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NIAAA Official Says Alcoholism 'Isn't Usually' a 'Chronic, Relapsing Disease'

Posted Jan 06 2010 5:00pm
Jacob Sullum enjoys a gotcha moment with Mark Willenbring.

After reading the original article, I don't see this as the Perry Mason moment that Sullum does. The article suffers from the same problem that many articles on the subject do--it does a poor job of distinguishing when we're talking about DSM dependence and when we're talking about DSM abuse. The implications for each are vastly different. Most people with DSM abuse will find that their problems eventually resolve on their own or when other primary problems are resolved. For those with DSM dependence, the conventional wisdom has been that they all need professional treatment and that they all need professional treatment and they all need to abstain completely. We're learning more about how this is not universal. Part of the problem has been categorization of problem drinkers. People with temporary, rather than chronic, alcohol problems may meet diagnostic criteria for dependence and then "mature out". The example that most easily comes to mind are college students who engage in frequent heavy drinking and then moderate when they graduate, get married, or decide that it will interfere with their goals. That's what this article examines.

What I find very interesting is the libertarian hostility toward the disease model of alcoholism. I read this a few days ago and was wondering if the objection was that the model challenges individual agency. A peek at the comments this morning suggests that the objections do coalesce around three issues:
  • An objection to the notion that free will (and, therefore, personal responsibility) is compromised.
  • The spirituality of AA.
  • That framing heavy drinking as something other than a personal choice opens the door to medical and state interference in a person's life.
  • That treatment doesn't look like treatment for the medical conditions that come to mind.
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