Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Friend Asks

David, I just heard a gentleman on the radio discussing AA. He is an alcoholic but has has been clean & sober for 40 years. The host asked him whether he considered alcoholism to be a disease. He adamantly said he did not and then went on to explain why the medical profession had been trying to label it a disease. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this! Robert

(This, of course, will teach you to stop listening to the radio.)

For many years, alcoholism was seen as a shame and a dirty secret. Cancer had the same public perception. Nobody wanted to admit to either.

About 40 years ago, doctors did the world a favour and convinced us all that alcoholism was something that had to be dealt with, not hidden away. They legitimized the problem by calling it a disease.

Fair enough...as far as it goes.

The only trouble with this approach and this history is that doctors then started to believe their own press kit. They came to believe that alcoholism is really a disease and that therefore it is something for doctors to treat.


Big boo-boo, kids.

If I have a heart problem (and apparently, I do), the doctors at VGH can weave their way through my arterial systems and clear a passage and put in a stent and send me home. My job is to eat well, exercise, not yell at bozos in traffic and take my medicines.

Alcoholism is different.

Doctors can do next to nothing about it. It is not a random disease picked up by using public washrooms.

It is a sickness alright. But a sickness of the soul and spirit. Some people can drink and some people can't.

If you are one of the people who can't, you have only one choice.

Stop drinking now.

Begin to live The Examined Life.

Learn who you are and how you function and mal-function.

Focus on values and helping others while you help yourself.

I have always been baffled by why any doctor would want to invest all his/her learning working with addicts and alcoholics.

Livers, kidneys, eyes, ears, noses I understand.

Alcoholism and drug addictions are for alcoholics and drug addicts to work on.

Stethoscopes have no role in this struggle.


Dave C. said...


I am not familiar with the history behind the medical profession's labeling of alcohol and drug addiction a "disease", but I would guess it was partly an attempt to encourage people with those problems to seek some form of treatment rather than wallow in a cycle of guilt and remorse as a substitute for dealing with the problem.

You make no mention of the possibility that genetics may predispose some people to being more vulnerable than others. However, your statement that, "Some people can drink and some people can't", may be hitting the nail on the head.

For example, the sad history of aboriginal people being particularly affected by alcohol suggests to me that genetic intolerance may be involved. Perhaps the European colonizers of the New World may have benefited from a Darwinian "immunization" provided by generations of their imbibing ancestors?

But I do agree with your previous statements about "harm reduction" approaches to dealing with chronic alcohol and drug addiction. An oxymoron to be sure, for it surely tells addicts that we consider them to be a "hopeless case". If residential programs elsewhere have proven to be successful in restoring people's self-esteem and health, what is holding us back from doing the same here?

Dave C.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is plain and simple some 'drinkers' use their 'problem' as a weapon to abuse their family, employees, and society as a whole. When the 'drinker' is the boss the s**t hits the employees. The boss gets the 'protection of ' a medical problem' and the employee loses a job because the miserable behaviour directly impacts their position. The drunk wins the employee loses and the reason? The employee is not a team player. The company is really the drunks enabler.

Pelalusa said...

Thank you, David. Most enlightening.