“But it’s a Disease!”

We hear this all the time, of course, from people wishing to escape responsibility for their choice to abuse alcohol. But there isn’t any evidence to support the “disease model” so popular with AA and 12 Step rehabs.

“But it changes your brain!”

It’s true that significant alcohol abuse does change your brain. So does Yoga, meditation, learning anything new, not to mention playing football. So does that mean that all of these activities, and thousands more, are diseases? Well, maybe professional football, but the rest?

Again, the problem is over-simplifying a complex condition which arises from a variety of genetic, personal, social, cultural, and environmental factors. That’s more complexity and ambiguity than most people want to take a look at – but it’s the reality in any case.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these starting with the genetic traits that may lead to the increased likelihood some of us will “go there”:

  • High tolerance for alcohol;
  • No hangovers;
  • Liking the taste;
  • Impulsivity;
  • High risk taking.

The more of these traits we have, the greater the odds are that we may develop a problem with our alcohol use. (In case you’re wondering, I have 4 of the 5 – didn’t like the taste – and developed a problem because of other factors to be noted next, and Mary Ellen has zero and, hence, never had a problem).

Moving along to the personal, any number of us ran into trouble following various tragedies, traumas, and other emotional avalanches – me included. It takes a lot of us a long time to dig our way back out. Especially since no real help is readily available.

Then there are the social aspects and the associations we adopt from the pervasive culture. Drinking is a part of the “good life.” It’s sexy, glamorous, and an indication that we’ve “made it,” whatever “it” is. Happily I did miss out on that connection, but many, especially women, fall into it.

The cultural aspect has to do with what we learn as we’re growing up about what the proper use of alcohol is. These cultural factors help to explain the difference in alcohol abuse rates between young Irish men in Ireland (75%) and young Jewish men (1%) where there are no genetic differences. Yes, one culture promotes alcohol abuse and the other, quite emphatically, does not.

Finally, there are environmental factors. Put yourself in a cabin on the Yukon River, in winter, without electricity, plumbing, or space and make the temperature 40 degrees below zero with 3 hours of daylight. Or put yourself in Key West with daily cocktails at sunset.

Obviously the more of these, and other, factors you incorporate, the more likely you are to find the choice to over use alcohol an easy one to make, and a hard one to change.

But, happily, you aren’t doomed – to either letting alcohol kill you – or, a non-life of “meetings,” “steps,” and the AA existence as a “dry drunk.”
Instead, you can adopt an enhanced life, forego labels and stigma, and fully recover.

So, once again, what’s your choice?

Self-Destructive? That’s Not All Bad…

We assume that being somewhat self-destructive is a bad thing. It can be, and abusing alcohol is certainly one way, but it is important to differentiate between the two varieties of “self-destructive.”


That right – there are two different categories to consider:

  • Life enhancing self-destructive;
  • Life diminishing self-destructive.

As noted above, among the traits that can promote alcohol abuse is a tendency to take risks. Taking risks can be considered self-destructive and this is where distinguishing between the two types is important.

First, life-enhancing:

  • Mountain climbing;
  • Motor cycling;
  • Sky diving;
  • Hang gliding;
  • Spelunking;
  • Commercial fishing;
  • Racing;
  • Assertiveness;
  • Intimacy;
  • Etc.

Then, life-diminishing:

  • Alcohol abuse;
  • Drug abuse;
  • Passivity;
  • Aggression;
  • Exceeding our carrying capacity;
  • Isolation;
  • Etc.

Notice that the “things” that we typically medicate with alcohol – anxiety, loneliness, boredom, frustration, unbalanced lives, mismanaged diets, and so on – are all things which degrade our lives and which we tend to medicate, further constricting the quality of our days.

Ending alcohol abuse is not rocket science, as the phrase goes, but it is a matter of paying attention, and using our “risk taking” and other traits in ways that enhance or empower us.

Notice that this is exactly the opposite of the AA/12 Step model which demands that you diminish your life even more than drinking has?
Accepting false “powerlessness” is just the first step down a road that leads to a greatly constricted and demeaned life. That choice falls firmly into the “life diminishing self-destructive” category.

As the other saying goes, “don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” Instead, learn to trade life denying for life enhancing. You’ll be glad you did. Really.