When starting the path towards recovery, there is a common refrain from counselors and longtime pillars in the twelve steps rooms and community. What people commonly will hear is that alcoholism is a disease. Furthermore, they told this disease has no cure and the most realistic hope to avoid backsliding into the shadows of alcohol abuse was the tables of a twelve-step program, finding a sponsor, and moving away from those people, places and things that could trigger relapse.
As a person just starting the journey towards a sane and sober life, these tenets make a lot of sense. Change is what the newly sober individual is seeking. Living a life built on manipulation and lies and the bad choices made while under the influence weighs heavy on the mind, body and soul of the alcoholic. Creating and maintaining a structure that will allow the addicted to turn away from the toxicity of their past lives and towards a more meaningful and fulfilling existence is THE priority.
Framing their affliction as a disease can be easily understood analogy for those looking to come to terms with their past behavior. In its most base tenets, the disease model theory states that chronic heavy drinkers establish a pattern of drinking that progressively gets worse and leads to the deterioration of body, mind and soul.
The condition of alcoholism persists involuntarily and the cravings associated with the condition are uncontrollable one set in motion. The only means to understand and hopefully alleviate this “disease” is through medical intervention.
Moreover, the alcoholic, because of their impairment, is neither morally nor legally responsible for their actions while under the influence. While the philosophy of the disease model can definitely give a framework for the newly recovering to understand the mechanisms behind their alcoholism, one must be careful to buy wholesale into the theory without considering other explanations.
The disease model, as stated earlier, is accurate in describing the helplessness an alcoholic feels and the feeling they can’t get better on their own without intervention. It also seems to alleviate the guilt and shame and can act as a motivator to seek treatment. Alcoholism (or addiction to drugs in general) is like a disease and a good analogy to get some footing in finding ways to break the cycle.
However, the disease concept regarding addiction seems to be based squarely in the court of the medical community. The medical community have been strong proponents of this theory because in simple terms if fits what they do. Those in the medical community rely on tight categorizations of problems whether they are physical or mental in nature.
There have been numerous studies done regarding the effect addiction has on brain chemistry as well as those parts of the brain responsible for decision making, judgment and especially behavior. Studies of this kind are promoted by medical bodies such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and the American Medical Association among others. While these studies’ outcomes can clearly state the point for addiction being a form of disease, there are other factors that seem to be not considered in the equation.
Some argue that the definitions and parameters listed in diagnostic manuals are not medical in nature, but have sociological roots. Factors such as upbringing, the whole nature vs. nurture debate, past experiences and set and setting in which alcohol use is fostered and reinforced are common themes. Alcoholism and addiction in general seems to describe behavior that is chronic and troubling which falls under social labels and mores reflecting the social climate. There is also the fact that some alcoholics and addicts can get better without medical treatment or by attending twelve step meetings like AA or NA.
The bottom line is there can be multiple explanations for the underpinnings of alcoholism and addiction in general. While these models and theories can help explain certain facets of the addiction phenomena, there isn’t a model or theory that is all-inclusive. Alcoholism (and by proxy addiction) has many different factors including socioeconomic and familial, thus an all-inclusive model would be irrelevant.
Tim Powers – bald, tattooed, a business professional by day and rocker by night. Sober by the grace of God since the 8th of May in the year of our Lord 2003. Sharing my stories and my self in order to pay it forward. You can follow me on Twitter @tpowersbass42.