For well over half a century we’ve spent billions of dollars. That’s in a failed attempt at understanding alcoholism. What’s its nature, causes, and possible cure?
Each promised breakthrough to understanding alcoholism has failed.
I. Problem of Confusion
II. Reason for Confusion
I. Problem of Confusion
There isn’t even agreement on defining alcoholism. Nor is there agreement on whether or not it is a disease. Even doctors disagree about this basic question.
Nor is there any agreement on its causes. Is alcoholism the result of genetics, an allergy, or nutritional deficiencies? Does it result from personality traits, environment, or some other cause or causes? We’re far from understanding alcoholism. Experts argue endlessly.
II. Reason for the Problem
Most assumptions used for understanding alcoholism are based on a set of strongly-held beliefs. These were developed in the 1930’s by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The beliefs include these.
1. Alcoholics can never learn to drink in moderation. Believers insist that “once a pickle, never again a cucumber.” See Here.
2. If alcoholics don’t stop drinking, they will always become progressively worse. They end up in an institution or dead. That’s from the effects of alcoholism. See Here.
3. Some alcoholics stop drinking but later resume drinking. They don’t simply resume their downward spiral at the point they stopped drinking. Instead, they resume where they would have been had they never stopped drinking.
4. Alcoholism is caused by an allergy to alcohol.
5. Consuming any alcohol, no matter how little, causes a “loss of control.” That is, it causes alcoholics to have an uncontrollable desire to drink more and more.
6. Alcoholics are powerless over alcohol. They must abstain from it for the rest of their lives. See Alcoholics Drink Moderately?
7. To achieve permanent abstinence, alcoholics must submit their will to God or a “Higher Power.” See AA is Religious Say Courts.
These convictions are strongly held by members of AA. They’re also held by most people in the treatment industry. Indeed, most people in the industry are members of AA.
Change is Threatening
The scientific evidence contradicts these beliefs. That’s very threatening to true believers. It’s akin to challenging personal religious or political beliefs.
This is understandable. Those who believe, think that alcoholics cannot drink any alcohol without loss of control. They have great fear. They worry that alcoholics will be tempted to try drinking in moderation. They think this will be life-threatening. So they see the issue as one of life and death.
But the research evidence is clearly inconsistent. That is, with the basic tenants of the AA beliefs. A large proportion of alcoholics can and do learn to drink in moderation. Scientific evidence of that fact has grown for nearly fifty years. See Alcoholics Can Recover from Alcoholism and Drink in Moderation?
This proves there is no inevitable downward path for alcoholics who continue to drink. It shows that “loss of control” does not occur if alcoholics falsely believe that they are not consuming any alcohol.
The statement that alcoholism is an allergy to alcohol is nonsense. People who are allergic to pollen don’t seek out goldenrod to sniff. Those who are allergic to dust don’t keep dust fuzzies in their pockets to enjoy. If alcoholism were an allergy to alcohol, then the substance would be the only allergen that causes people to have an irresistible urge to use it.
There is an allergy to alcohol commonly called the Oriental Flushing Reflex. But the unpleasant reaction to alcohol causes sufferers to avoid alcohol. They don’t seek it out and drink it uncontrollably.
The large number of atheists and agnostics who achieve sobriety. They disprove another AA theory. It’s that alcoholics must submit their will to God or a “Higher Power” to have life-long abstinence.
The basic beliefs of AA for alcoholism are false. Does this mean that alcoholics who are successfully abstaining should attempt to drink in moderation? No.
But people who are concerned about their drinking can consider any of the options for reducing drinking. They’re free. They work for most people. But if it doesn’t, then people can consider an abstinence only program.
Effective programs exist. This means people can receive the help they need. They can live free of alcohol problems.
There are many such programs. They include these
- AA. Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Bufe, C. Studies Show AA Is Ineffective. In: Wekesser, C. (Ed.). Alcoholism. Pp. 72-81.
- Fingarette, H. Heavy Drinking. The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease.
- FitzGerald, K. Alcoholism is a Disease. In: Cozic, C., and Swisher, K. (Eds.). Chemical Dependency. Pp. 96-100.
- Heather, N., and Robertson, I. Controlled Drinking.
- Sobell, M., and Sobell, L. Problem Drinkers: Guided Self-Change.