Asking “is alcoholism a disease” to most people we bump into on the street will get you an answer of yes. Asking a doctor and many other professionals about the disease concept of addiction will result in something quite different.

Who Says It Is A Disease?

o Most members of 12 step programs (based on AA) follow the disease model of alcoholism
o Television, the movies and the news generally agree that alcoholism is a disease.
o Where TV goes, the American public follows.
This makes it look like no one with credentials follows the disease model. Below are some heavy hitters who do:
o The American Society of Addiction Medicine
o American Medical Association both maintain extensive policy regarding alcoholism
o National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) It funds approximately 90 percent of all alcoholism related research in the United States.

Who Says Alcoholism Is Not A Disease

One study found that only 25 percent of physicians believed that alcoholism is a disease. The majority believed alcoholism to be a social or psychological problem instead of a disease. (S.I. Mignon. Physicians’ Perceptions of Alcoholics: The Disease Concept Reconsidered. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 1996, v. 14, no. 4, pp. 33–45)
A survey of over 88,000 physicians in the U.S. found that “Only 49% of the physicians characterized alcoholism as a disease.” Over 75% believed that the major causes of alcoholism are “personality and emotional problems.

Meanwhile, findings continue to accumulate to challenge past perceptions of the nature, course, and outcome of alcoholism. Among those findings:
Twenty years after onset of alcohol dependence, about three-fourths of individuals are in full recovery; more than half of those who have fully recovered drink at low-risk levels without symptoms of alcohol dependence.

About 80 percent of persons who recover from alcohol dependence do so without seeking any kind of help, including specialty alcohol (rehab) programs and AA. Only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment. This goes against the disease model and AA approach. Many can moderate their drinking successfully or quit successfully altogether. Research also shows that once addicted DOES NOT MEAN ALWAYS ADDICTED. Unless, of course, one has bought into the AA philosophy and has now accepted that they are permanently sick and out of control. This is the crux of this argument.

“These and other recent findings turn on its head much of what we thought we knew about alcoholism,” according to Mark Willenbring, M.D., director of NIAAA’s Division of Treatment and Recovery Research. “As is so often true in medicine, researchers have studied the patients seen in hospitals and clinics most intensively. This can greatly skew understanding of a disorder, especially in the alcohol field, where most people neither seek nor receive treatment.

So now it’s your turn to chime in! What do you think…IS alcoholism a disease? I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. It should be obvious what I think…but if not, I’ll make it clear. Nope, not a disease. Agree? Disagree?

Author's Bio: 


For over a decade, Melanie battled with addiction to prescription pills. Her life became an all-too-common vicious cycle of rehabs, sober livings, 12-step meetings and relapse. She is finally now living a peaceful, balanced, functioning life.

Her odyssey began just before graduating with honors from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in psychology. One doctor prescribed Stadol nasal spray for migraines; another, Vicodin for pain and Valium for anxiety. Given her genetic predisposition, within days, she became an accidental addict. Every attempt to stop brought on the sickness of withdrawal and escalating use. She had to drop out of UCLA Law School, after completing just one year, and enter a well- regarded, conventional rehab - her first indoctrination into AA and the 12-Steps. This treatment plan only served to diminish her already plummeting self- esteem. It took a near-fatal overdose for her to awaken to the realization that there had to be a better approach.

So she became the consummate researcher, finding new purpose in compiling information on evidence-based alternative recovery options that might better suit the complex and individualized needs of people suffering with substance abuse problems. In the process, she discovered that she was far from being alone in her AA "failure." Indeed, it was instead a customized path that would help her create enduring sobriety. The result was her book, "AA Not the Only Way- Your One Stop Resource Guide to 12-Step Alternatives," an bestseller in its 2nd Edition.

For the past five years, in addition to being a full-time writer and speaker, Melanie has been providing personal coaching for those with alcohol and drug problems. As a Recovery Coach, she helps clients find the treatment plan that is the best match for their particular situation while motivating and supporting them in taking action on their own behalf. She has also taught at the Huntington Beach School District's Drug and Alcohol Program, led workshops for The Learning Annex in California and been interviewed on over 30 radio shows nationwide.

Her work as recently expanded to include being an expert legal witness for attorneys whose clients have been mandated to attend AA, or any 12-step based program, asserting their right to a broader range of options.