Sunday, 7 June 2015

Is Alcoholism a Disease? Part 2

Day 98! And huge congratulations to LushNoMore on making 100 days yesterday. Awesome work, LNM!

Apologies to those of you who are bored with this topic already after reading 'Is Alcoholism a Disease?' yesterday, but, having done more research, I felt I had to come back to it. Don't worry, I'll move onto something much lighter tomorrow!

My friend P, who has a proper post grad degree in addiction studies, sent me an academic paper entitled 'Addiction Disease Concept: Advocates and Critics' by the hugely respected researcher William L White.

If you want to read to paper then here is a link.

As Angie and Anne pointed out yesterday, it is certainly not black and white. In fact the debate has been raging amongst 'experts' for centuries.

White writes (there's a tongue twister!): "For more than 200 years America has vacillated over the question of whether excessive drug use is a disease, an illness, a sickness, a malady, an affliction, a condition, a behaviour, a problem, a habit, a vice, a sin, a crime, or some combination of these. A new century opens with debate over this question raging ever more intensely."

White then sets out, extremely cogently, the two extremes of the argument.

Now I still stand by my criticism of the 'disease concept' (as White called it) which was the basis of my rant yesterday. However, the opposite extreme is much worse!

The most vocal critics of the 'disease concept' include a chap called Jeffry Schaler, publisher of a book entitled 'Addiction is a Choice'.

Schaler argues that "the idea that addiction is a disease is the greatest medical hoax since the idea that masturbation makes you go blind."

According to Schaler, the addict chooses to take the drug, and - by the same token -  they can choose to stop. It is only because they are told they have an incurable disease that they do not. He believes that many people 'mature out' of addiction, and that they can learn to moderate.


That is not how addictive narcotics work! People may choose to take them initially, but they do NOT choose to become addicted. Even those who decide to play with heroin believe that they are in control of it - until they are not. (Sound familiar?)

In the case of (the addictive narcotic) alcohol, we are led to believe that only a very small minority have the disease that makes copious consumption an issue. Its use is not only normalised and widespread, but advertised and glamorised.

There are no warnings on the bottle that we are playing fire by consuming a hugely addictive substance.

We do not choose to get addicted! Like the heroin addict, we think we are in control (we're told that 'normal' people are always in control) until we are not.

Then, according to Schaler, once addicted we should be able to 'choose' not to be. To moderate! Bollocks! Do we expect heroin addicts to be able to 'snap out of it?' Do we advise them to 'moderate'? Of course we don't!

A number of studies have shown that what causes addiction is a permanent shift in the brain chemistry - in the way we deal with and manufacture dopamine. Once a pickle, always a pickle.

When you've reached this point, the urge to take your drug is, as per the disease model, uncontrollable and unstoppable. And, like the disease model, moderation is not an option.

I looked up one of the old anti-drugs ads from 1987. Do you remember the 'heroin screws you up' campaign? Here's how the copy read:

At first you think you can control heroin.
But before long you'll start looking ill, losing weight and feeling like death.
Then one day you'll wake up knowing that, instead of you controlling heroin, it now controls you.
So, if a friends offers you heroin, you know what to say.

Alcohol is a slower burn addiction. And, at least initially, it makes you gain weight, not lose it. But, apart from that, same old, same old. And yet we condemn one drug whilst encouraging the widespread enjoyment of another.

Heroin screws you up, but alcohol relaxes you, gives you confidence, makes you more fun and sociable. "Just say no" to heroin, but say "make mine a double" to Scotch whisky. Where's the logic in that?

So, it's certainly not black and white. And despite the huge costs to individuals and society of 'alcoholism,' and centuries of research and debate, nobody seems to be able to agree what causes it or what to do about it.

What are we supposed to do in the midst of all this debate? Carry on not drinking, have a ball being alcohol free, and let them all fight it out.

Happy, hangover free Sunday everyone!

SM x


  1. Hangover free living rocks! Getting a mention in your blog rocks! Happy Sunday SM x (and everyone else x)

  2. Congratulations LNM!!! You Rock!
    This is indeed a tricky debate. I think it IS a disease, but it is an avoidable disease. The drinks industry in this country employ teams of very powerful lobbyists to argue against regulation and our government quite frankly do not have the Cojones to stand up to them.
    They are well aware of how alcohol and other psychoactive substances 'hijack' the dopamine reward pathways in the brain that can lead to full blown addictions.
    It is in thier interest and the interest of profit and greed to keep this information as surpressed as possible.
    Education is the key here, knowledge is power. Had I known all those years ago that alcohol was as addictive as I know it to be now, I may well not have taken that 'first' drink. There seems to be a steady tide of resentment building against alcohol, helped sadly by the recent demise of Charles Kennedy. Long may it continue. I hope the sun is shining where you are as bright as it is here SM. Have a lovely Sunday. x

  3. Day 98! Congrats and also to LNM, fantastic. I'm with Tallaxo here, tricky indeed - the research is muddied by those who pay for it, much like the Tobacco Industry, a couple of decades ago, and similar to the Food Industry. I thinks it's simple - the cause of alcohol addiction is Alcohol, the way to stop it, is to not take the drug. It is a sunny Sunday here too, have a great one xx

  4. The sad reality is that we have allowed alcohol sellers to convince us that those things are true.
    But in reality alcohol makes you do things you otherwise wouldn't, lowers inhibitions, dulls good judgement and causes serious health impacts.

    is it really fun to get hammered and have sex with strangers? To lose things? To break the law?

    Those are not uncommon side effects of alcohol.

    How did we become convinced they are fun?

  5. Well I did not set out to be addicted to alcohol.
    I was a "normie" for years.
    Until someone, I wasn't anymore.
    I didn't choose this.
    When I finally got educated and saw my brain had changed, I felt better.
    I still had to quit drinking, but I knew it wasn't a moral failing on my part.