Saturday, 6 June 2015

Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Day 97! A gloriously sunny, sober Saturday. Children still slumbering and the husband out hunter gathering (buying coffee and newspapers) on the streets of Chelsea.

Spoiler alert: this post is somewhat controversial. Please do not feel obliged to agree with me, in fact all debate warmly encouraged!

It was announced in the press yesterday that Charles Kennedy (see my post: When the wine witch wins. Part 2) was, indeed, killed by his alcoholism. He had a 'massive haemorrhage'.

This news caused yet more discussion about alcoholism in the press, which you might think is a very good thing. Here's a typical quote from the Guardian:

I also hope that politicians of all parties develop a better understanding of alcoholism, take it more seriously and devise policies to treat it as a disease on a par with the other major diseases."

And, yes, it would be good for "all parties develop a better understanding of alcoholism", and to "take it more seriously," BUT all the language used is designed to distance the commentator, and the vast proportion of the population, from the problem.

What they are, in effect, saying is "pity those poor souls that have this terrible disease they can do nothing about. Thank goodness the vase majority of us don't have it! Let's raise a glass to that!"

They think they know what the 'disease of alcoholism' looks like. It's the homeless wino in the gutter. It's the girl collapsed, in a pool of her own vomit, outside the nightclub with her knickers on show.

It's not them with their 'civilised' half bottle of wine with a colleague or client over lunch, gin and tonic when they get home, and another bottle shared with the wife at dinner. Oh no.

I don't believe that alcoholism is a disease or an illness. I'm with Jason Vale and Alan Carr, who believe that 'alcoholism' is a drug addiction like any other.

Some people are more prone to becoming addicted more quickly. The Horizon documentary on the BBC recently showed how some racial groups (e.g. Irish, American Indians) are, because of the slow speed with which they metabolise alcohol, more likely to develop alcoholism than others (e.g. Japanese, Chinese).

And 'nurture' plays a part as well as 'nature'. If you're raised to believe that drinking daily, copious, amounts of alcohol is the norm, you are more likely to do so yourself.

Certain professions encourage 'alcoholism' for the same reason: advertising and media, journalism and investment banking for example.

Plus, anyone dealing with any form of 'emotional damage' is far more likely to become hooked on the blurry oblivion provided by alcohol (and other drugs) in order to fill the 'hole in the soul'.

But, the truth is, that just like heroin, nicotine, cocaine and any other addictive drug, anyone who drinks enough alcohol over a long enough period of time will eventually become hooked.

Sooner or later your brain chemistry is permanently altered such that it becomes reliant on your drug of choice (in this case alcohol) for dopamine. Eventually your cucumber becomes a pickle (see Moderation. Is it possible? Part 2 for more on this one)

Going back to the quote from yesterday's papers, if it had read like this: “I also hope that politicians of all parties develop a better understanding of alcohol, take it more seriously and devise policies to treat it as an addictive drug on a par with the other addictive drugsthen that would be helpful. That would be a game changer.

Why? Because talking about it that way makes it clear that no-one is immune. It would encourage people to question their own drinking habits before they become too entrenched. More and more people would jump off the elevator before it gets to rock bottom.

As a society we insist on treating alcohol differently from other drugs because a huge proportion of the population are using it. The same used to be true of nicotine. At one point even doctors promoted smoking as, not just harmless, but healthy! How extraordinary that seems now.

I understand that talking about alcoholism as 'a disease' or 'an illness' ensures that people struggling with it are pitied rather than scorned, which is something. But even when we manage to 'recover' they feel sorry for us, trapped in a world without alcohol for ever.

Do we want pity? If alcoholism was seen for what it is - as a chronic addiction that anyone can be sucked into - then those of us who manage to break the chains would be envied and lauded. We wouldn't be hiding behind anonymity in church halls, or pseudonyms on the internet.

We have to stop blaming 'the disease' and start blaming the drug.

Only then can we give people proper help before they get to rock bottom, like Charles Kennedy. Only then can we properly counsel our children. Only then can we stop, not just the effects of alcoholism that people know about - like fights in city centres late at night and cirrhosis of the liver, but the effects they don't see: the gradual leeching of talent, ambition and energy of vast hidden swathes of the population.

Wake up, and smell the coffee (on a glorious hangover free, sunny day like today) people.

Feel free to disagree vehemently in the comments section below!

Love SM

Related post: Is Alcoholism a Disease? Part 2

21 comments:

  1. Great Post. I have always said if I told people that I stopped using Heroin they would be sooo proud of me and really have my back, not so much with Alcohol! I saw a ad last night, here in the States, where they show all these Athletic clubs running & swimming etc. then they show them all opening beers together. Frustrating advertisers !

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    1. Incredible how, once you take the beer goggles off, you see how deluded we all are! Xx

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  2. Good debate question! I think that in order for insurance companies to pay for rehabs & recovery they had to classify it as a disease. I still say it's a disease you can recover from because of the genetic disposition. We really do need to speak out more about how there are many of us living quiet lives of recovery and are very successful at it.

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  3. Good debate question! I think that in order for insurance companies to pay for rehabs & recovery they had to classify it as a disease. I still say it's a disease you can recover from because of the genetic disposition. We really do need to speak out more about how there are many of us living quiet lives of recovery and are very successful at it.

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  4. Good debate question! I think that in order for insurance companies to pay for rehabs & recovery they had to classify it as a disease. I still say it's a disease you can recover from because of the genetic disposition. We really do need to speak out more about how there are many of us living quiet lives of recovery and are very successful at it.

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    1. I'd heard that about insurance too, Patti. I'm hoping that the tide is changing and we sober people will be more noticeable....Love SM x

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  5. Brilliant post. I agree with everything you said. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. And thanks for commenting Sonya! X

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  6. Hear hear! I think alcoholism should be rebranded 'alcohol addiction'. I still don't know if I was/am an alcoholic but I can confidently say I have an alcohol addiction. Or did have ;-) Day 100 and I'll be in bed with a hot chocolate soon. I wouldn't change a thing. Big hugs SM x

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    1. Woop Woop! The big one zero zero! You rock!!!

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  7. Hear, hear to everything you have written too! I have never been part of a blog before but just felt compelled to write a comment to you. I spent 2 days trawling the web and you tube videos for inspiration for becoming AF and finally found it on your blog!! I laughed til I cried when I read your nearly rock bottom blog. In many ways my life has been similar. Just had a lot of fun with alcohol at uni, at work in Marketing and meeting my hubby. It is time to call a halt to it and enjoy my precious, young children with all of their enthusiasm and zest for life. Not in a foggy (and sometimes grumpy) haze. So a very big thank-you for your inspiring blog. It has made me think there must be so many people like me out there. Your blogs are funny and very eloquently written. I am tuning in daily for your thoughts - it is a great support!! Best get back to my lovely kids on this Saturday evening x

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    1. Thanks so much for reading, for commenting and for being so kind. You've made my day! There ARE lots of people like you out there - we just keep quiet about it! Huge congrats on making the leap - you won't regret it! Stay in touch xx

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  8. I think it's complicated.
    I agree-it is an addictive substance AND we are conditioned to believe we should drink and it is necessary for fun. That's string programming.


    For me, there was also the compulsive aspect to it. Using alcohol to self medicate my Nciety and depression turned it into a compulsive behaviour. One I could not understand.

    In the end, I look at people who lose everything and continue to drink their life away and feel only sorrow. No one chooses that. No one picks booze over family, jobs, respectability. Not on purpose.

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    1. I totally agree Anne, but I think it's the drug that's to blame, not a disease. People lose everything because of heroin too, but no-one's created a 'disease' called heroinism...

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  9. Can't argue with anything! It would be interesting (and shocking, I bet) if there was any kind of research into "our kind" of addiction - high functioning, wine drinking ( "good" wine), wine bar frequenters, who rarely "appear' drunk.....maybe the politicians would have to take it seriously.....

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  10. I don't think it's that black and white. What about those people who have more if an emotional dependence rather than a physical one? Why then do people relapse when they have spent years alcohol free and supposedly no longer addicted? I'm not quite sure where I stand on this one. Interesting to hear everyone's different points if view though! A x

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    1. Don't narcotics always start with an emotional dependence? The physical dependence only appears in time? And, once an addict, always an addict. Once you've messed with your dopamine receptors you can never take the drug in small doses again without re-awakening the addiction. abstinence is still the only solution, whether disease or addiction....

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  11. Yes I agree. Talking about a disease is a way of being broadly sympathetic while neatly sidestepping the fact that as a society we acquiese to a highly addictive substance being widely available. To children even. Some forms of this substance are a lot 'purer' than others.whisky being one. As a society we don't like to acknockledge this and as a result a lot of the discussion about alcohol misuse focuses on antisocial behaviour and completely misses the point. Flossie x

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  12. I have always struggled to understand alcoholism as a disease. It's not like cancer or an infection that we can attempt to stop or kill off. For years I have tried to categorise my drinking habits. I think I fall into binge drinker, problem drinker and moderately dependent drinker. Jason Vale's book is helping to change my outlook so I can make sense of it all. I am an alcohol addict. Only 50 days a go I was grappling with the idea of moderation. I actually thought I could drink a small amount "for a special occassion" without any repercussions. I decided not to in the end as I know from the past it's not that easy. I now KNOW moderation doesn't/can't/won't work for me. End of. Like you said SM, once an addict always an addict. If someone had battled drug abuse you know one hit would eventually spiral into full blown addiction. I can now see that is how my relationship with alcohol works. I'm still not ok with the forever aspect of not drinking but I'm hoping one day I will be. It's all a personal journey and this is the first time in my life I've been able to accept I can't carry on drinking alcohol. Sorry to purge. I just needed to get that out. x

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  13. I agree that alcohol is addictive. I also think that some people have more addictive personalities than others x

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  14. I love this post. I think that it is just more comfortable for people to think of alcoholism as a disease and something that only happens to a select unlucky few. I think people are very uncomfortable with the concept of a high functioning alcoholic because it hits to close to home for a lot of people. It would mean that more people may have to examine their own relationship with alcohol.

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