Alcoholism: A Disease Or An Addiction? Essay, Research Paper
Most people have a confused idea of alcoholism as a disease that invades or attacks your good health. Use of such a strong word such as “disease” shapes the values and attitudes of society towards alcoholics. A major implication of the disease concept is that what is labeled a “disease” is held to be justifiable because it is involuntary. This is not so. Problem drinking is a habit in which the so-called “alcoholic” simply has decided that the benefits of drinking outweigh the liabilities; it is all a matter of personal choice. An alcoholic participates in or causes many of their own problems by their behavior and the decisions they make, so why should they be viewed as helpless victims of a “disease”(Skipper 1)? Alcoholism should not be viewed as a disease, but as an addiction brought about by the alcoholic’s personal choices.
What is wrong with disease theories as science is that they are tautologies; they avoid the work of understanding why people drink. People seek specific, essential human experiences from their addictive involvement. They can come to depend on such an involvement for these experiences until — in the extreme — the involvement is totally consuming and potentially destructive (Peele 146). The idea that alcoholism is a “disease”, which is only typified by the loss of control, was only sanctioned by the American Medical Association in 1956 (Wilbanks 39). The AMA gives the following definition for alcoholism: ” Alcoholism is an illness characterized by preoccupation with alcohol and loss of control over its consumption, such as to lead usually to intoxication if drinking; by chronicity, by progression and by a tendency toward relapse. It is typically associated with physical disability and impaired emotional, occupational and/or social adjustments as a direct consequence of persistent excessive use (Langone 27)”. This meant that an alcoholic could now get help in a hospital, just as a person with a real disease such as diabetes or leukemia would . Moreover, the use of the words “loss of control” make it seem as though the alcoholic’s free will has just been ripped away from him. On the contrary, there is no evidence that the will of the drinker has been overpowered. Besides labeling alcoholism as a disease, the AMA has also done a huge error in stating that alcoholism causes people to lose control over the consumption of alcohol. This will only negate the fact that the amount of alcohol consumed and if it is consumed at all is completely up to the drinker, not an inevitable disease that overpowers your free will. The belief that alcohol controls us rather than we control alcohol is obscene. It rejects the very idea of humanity- that we are not simply animals controlled by our instincts and impulses (Wilbanks 40).
The notion that alcoholism is genetic or hereditary is also based partly on an article by Donald Goodwin. In the article it states that about 18% of the children of alcoholics become alcoholics themselves. This also indicates that 82% of the children of alcoholics do not become alcoholics, therefore indicating that it is very likely that alcoholism indeed is not hereditary (Claypool 23). And could it be possible that those children who did become alcoholics did not do so because they inherited it, but they actually learned it from their parents? I believe this is very probable. We learn everything form our parents; how to dress, how to act, how to express ourselves, why not how to drink? Researchers also investigate possible genetic components of alcoholism by studying populations and families as well as genetic, biochemical, and neurobehavioral markers and characteristics. But these studies have not yet proven that alcoholism is based solely on genetic factors. The acclaimed anti-disease model revolutionist, Herbert Fingarette, quotes:”There was no genetic or other biological explanation for why a person drinks too much either on a particular occasion or habitually, why a person decides or commits violent or criminal acts when drunk, why a person decides that he or she is an alcoholic and that drinking is an excuse for misbehavior ( Peele 2).” Fingarette views drinking as an all-purpose excuse, a special case of self-deception anointed by science but actually steeped in the lore of magical “loss of control”- “I couldn’t help myself”- as though this description of irresponsibility was somehow an explanation and an excuse for it (Peele 2).
“Disease” is the powerful word that generates provision of health insurance payments, employment benefits such as paid leave and workmen’s compensation, and other government benefits. The direct and indirect cost of alcoholism is rapidly increasing, already exceeding a billion dollars annually (Fingarette 51). According to government statistics, the largest single area of economic loss at $9.35 billion, is the lost production of goods and services that can be attributed to the reduced productivity of alcohol-troubled male workers (Claypool 39). In addition, cost to society on alcoholics’ health care expenditures alone already total to $18,820 million dollars (Cost 1). Health insurance companies are paying for these treatments of alcoholics as if they actually had a disease. This means the United States actually has to pay more for their health insurance – health insurance that should not be provided at the cost of the American public. . This is an absurd amount of money to be spending on alcoholics, people who preferred to take the path of drinking to the extent that they became addicted.
Alcoholism is not only costly money-wise, but it also claims many lives each year. Nearly 200,000 people die each year from alcohol abuse, that includes deaths from accidents and diseases caused by alcohol (Claypool 17). Alcohol abuse plays a part in some 10,000 accidental deaths a year, at home and on the job (Langone 39). The U.S. Department of Justice Report on Alcohol and Crime found that alcohol abuse was a factor in 40 percent of violent crimes committed in the United States (Violence 1). In 1996 there were 17,126 alcohol related traffic fatalities accounting for the 40.9% of all traffic fatalities during the year. Alcohol is also involved in at least half of all homicides in the United States, with either the attacker, the victim, or both under the influence. This is probably a good explanation for the fact that more murders occur on Saturday nights than any other night- the fewest murders occur on Tuesdays (Goodwin 16).
Besides all these traffic fatalities and violent crimes where alcohol is a factor, let us not forget the premature deaths and birth defects alcohol abusers are also responsible for. In 1992 there were 31,327 premature deaths due to alcohol abuse (Cost 1). Each year 5,000 babies are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; this is a form of mental retardation caused by mothers who drink while pregnant (Claypool 17). Imagine a child growing up with mental retardation, having to face all the hate and discrimination in this world. These innocent lives would have otherwise been spared had their mother not chosen to continue to drink during her pregnancy.
It has also become a legal basis for arguing that alcoholics should be excused from moral and legal responsibilities for any misdeeds. In the earlier 1968 case of Powell, the court rejected the criminal defense that alcoholism is a disease and hence that it ought to excuse the alcoholic for crimes committed while intoxicated (Fingarette 104). I find this to be truly outrageous! Imagine if all the alcoholics who, one night without thinking of the consequences, got drunk and decided to get behind the wheel, only to kill an innocent family, would try to justify themselves by saying “I had no control over it! I have a disease, I’m an alcoholic!” Another ridiculous case, where the excuse of alcoholism as a disease was brought to the Supreme Court, is that of two alcoholic veterans. The Supreme Court denied the two alcoholic veterans VA educational benefits they were unable to use within the period established by VA regulations because, they claimed, they were alcoholics (Peele 2). In other words, they spent so much of this time drinking that they didn’t feel like going to school, a situation they claimed was brought on by the disease of alcoholism from which they suffered. One irony in this case was that, although the VA’s position was that these men engaged in willful misconduct rather than manifesting a disease, the VA treatment creed is very much one based on the disease model. However, the VA expressed a different, sensible position in this case because to do otherwise would simply overwhelm the federal government with unimaginable claims it owed people who were too drunk to demand them at some time in the past (Peele 1). Cases like these prove that the word “disease” will only be used by alcoholics to excuse themselves from the consequences of their actions.
In conclusion, society and alcoholics have both been misled by the erroneous classification of alcoholism as a disease. It is not right to let alcoholics believe they are helpless and dependent on others, that they have an inevitable disease. It is not right to excuse them legally and give them special government benefits at the cost of the American public. Moreover, it is not right to let society keep viewing them as helpless victims, to keep paying for their treatments, and to keep losing thousands of lives each year to a drunks behind a wheel or women who drink while pregnant. Alcoholics are not powerless; their choices led them to the life they live and they should take responsibility for their actions. It is time we stop viewing alcoholism for what its not, a disease, and start viewing it for what it is, an addiction brought about by personal choices.
Works CitedClaypool, Jane. Alcohol and You. London: Franklin Watts, 1988.
“Costs of alcohol and drug abuse in the United States.” http://silk.nih.gov/silk/niaa1/database/cost5txtFingarette, Herbert. “Alcoholism Is Not A Disease.” Chemical Dependancy: Opposing Viewpoints. Eds. Cozic, Charles P. and Karin Swisher. California: Greenhaven Press, 1991. 101-104.
Goodwin M.D., Donald W. Alcoholism: The Facts. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Langone, John. Bombed, Buzzed, Smashed or Sober. Canada: Little, Brown and Company, 1976.
Peele, Stanton. “Herbert Fingarette, Radical Revolutionist: Why Are People So Upset With This Retiring Philosopher?” http://peele.sas.nl./lib/fingers.htmlPeele, Stanton. Diseasing of America. Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1989.
Skipper M.D., Greg. “Addiction?A Disease?” http://www.easystreet.com/sbnw/disease.htm”Violence and Alcohol.” http://alcoholism.about.com/health/alcoholism/library/weekly/aa980415.htmWilbanks, William L. “Drug Addiction Should Be Treated as a Lack of Self-Discipline.” Chemical Dependancy. Ed. Bruno Leone. California: Greenhaven Press, 1989. 39-44.