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The Implications of labeling Alcoholism a disease

Old 08-16-2010, 08:22 AM
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The Implications of labeling Alcoholism a disease

OK, I was about to post this on the main forum but thought better of it:-)

First, I believe 100% alcoholism is a disease. What bothers me is that if this is true then some of our other assumptions about alcoholism seem to need to be revisited, IMO.

1. Rock Bottom - If alcoholism is a disease, do we really have to wait until it's at its worst to treat it? What about early detection with cancer, we all know that is vital to recovery. Alcoholism has a recovery rate of under 25%, maybe that is because we have to let people hit their "bottoms" before they can get better. P.S. - I know they say everyone has a different bottom, I get that, I also know that as awful as I was when drinking I have it in me to go a hell of a lot lower than I did, does this mean I am doomed to failure (at least on this attempt)?

2. Self-Diagnosis - What other disease do we tell the patient "Only you can say whether or not you have this disease?". Come on, I'm in Manhattan right now, and I'm pretty sure I could go out and find someone I could diagnos with alcoholism without too much work. Yeah, in early stages it is harder to diagnos but you could at lest be able to make a preliminary diagnosis that a person was on the path to being an alcoholic and get them into treatment. Not everyone would be amenable to this, but I would have welcomed help at least 7 years ago had it been offered.

3. Selfishness - You are an alcoholic because you are selfish and self-absorbed...wait I thought I was an alcoholic because it was a disease?

4. HP - You can only get better by relying on a Higher Power - Then it's not a disease. Imagine if we relied on God to cure of all that ails us...why don't we all become Christian Scientists then?

OK, that's my rant for now. The reason this upsets me is that I believe it is the ideas we (as a society) have about alcoholism that prevent many people from getting help.

What do you all think? Am I wrong in thinking that these ideas are mutually exclusive?

Thanks, I feel better already:-D

Last edited by Dee74; 08-16-2010 at 06:02 PM. Reason: by request
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Old 08-16-2010, 08:33 AM
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Yeah, this debate has gone on for years and will continue to go on. I don't necessarily consider it a disease in the commonly accepted sense of the word; dis-ease maybe. I think of it more as an illness. Something that manifests itself and with proper care, can be cured. Proper care being the operative phrase. It doesn't bother me that many other people feel differently. Like anything else, my sobriety is MINE and theirs is theirs.

Should be an interesting thread.
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Old 08-16-2010, 09:27 AM
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"Complete remission is the best possible outcome for incurable diseases." - Wikipedia

So we should be seeking a "Complete Remission" as opposed to a "Cure" or "recovery".

Shoot, now I'm just getting hung up on semantics!
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Old 08-16-2010, 09:28 AM
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Just don't let it drive you to drink!
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Old 08-16-2010, 09:37 AM
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LaFemme, You make some good points, ones that I have considered myself. Points 1. &2. I agree completely with you. These don’t sound like "symptoms" of an illness. However there are still many unanswered questions about alcoholism we don’t have a definitive answer for; how does heredity and environment effect alcoholism? Why don’t Muslim countries have as high a rate of alcoholics as do other places? Why you are at higher risk if there is a history of alcoholics in your family?
Think about this;

Exerpted From "Staying Sober" By: Terence T. Gorski
“ The presence of brain dysfunction has been documented in 75-95% of the recovering alcoholics/addicts tested. Recent research indicates that the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal associated with alcohol/drug-related damage to the brain may contribute to many cases of relapse.”

Is this brain “dysfunction” a result of a disease, or the result of the alcohol we consume?
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Old 08-16-2010, 09:43 AM
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I think the hereditary factor can be explained in the same way as cancer. If we have it in our gene pool, we are pre-disposed to it, but by our environment and our actions we can trigger it.

I knew a guy who had never once had a drink (he was 27)...I was floored so I asked why...he said his family was predisposed to alcoholism and when he was 14 a cousin died from alcohol. At the funeral his Grandmother made him promise never to drink, so he didn't. If I ever have kids, I will try and encourage them not to drink, because I know my gene pool will put them at risk.

So to the following, I would answer, Both!

"Is this brain “dysfunction” a result of a disease, or the result of the alcohol we consume? "
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Old 08-16-2010, 09:44 AM
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I think generally speaking of what constitutes a disease (being a condition that is chronic, progressive and fatal if left untreated), alcoholism fits that definition. Also from the 24th Edition of the Stedman’s Medical Dictionary:
1. A disease is a morbus, an illness, a sickness that causes an interruption, cessation, or disorder of bodily functions, systems, or organs

2. A disease is an entity characterized by at least two of these criteria:

(1) a recognized etiologic agent (or agents);

(2) an identifiable group of signs and symptoms; or

(3) consistent anatomical alterations of known body systems.
I think alcoholism fits in there somewhere with the above understandings.

I like to follow the brain disease model of addiction. But that is just me, I can understand science and how behavior is shaped by various factors. I can also understand how a chemical substance can change brain function, as well as how recovery can be based on proven practices. But for the things that are kinda too fuzzy to me in their nature, like HP's, I don't place much significance to them in relation to treating a disease.

Yo, hey...I think "whatever floats your boat" and gets one well...then's it all good .
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Old 08-16-2010, 09:51 AM
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Hey Zen!

I agree completely with your definition! I am more interested in how the 4 points can or cannot be reconciled with the definition of alcohol as a disease.

I also agree, that whatever works for you to make you better go for it!

What bothers me is that some of these perceptions may keep people from seeking treatment, especially in the early stages. Maybe the fact that people have to "hit bottom" before they can get better is why so many people fail at getting better.

I feel good where I am at today, but it scares the sh*t out of me that so few people get better with this disease, and there seems to be no dialogue about that issue either here or in the greater world.
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Old 08-16-2010, 10:01 AM
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I have bipolar illness. It is genetically based, however not all identical twins will develop the illness.

Rock bottom: people with my illness do not seek help when they are feeling hypomanic (a little high), manic (alot high) or normal...we seek help when we are in the throes of agonizing despairing depression (rock bottom lows)

Because there are no sure medical tests for my illness,my diagnosis is bassed on self-reporting (a kind of self diagnosis)...and, yeah, it is easier for me to see it in others

selfishness, I suggest this is a symptom.

If I have a belief in an HP, that can lend me strength and stability as well as a certain perspective. It is not required.

just thought I would throw in this known illness as I see parallels, maybe it will help?
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Old 08-16-2010, 10:05 AM
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I'll have to come back to this discussion cause I have an art group to get too. I do think that "bottoms" are relative, HP's can be independent of recovery outcomes and "selfishness" is a moral issue, again independent of recovery outcomes.
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Old 08-16-2010, 10:15 AM
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Hi Live!

Curious, were you diagnosed by a therapist with your bipolar? I think it makes sense to see selfishness as a symptom. In terms of alcoholism there are many who believe selfishness and alcoholism are irrevocably tied together...I have a hard time with that, since one of the reasons I drank was because I spent so much of myself doing for others instead of doing anything for myself.

I'm all for a HP, and rely heavily on mine, but I don't think a belief in a HP (by any definition) is necessary for recovery.

Zen, I'm jealous you are going to an art class! I posted some of my paintings in my profile here if you ever want to see...I'd love to see your stuff too:-)

I agree bottoms are relative...but as I said, I'm pretty sure I didn't hit mine, and I don't think that means that I am doomed to failure.
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Old 08-16-2010, 01:59 PM
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I can only speak for myself on this question. For me and my problem after researching and seeing how I am affected by my drinking I can say it is not a disease FOR ME.

Although I react to having alcohol in my system differently than most other drinkers, I constantly crave it and I can never get enough, and I could consider this a physical ailment, or an allergy, or even a brain disfunction, but I can't look at it as a disease because it is brought on by me putting the drink to my mouth. I have to act to make the problem happen in the first place.

Now I read constantly about how many people on this board feel they have no power over picking up the first drink, or they constantly obsess over alcohol even when it isn't in their body, and that in my mind is a self control issue, at least for me. If I allow myself to constantly think about how bad I want the drink, and I don't replace those thoughts with something else or keep the consequences deeply ingrained in my skull, I could obsess over wanting to drink as well. Again, this is my perspective of my problem.

So I know for me, drinking has a physical component to it, but it is more like an allergy than a disease. The mental component is something, at least for me was learned, much like the Pavlov dog scenario. I have let everything I have done in my life be associated with getting drunk, and so everything I do whether it be getting in my car, going to a ball game, or just sitting down to relax for the last 27 years has been the bell that makes me want to drink, and the hard part is retraining my mind not to expect alcohol everytime the bell goes off.

So I see it as a learned problem that brings on an allergic reaction...but again this is the problem that I suffer from. I have no way to see if what I am going through is the same as someone who classifys their problem as a disease and whether it is similar or different than mine.
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Old 08-16-2010, 05:00 PM
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I see this topic go around a couple times a year, I think. I don't care if it's a disease, or a bad habit, or a willpower issue, or something else entirely. I know I can't handle it when I drink, so I don't drink.
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Old 08-16-2010, 05:34 PM
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Sigh...I should have used a different title...I was more interested in a discussion about how if it is a disease then how come no one can diagnos it, or we can't do early intervention, or only God can cure us.....might have to try this again:-(
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Old 08-16-2010, 06:02 PM
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title changed

D
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Old 08-16-2010, 06:18 PM
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Thanks Dee that makes all the difference. laf, you might want to pick a definition of disease. In my experience, a discussion that does not define terms at the beginning will only serve to define those terms.
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Old 08-16-2010, 07:04 PM
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When these threads go around I like to point out that a disease does not have to be something you "catch" like measles or the flu. The AMA, The World Health Organization and many other groups consider alcoholism a disease. I do not have enough letters behind my name to argue with them.
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Old 08-16-2010, 07:09 PM
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I changed the title to reflect the fact the intent of this thread is not 'is alcoholism a disease' but what are the implications of treating it like one.

D
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Old 08-16-2010, 07:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Dee74 View Post
I changed the title to reflect the fact the intent of this thread is not 'is alcoholism a disease' but what are the implications of treating it like one.

D
Thanks for pointin that out Dee.

The point was....I we call alcoholism a disease (this is not part of the discussion) then...

1- we should treat it as early as possible instead of waiting for rock bottom,
2. We should not say that only the person with the disease can diagnos it.
3. - we can't leave the treatment up to a HP, unless we want to call ourselves Christian scientisits.,
4.- we can't say we are alcoholics because we are selfish.

This is what the thread is supposed to be about.
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Old 08-16-2010, 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by dgillz View Post
The AMA, The World Health Organization and many other groups consider alcoholism a disease. I do not have enough letters behind my name to argue with them.
This nicely illustrates one implication. The idea that PhD's, MD's, and SOB's (Students Of Boozology) know more about alcoholism than alcoholics is questionable, since they are no more successful at curing it that the Joe Six Pack (or even Joe Half Case). When you call it a disease, people look to science for a cure and stop trusting their our own head and heart. Growing up with an alcoholic, and following in my father's foot steps, I have over forty years of study. It may not be the most objective science, but the observations do have value.
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