Is Alcoholism a Disease or the End Result of a Lack of Willpower, Weak Character, Moral
Depravity, or a Personality Trait?
Dear Dr. Steve:
I have just
returned from my local library. There was a speaker there who talked about alcoholism. I
went because I wanted to learn more about alcoholism because I believe my father has a
drinking problem. But I left the lecture more confused than ever. The thing that I just
dont get is when this speaker kept referring to alcoholism as a disease. How is it
possible that alcoholism is a disease? My father doesnt look sick. I for one believe
that anybody can quit drinking anytime they want if they really put their mind to it.
Isnt referring to alcoholism as a disease really just making an excuse for somebody
who should know better but just keeps drinking anyway?
understand your confusion! Many people believe that the abuse of and/or the dependency on
alcohol and other drugs can best be explained by a deficit in ones conscious
self-will or self-control rather than being a symptom of a disease. To these people, the
abuse of and/or the dependency on alcohol and other drugs is a function of someone not
exerting their will strongly enough or not using enough self-control in order to cut down
on the frequency and/or amount that they drink and drug.
others believe that the abuse of and/or the dependency on alcohol and other drugs is
caused by ones moral depravity. To these people, ones moral fiber is the
determinant cause for the abuse of and/or the dependency on drugs and alcohol. Therefore
people abuse and/or are dependent on alcohol and other drugs because they are
fundamentally a morally depraved or bad person.
people believe that the abuse of and/or the dependency on alcohol and other drugs is
caused by the diminished quality of and/or the deficiencies in ones character. To
these people, the abuse of and/or the dependency on alcohol and other drugs occurs because
the person is weak, lacking in the right stuff. Because ones character is
fundamentally weak, they lack the backbone or intestinal fortitude to just say no to one
theres a school of thought that subscribes to the idea that people abuse and/or are
dependent on alcohol and other drugs because they have an addictive personality. This
theory is just what it sounds likea type of personality exists that is the root
cause as to why a person with that type of personality abuses and/or is dependent on drugs
these adequately explain nor describe what alcoholism or drug addiction is. So let me
explain to you what is meant by the fact that alcoholism and drug addiction are a disease.
For the purposes of this discussion I will use the phrase chemical dependency to refer to
both alcoholism and drug addiction.
abuse and/or are dependent on alcohol and other drugs because they have a disease. There
are identifiable symptoms of this disease. At least four of the symptoms of the disease of
chemical dependency explain why an individual abuses and/or becomes dependent on drugs and
CravingA strong need or compulsion to ingest a mood altering substance
Impaired controlThe inability to limit one's ingestion of a mood altering substance
on any given occasion
Physical dependenceWithdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and
anxiety, when their drug(s) of choice are stopped after a period of heavy using
ToleranceThe need for increasing amounts of ones drug of choice in order to
feel its effects
say that chemical dependency is a disease, I mean that chemical dependency is a primary,
progressive, chronic, relapsing, and potentially fatal disease of the mind, body, and
say that chemical dependency is a primary disease I mean that chemical dependency
is not caused by any other: 1.) Disease or condition, 2.) Physical or psychological
condition, 3.) Deficiency of character, 4.) Lack of willpower and/or self-control, 5.)
Type of personality, and/or 6.) Moral depravity. Chemical dependency is simply a disease
in and of itself.
When I say that chemical dependency is a progressive disease, I mean that chemical
dependency gets worse over time if it goes untreated and unmanaged. Even if an individual
maintains long-term abstinence from their drug of choice, because chemical dependency is a
progressive disease, if an individual were to relapse, they would quickly start consuming
alcohol and drugs in the same amount and frequency as if they had been drinking and
drugging all along.
say that chemical dependency is a chronic disease, I mean that chemical dependency
is long-term by nature. Once an individual is chemically dependent, that individual will
always be chemically dependentit never goes away.
When I say that chemical dependency is a relapsing disease, I mean that this
disease is characterized by a vulnerability to relapse. Because it is chronic in nature,
no matter the period of time that the disease of chemical dependency is treated and
managed, the chemically dependent individual will always be vulnerable to
relapsethat is returning to drinking and drugging in an out of control manner.
say that chemical dependency is a fatal disease, I mean that chemical dependency
can be and is often times deadly. Chemical dependency can cause death by causing damage to
ones vital organs such as heart, kidneys, and liver. Chemical dependency can also be
fatal when it is associated with overdose, suicide, and accidental deaths.
To say that an individual who is chemically dependent has a disease is NOT making excuses
for them. An individual who is chemically dependent is no more to blame or to be held
responsible for having their disease than is an individual who has diabetes or asthma.
said that no one should be blamed or held responsible for having developed the
disease of chemical dependency, let me be perfectly clear, every person who has the
disease of chemical dependency, should be held accountable for the treatment and
long-term management of their disease!
the old saying, Knowledge is power. Dont let your confusion discourage
you from learning as much as you can about alcoholism and drug addiction. The more
information you have, the more able you will be to take care of yourself! Dont be
intimidated by what you dont understand. Do your best to have your questions
clarified as you have done so here. Finally, dont feel compelled to believe
everything that you are told. Your independent thinking is the most important quality you
have going for you!
how to prevent and recover from chemical dependency as well as the aftereffects of
chemical dependency on you and your family. Read Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. series of
Insanity to Serenity.
1.) Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease.
2.) The disease is primary, chronic, progressive, chronic, and potentially fatal.
3.) No one should be blamed, judged, or held responsible for the fact that they have the
4.) Because the disease is treatable and manageable, every person should be held
accountable for the treatment and management of their disease.
5.) There are professionals in your community trained to evaluate the seriousness of
ones drug and alcohol problem.
6.) There are professionals in your community trained to evaluate the impact of drug and
alcohol use on the family members of the user.
7.) There are support groups in your area for both people who use and abuse alcohol and
drugs as well as support groups for people who are impacted by other people who use and
abuse drugs and alcohol.