The Mythology of the Disease of Addiction

     Addicts and alcoholics have had it pretty good for the last 80 years.  Name one other group of people that have been able to diagnosis themselves and create their own cure.  Name one other group of sick people who have entire government agencies, courts and insurance companies bend to their will in the same manner.

You can’t because no other group exists.

     Since the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous, our society has been plagued with dealing with alcoholics and addicts in a manner that approaches absurdity.  AA and the big book of alcoholics anonymous have infected Americans with absurd notions and ridiculous advice for dealing with alcoholism and addiction.  So deeply is the idea of the twelve steps imbedded into the fabric of our society that we without question refer addicts and alcoholics to AA and NA.  Judges will listen to the testimony of twelve step group members with regard to sentencing an individual. The media will respect the anonymity of an individual in a twelve step group without question, but will show the faces of innocent children involved in controversy without a second thought.  Almost every major sitcom has at least one episode that deals with some person needing a twelve step group.  90% of all treatment centers employ 12 step based programs.  Most drug and alcohol counselors will preach and utilize 12 step methodologies. 

     AA via the media has successfully convinced most of America that alcoholism and addiction is a disease.  AA has convinced many people that not only is addiction a disease but that it is an incurable fatal disease.  We council addicts and send them to resort like recovery centers while we send Aids and cancer patients home to die.   Some insurance companies will cover a $20,000 stay at a recovery center multiple times.  The federal government spends billions of dollars fighting drug addiction; yet, the one group that has really driven all this addiction fervor, AA, has an approximate 95% or greater failure rate.

     But in spite of AA being a dismal failure, as an organization it has managed to find acceptance in our culture and throughout the world.  AA has achieved this wide scale acceptance by carrying on a campaign of false propaganda and vicious lies.  The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is the text and manual that individuals in AA use as their guide for quitting drinking.  Many people, professionals and laypersons feel that the Big Book is a collection of home spun wisdom that delivers this wisdom in the form of anecdotes, but the Big Book is really perhaps one of the most ridiculous collections of irrational thoughts ever conceived. It is within the Big Book the first myth of alcoholism/addiction can be seen, the myth that alcoholism is a fatal and progressive disease.

     Alcoholism when defined as a disease makes very little sense.  There is something that is logically and semantically incorrect about defining alcoholism in this way.  The following is the definition of alcoholism as defined by the Mayo Clinic.

“Alcoholism is a chronic disease that makes your body dependent on alcohol. You may be obsessed with alcohol and unable to control how much you drink, even though your drinking is causing serious problems with your relationships, health, work and finances.  It's possible to have a problem with alcohol, but not display all the characteristics of alcoholism. This is known as "alcohol abuse," which means you engage in excessive drinking that causes health or social problems, but you aren't dependent on alcohol and haven't fully lost control over the use of alcohol.

Although many people assume otherwise, alcoholism is a treatable disease. Medications, counseling and self-help groups are among the therapies that can provide ongoing support to help you recover from alcoholism (Mayo Clinic, 2009).”

     This definition sounds good but under deeper scrutiny it seems a little vague and ambiguous.  What happens when we exchange alcoholism for another addiction?

 Smoking is a chronic disease that makes your body dependent on nicotine. You may be obsessed with smoking and unable to control how much you smoke, even though your smoking is causing serious problems with your relationships, health, work and finances.

It's possible to have a problem with smoking, but not display all the characteristics of a smoker. This is known as "smoking abuse," which means you engage in excessive smoking that causes health or social problems, but you aren't dependent on nicotine and haven't fully lost control over the use of nicotine.

Although many people assume otherwise, smoking is a treatable disease. Medications, counseling and self-help groups are among the therapies that can provide ongoing support to help you recover from smoking.

     When you define smoking in the same manner as drinking you begin to see that there is a problem in this definition.  Notice the claim that alcoholism is a chronic disease that makes your body dependent on alcohol; if this statement were true then that would mean that a person who has never drank could contract the disease of alcoholism. Without ever drinking one would begin suddenly craving to drink out of control.  What is happening here is that the behavior of drinking is being confused with a disease.  One cannot be alcoholic without ingesting alcohol.

     In the smoking example, one can readily see the confusion of behavior and disease.  Certainly, no one defines smoking as a disease?  Proponents of the disease model will say, “Well maybe the disease is not alcoholism but instead ‘addiction’ is the disease.”  This is not true either since the dictionary defines addiction as:

“The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma. (Dictionary, 2009)” 

     Nowhere in this definition does the word disease occur.  But take note of …enslaved to a habit or practice… or as defined by the dictionary: 

“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary and addiction, esp. to narcotics.”

     This is not arguing meaningless semantics.  The Mayo Clinic is defining a behavior as a disease.  This is a serious problem since we are treating a behavior as a disease.  This is a throwback to a time when masturbation was considered a mental health problem (Auguste, & Tissot, 2009).  To make matters worse look at how AA defines alcoholism. The following excerpt from the Big Book is the letter of Dr. William Silkworth in discussing the causes of alcoholism (Wilson, 2009).

“The inevitable conclusion is that true alcoholism is an allergic state, the result of gradually increasing sensitization by alcohol over a more or less extended period of time. The constancy of the symptoms and progress is too fixed to permit any other explanation. Some are allergic from birth, but the condition usually develops later in life. The development and course of these cases are quite comparable with the history of hay fever patients in many respects. One may enjoy absolute freedom for many years from any susceptibility to pollen. Year after year, however, there gradually develops a sensitivity to it in certain individuals, culminating at last in paroxysms of hay fever that persist indefinitely when the condition is fully established.

      It is noteworthy also, that such patients may be deprived of liquor altogether for a long period, a year or longer for example, and become apparently normal. They are still allergic, however, and a single drink will develop the full symptomatology again. (Wilson, 2009)”

     Dr. Silkworth defines alcoholism as an allergy much like hay fever.  But now look at the definition of allergy according to the Mayo Clinic:

“Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, bee venom or pet dander.

The immune system produces proteins known as IgE antibodies. These antibodies protect you from unwanted invaders that could make you sick or cause an infection. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify your particular allergen as something harmful, even though it isn't. This triggers the release of histamines and other substances that cause allergy symptoms.

Allergies can cause symptoms that involve your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. The severity of allergies varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening emergency. While allergies can't be cured, a number of treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms. (Mayo Clinic, 2009)”

     The preceding definition of allergy is a far cry from the description of the allergy to alcohol that Dr. Silkworth designed.  Basically, the easiest way to understand that alcoholism is not an allergy is that all allergies share common symptoms and physiological reactions, but alcoholism shares none of the common symptoms and reactions of allergies.

     Allergies also do not create a compulsive behavioral response. For instance, if an individual is allergic to peanut butter they do not continue to eat peanut butter after ingesting it. They get sick and typically must receive medical attention.

     To further show the disparity between definitions of alcoholism, AA also defines alcoholism as a spiritual malady.  This example is taken from the Big Book also;

“So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kill us! God makes that possible (Wilson, 2009).”

     Essentially, AA defines alcoholism as “…an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer (Wilson, 2009).”

     Here are two completely different definitions of alcoholism arising from the same book. One author is calling alcoholism an allergy and the other is stating that it is a spiritual problem. Many ardent believers in AA will argue that both definitions are correct because alcoholism is a spiritual, physical and mental disease. If this is true then what does AA claim to be the cure? 

     There is no cure; you are only granted a daily reprieve based upon your spiritual condition (Wilson, 2009).  So by adhering to the twelve steps, (meaning turn one’s will and life over to god and confess all of his or her sins), a person somehow gains the spiritual fortitude to resist alcohol.  As ridiculous as these ideas sound this is what AA believes. 

     This thinking worsens the deeper you delve into AA methodology.  Not only is addiction a disease but it is progressive and fatal.  AA believes that you can be sober for 20 years but the moment you drink you can be suddenly propelled into a state of drinking that is worse than when you quit.  This is the progressive nature of the disease.  It never really goes away it has been getting stronger all the while you have been living your life not drinking and going to meetings (Wilson, 2009).

     This is really one of the worst forms of propaganda that AA perpetrates. Telling people that they have a disease that is progressive and fatal undermines self determination. Many people who attend AA relapse and because of what AA preaches they continue drinking hopelessly. These individuals continue drinking obsessively because AA told them that they are doomed (Daley, 1987).

     The truth behind the propaganda is that addicts and alcoholics recover on their own, at a rate of about 50% (Valliant, 1995).  Many of these individuals will go on to become moderate drinkers. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that addiction is a disease or that it is a progressive state of nature.  In definition, addiction and alcoholism become nonsensical when defined as diseases.  Most experts cannot even agree upon the definition of the disease.



Auguste, S, & Tissot, D. (2009). L'Onanisme: Dissertation Sur Les Maladies Produites Par La

     Masturbation (1764) Book Description. Whitefish, Mt : Kessinger Publishing . 

Daley, D. (1987). Relapse Prevention with Substance Abusers: Clinical Issues and Myths. Social

     Work, 140.

Dictionary, . (2009). Addiction Definition. Retrieved from, T (2009). It's spiritual not religious. Hodgins, T (2009). It's spiritual not religious. Retrieved July 1, 2009, from Orange-Papers Web


Mayo Clinic. (2009). Alcoholism. Retrieved from

Retrieved July 1, 2009, from Orange-Papers Web


Vaillant, G.E. (1995). The natural history of alcoholism revisited. Cambridge, MA: Harvard

     University Press.

Wilson, W (2001). Alcoholics anonymous. New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World



Views: 107

Comment by Doug Reardon on November 7, 2011 at 9:54pm

Tell you what, why don't you try using crack cocaine for a  couple of months, and get back to me.

Comment by Danny Sanchez on November 7, 2011 at 10:02pm

I grew up with a heroin addict father and I had my own drug experiences. From what I have learned and experienced I am inclined to agree with most of what you've said; however, I do believe addiction is a mental disorder. When I was a teenager and just starting to experiment with drugs my father was in recovery.  I didn't understand his condition very well but I compared it to a disease like diabetes. I thought that they just processed drugs and alcohol differently and its process had some form of control of their behavior.

After educating myself about drugs and alcohol and experiencing them first hand. I have concluded so far that addiction is some form of an obsessive compulsive disorder that people are genetically predisposed to. I suppose I was lucky that this condition was not passed on to me because I have experimented heavily with many drugs including heroin.

I enjoyed the highs of drugs very much and yet never had the compulsion to do them. At one point in my drug experiment my body was addicted to heroin after using it regularly for a few months. Although the euforia was exceptional and it increased my confidence substantially I grew tired of the inconvenience of obtaining more. I suffered for days through a horrible withdrawal from the drug and an even longer depression after. Still I cared not to do it again because I knew I would only postpone the inevitable. I ask others too imagine if they had a horrible flu. On one hand you have a temporary cure and the other a permanent cure... to just be sick for several days till it passes. Which would you choose? That choice is an easy one for myself or any other mentally healthy rational person. I let it pass and with a natural release of endorphins from regular exercise I got over my depression.

My father has about 20 years clean and sober now. Is he cured of this disorder? I don't think so. His life is better now and he is a better person as a result but his disorder still plagues him. Only now he's learned to manage his disorder. He regularly attends NA meetings; however, I don't think it's the program itself that has kept him sober all these years but his obsessiveness to the program that keeps him sober. When he might be out in the midst of temptation he is in a meeting. Where other addicts might be tempted by their peers my father surrounds himself with only those of likewise long periods of sober living. I still see the compulsion in many of his activities and it reminds me that I will never be able to share a beer with my father.

Comment by vincent van noir on November 8, 2011 at 12:19am

Thanks Danny, I agree with your position on addiction being a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. The disease concept is very hard to swallow. One point you touched on that I believe is very important is the obsessiveness to the program and the type of peer group he maintains. Drug and alcohol abuse are closely tied to many factors such as this and although I do not agree with any being in a long-term program the decisions your father has made seem to be working. This is a good thing!


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