Alcoholism: Disease or Choice?

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Alcoholism: Disease or Choice?

Danielle M Ellis



Webster’s New World Dictionary defines alcoholism as a chronic condition which is mainly characterized by excessive and compulsive consumption of and dependence on alcohol as well as nutritional and mental disorders. This definition depicts alcoholism as a disease that is beyond one’s control. It has however been argued in some circles that alcoholism is a choice and the idea of alcoholism as a disease is a myth. Since it is an individual choice to take alcohol, alcoholism is a consequence of free will. Both sides of the debate are discussed in this paper and it is my conclusion that there is strong evidence that suggests that alcoholism is a disease that needs treatment.

Alcoholism is a choice

Fingarette (1988) discredits the notion that alcoholism is a disease. He explains that alcoholism begins with a choice to drink alcohol which subsequently leads to uncontrollable consumption. In his book, the author explains that heavy drinking or alcoholism is a lifestyle. Advertisements on the media depict alcoholism as an attractive way of life, meaning those who choose to indulge in alcohol are simply making a choice. Alcoholism is defined as a disease in order to excuse some errant behaviors. It is contended that alcoholics can indeed control their consumption of alcohol. The author emphasizes that in most alcoholism treatment facilities, it is a requirement for one to stay sober for a while before being admitted. According to him this means that an alcoholic is able to control his or her drinking. Fingarette (1988) also argues that there are many symptoms of alcoholism to qualify it as a disease on its own.

Some have also argued that relapse of recovering alcoholics illustrates that alcoholism is a choice. This is because some of the alcoholics who undergo rehabilitation choose to go back to their drinking habits. This has been compared in the same way that some people choose to take heroin or cocaine and later become addicted (Schaler 1991). Critics of the notion of alcoholism as a disease have argued that treating alcoholism as a disease is equivalent to comparing it to a disease like cancer. It is argued that while in the case of cancer one cannot prevent or control the cancer, one can prevent and control alcoholism. This is because one cannot become an alcoholic if they do not take alcohol in the first place. Some addicts have also claimed that they could stop taking alcohol if they wanted to. Therefore, it has been asserted that alcoholism is a volitional act.

Baldwin Research Institute (2003) asserts that the average person, who is diagnosed with a drug related addiction, will on their own stop the addiction 20 to 30% of the time. This means that the loss of control concept does not apply. According to critics alcoholics who believe that alcoholism is a disease have lesser chances of achieving sobriety, due to the idea that they have no control. Mello and Mendelson (1972) conducted a study where a group of people were given unlimited access to a huge amount of alcohol. It was observed that none of the people tried to drink all the alcohol at once. This was to show that they could actually control the amount of alcohol they consumed. In this study it was concluded that the notion that once consumption of alcohol begins it proceeds independently and cannot be controlled, is incorrect and misinformed. It was also concluded that alcoholism is a psychological as opposed to a physiological uncontrollable force. This is because the manner in which alcoholics take alcohol is related to their beliefs about drinking. Most alcoholics think that alcohol will solve their problems, thus many are heard saying that they are ‘drowning’ their sorrows with alcohol. Psychotherapeutic thoughts have also confirmed that most alcoholics have underlying problems that they try to forget or avoid by overindulging in alcohol. This therefore means that...
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