcohol will leave you all alone in the world, with nothing but your own regrets to keep you warm as you survey the chilling destruction that you have caused.

When my father died his cold, lonely alcoholic death, they found in his wallet a picture of my mother on their honeymoon—a woman he hadn’t had any contact with in 25 years. What a sad and pathetic reminder of what could have been. What should have been.

[See also my blog entry, Another Rant About Alcoholism.]


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Habits You Didn’t Even Know You Had, or “Who’s Driving This Body, Anyway?”

When you get dressed in the morning, do you do sock, sock, shoe, shoe, or sock, shoe, sock shoe? Most people don’t know without taking their shoes off and trying it. And even THEN they won’t be sure that they’re doing it the way they usually do. Unless you’re extremely obsessive, your body is on automatic pilot most of the time, and you aren’t even thinking about this stuff.

Here’s an experiment. Interlace your fingers. Don’t just sit there. Do it. Okay. If you’re right handed, odds are your right thumb will be the one on top. The dominant hand always takes charge. Now try switching up the fingers so that your other thumb is the one that’s on top. Feels weird, doesn’t it? Sit like that for a minute or two. Become one with the strangeness of that feeling. Your brain right now is probably freaking out. Suddenly YOU have taken over. Your brain doesn’t know how to deal with that.

The fact is that every living thing has habits. Some of these are strictly for preservation, such as choice of habitat. (Habitat. Habit. Coincidence? I don’t think so.) If a turtle suddenly decided it should live in the treetops, it wouldn’t last long. Other habits are beyond our explanation. For example, why do some types of trees grow in conical shapes and others in dome shapes?

Any smoker will tell you it’s difficult to kick that habit, but often the blame will be laid upon the doorstep of nicotine. Granted, the chemical addiction is a strong one, but another thing one must consider is the behavioral habits related to smoking. For example, if you have a habit of smoking while talking on the phone, you can’t expect to just stop that. You have to replace that habit with something, or your body is going to constantly be in a state of discomfort similar to the one you felt in the experiment above. Your body and your brain NEED habits. Any good hypnotist knows this. They will not just take your habits away, or your body will find something to fill that void. They will replace one habit with a hopefully less self-destructive one.

So the next time you look up with a start and realize that you’ve been doing something without thinking about it, just remember that you’re not always in the driver’s seat. And most of the time, thank goodness, that’s okay. Unless, of course, you’re operating heavy equipment…