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Human society has always been characterized with certain concepts of positive and negative meaning. Since ancient times social relationships among the representatives of the society have been evaluating through the concepts of “good” and “bad”. In general, these concepts were based on certain moral presuppositions and the degree of efficiency or harm towards the society. Among one of such harms and threats of modern society has been proclaimed alcoholism. Being classified as disease, the concept of social harm and danger became widespread and blamed. The medicine tries to beat this disease with various methods. The Governments establish different programs, sometimes too strict like National Prohibition Act in the US. The above mentioned factors turn to be partially effective, and the society remains in a constant struggle against this harmful phenomenon. However, there is a group of scholars that consider the disease concept of alcoholism to be rejected as a prejudice. The following study is to investigate both sides of the issue and drop more light on the place of alcoholism in the list of social disadvantages.
The Disease Concept of Alcoholism
An average person today is completely sure that strong alcohol addiction is a disease. The Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence gave a definition to alcoholism in 1992: “Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial” (Substance Abuse News). Some clinics describe the condition of a person having alcoholism as uncontrolled drinking and being preoccupied with alcohol. Moreover, the disease has accumulative effect, which means in order to get the same drinking effect the patient requires more alcohol. Rapid stop drinking by such person often causes withdrawal symptoms. And alcoholic is unable neither to predict the drinking dose and the length of drinking, nor the consequences of drinking (Alcoholism).
The supporters of this concept address two main reasons, which are psychological and physical addiction. Addiction is generally defined as the continued use of a mood altering substance or behavior despite adverse consequences (Alcohol Rehab). Relatives and close friends of an addict are the first ones to notice the issue. However, it is a typical thing for the addicts to hide the reasons of their dependence and its fact itself. Moreover, a common thing is a denial of addiction. The final stage of such defensive position, which sometimes might be aggressive, is when the addict is unable to deny the amount of evidence. Having a psychological addiction, the addict becomes dependent on certain substances or behaviors. Furthermore, the person has not enough willpower to overcome the psychological addiction. Physically addicted people, in their turn, are characterized by the increased tolerance towards the substance they use. Moreover, the stop of using the substance is followed by withdrawal symptoms (Alcohol Rehab). It is generally claimed that each type of addiction usually starts from a psychological stage. The latter means the patient suffers from mental obsession. The recollection of the moments of drinking and having a good time with positive feelings gradually becomes strong. Thus, the person is not aware of the symptoms but is experiencing the transition stage to the physiological addiction to drinking. Gradually, the dose of alcohol, which has been usually enough to restore the lost feeling of joy and pleasure, becomes not enough. Finally, one day even the person notices that the lowering of dose or rapid stop of drinking is followed by body ache, body shaking, sweating, diarrhea or vomiting. The latter are typical symptoms of withdrawal. Thus, some experts use the enlisted evidence to regard alcoholism as a chemical disease. The reason for this is that alcohol dissolves in the stomach and provokes different effect on alcoholics and non-alcoholics. Chemical predisposition of alcohol substances also highlight the biological nature of the disease. Among other characteristics some experts draw attention that alcoholism is a primary, progressive, chronic and fatal disease (The Disease of Alcoholism-Defined & Explained). It is regarded primary because it is never provoked by another disease. On the contrary, it is characterized with own pathology. Moreover, it can be the reason for other diseases, which mainly cause the problems with internal organs. Alcoholism is progressive because of the stages enlisted above. Despite being a destructive habit, alcoholism is fatal in the sense of causing either immediate death or injury in cases as drunk-driving, homicide or suicide. Another side of the issue is the lowering of life length through diseases, the resistance to which has been reduced due to the damage from drinking.
Thus, the supporters of the disease concept of alcoholism provide enough arguments to support their opinion. The arguments seem to fit the concept of alcoholism being a disease. However, there are specialists, who strongly disagree with this interpretation and give their own concept of the issue.
The Non-Disease Concept of Alcoholism
The critics of the disease concept of alcoholism argue that the whole theory of regarding it as a disease has been based on myths and prejudices. They regard the formula “alcoholism is a disease” to be a widespread mystification that turns out to be non valid. Form the one hand it does not go along with scientific discoveries of their opponents. However, the questions this group of people asks tend to shake the traditional belief.
It should be noted that the followers of non-disease concept of alcoholism subdivide what they call a myth about alcoholism being a disease into four parts. These parts include heavy problem drinkers sharing distinctive patterns of all kinds of deterioration; the uncontrollable nature of alcoholism; medical expertise is needed to define and treat the disease; alcoholics are not responsible for their drinking and the consequences. They claim the theory of alcoholism being a disease to be more of political and moral nature based on false physiological theories. Thus, with the course of time the false origin of such theories has been forgotten, and the concept has become a prejudice.
First, the supporters of non-disease concept see the reason of the myth of deterioration of an alcoholic to be based on irrelevant studies of Alcoholics Anonymous. Furthermore, they claim that recent studies stress the fluctuating nature of deterioration pattern of an alcoholic. This means the drinkers are not always degrade mentally or physically. The reasons for this are mainly the strength of willpower, lack of social problems and deviant patterns of drinking. The latter indicates that the belief about alcoholics constantly drinking turns out to be a myth. Another myth is expressed to be connected with biological and genetic nature of alcoholism. Recent studies show that there is no strict connection with genetic presumption for being a heavy drinker and the real statistics of drinkers. Therefore, a person with non-drinking genetic history may become an alcoholic when the one with drinking genetics might be not involved in consuming alcohol. Thus, the hereditary disease theory fails to be valid. Moreover, it has been proved that heavy drinking individuals can regulate their drinking behavior according to social rules and regulations. The evidence has shown that in such conditions the drinking patterns of alcoholics can change dramatically. That is why the theories of an uncontrolled disease have not been approved. On the contrary, Neather states that “excessive drinking can cause physical disease and involve physical dependence without therefore being a disease itself”. The scholar proposes viewing alcoholism as a result of contact of the personality and the social context where the one gains the experience to drink. All in all, the revealed evidence shows that the term “disease” used to characterize alcoholism has less connection with medicine than historically believed. Therefore, it can be treated as a form of a social prejudice. Moreover, some organizations state the alcoholism disease concept is the reason of doing a reparable harm to alcoholics by means disservice (Alcoholism Is Not a Disease). Thus, the concept of alcoholism should be reframed in order not to spread cases of deliberate harm done by mistreatment.
On the basis of presented information one can come to conclusion that the concepts of alcoholism being and non-being a disease have enough arguments to consider. However, it turns out that the disease concept of alcoholism is based on mainly empiric and irrelevant statistical data. Moreover, there have not been any attempts of checking the studies that support the disease concept of alcoholism for a long period of time. Thus, gradually, irrelevant psychological and biological studies have become a form of social prejudice. Furthermore, the prejudice has become the result of mistreatment based on false vision of the problem. Regarding the number of people suffering from alcoholism and the results of mistreatment, the concept of alcoholism should be reframed in order to avoid the continuation of mistreatment. The discussed concept of alcoholism being a disease should be rejected by specialists and the citizens in order to avoid greater social damage. The latter would foster the society’s response to alcoholism as a social experience, which would turn to be more efficient in perspective.