Is alcoholism a self-inflicted illness?

Chris asked:

Do you consider alcoholism a self inflicted illness? Or an illness at all?

Answer by Eric George

I remember watching a documentary once which dealt with people who were admitted to a special weight-loss camp due to their severe life threatening obesity, they were put on specialised eating plans, underwent vigorous exercise initiatives and were monitored on a somewhat frequent basis by Clinical Nutritionists. There was one particular man who was told by one of the Nutritionists that he had to revert to a purely fruit and vegetable diet with some red meat input here and there for iron intake, after about 13 days, upon weighing him again his Nutritionist was surprised by the fact that the man had actually gained weight instead of losing it! After asking if the man had kept to the diet prescribed, the man replied: ‘Well of course I have, I have been eating 50 oranges a day, oranges are healthy aren’t they?’ — After the initial shock, the Nutritionist was quick to point that eating 50 of anything is bad for you and will cause you to put on weight regardless of what that thing is.

I believe the same goes for alcohol, as the truism goes: ‘Too much of anything is a bad thing’ — alcohol in moderation is nothing more than a trivial enjoyment of a beverage which could be enjoyed on social occasions or in company with a good read on a rainy night or something similar. Alcoholism, that is the desire to drink alcohol uncontrollably in an unwarranted, unjustified and unchecked way is to me not an illness perse but rather an addiction which has trapped the addict such as how a slave owner would mentally and emotionally trap a slave. An alcoholic is someone, who for possibly many different reasons (such as personal negative emotional and/or mental experiences), has come to understand alcohol as a means of reliance and what psychology would term a ‘void filler’.

The alcoholic at the point of dangerous levels of addiction, sees only the bottom of a bottle as a means of escaping reality for whatever reason, and contrary to many people who claim that all alcoholics do not know that what they are doing is harmful to themselves and possibly others around them such as their families and friends; a lot of recovered alcoholics I have conversed with, told me directly that they knew what they were doing was harmful on an emotional, mental and often physical level (physical violence etc.) to themselves and those around them, but that they merely turned a ‘blind eye’ to it. Many of them came to see a warped love and desire for alcohol as a superior justification paramount to that over a love for their very own families and friends.

So in conclusion, I would not go as far as to say that alcoholism is an illness, but rather an addiction which has gone unchecked and which has thus taken on a new meaning in and of itself. It is a self-inflicted addiction only in the context that the addict himself or herself is responsible for turning to alcohol as a void filler for whatever reason, rather than talking to someone about the reasons themselves and addressing them, firstly as to why they turned to alcohol as a void filler and so forth and so on. Alcoholics are people just like us and should not be alienated or treated as social outcasts merely because their vices have become their undoing. All of us, must seek a balance in life in whatever we do, and to do everything in careful and appropriate moderation. Especially when it comes to things which can get so out of control, so very quickly, such as drinking alcohol.

10 thoughts on “Is alcoholism a self-inflicted illness?

  1. What I find interesting is the TREATMENT for addictions… you are only treated medically for the most part temporarily (detox) then are sent to either counseling, inpatient or group therapy (AA, NA etc) where you are taught to abstain and make better decisions based on consequences. SO ultimately… disease or not… making a decision to abstain is the main factor in the end and the only one that truly matters.

  2. Im an alcoholic and I know that it is an illness and it can be treated. I was in rehab and learned that if I had to have treatment for cancer wound I go? The same goes for alcoholism. AA and contact with recovering alcoholics is the treatment.

  3. I think alcoholism is an addiction not an illness – my sister is an alcoholic and the last 4 years have been hell, it is a very selfish addiction, it’s all about the alcoholic never about the devastated family.

    1. Hi there Eileen,

      Thanks for your reply. Alcoholism is never an easy thing to live through or with, it ripples to all areas of ones life and the lives of those closest to you. The personal touch of simply caring and making others aware that the issue does indeed need to be discussed more, and from different angles as well. Hence, this small piece I wrote a while back.

      I wish you the best, and hope that your sister finds the help she needs.

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Addiction, generally speaking, is described using a disease model in most psychology and neuroscience. I think that whilst this might well describe your personal point of view on the subject – it doesn’t concord very well with how professionals are treating the subject – either in clinical practice, neurosciences, or even philosophy!

    1. Hello Anon,

      Thank you for your reply. My reply was exactly that, a subjective answering of the question based upon real time discussions with recovering alcoholics, with some academic exposure to psychology and philosophy of mind, however my area of specific academic interest is philosophy of religion/religious philosophy – so from the onset I am not speaking on this in any objective academic sense at all.

      Notice also the terms in language I use: “I would not go far as to say..” or “I believe…” these portray my personal opinion concerning the matter at hand. Furthermore, in any field whatsoever, there is no disagreement on treating people with mutual-respect and dignity (which I clearly endorse in paragraph four), the essential point of my article is to do away with the cliche’ social stigma towards people with alcoholic addictions and so forth.

      Thanks for your comment.

  5. Hello there Daisy,

    You will notice that in my reply I agree with you and state that Alcoholism seems to me, to be more of an addiction rather than a self-inflicted “illness” per se’.

    Thank you for your comment.

    1. You are right on both counts. It is an illness and a addition. I know this through years of going to AA and listening to recovering alcoholics. The additions team say I know more than them! I’m not boasting!

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