If you've ever participated in a 12 Step program (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) or researched your traditional alcohol rehab or treatment options, you've probably resigned yourself to one ominous fact: you have a "disease". If you can't stop drinking, these programs diagnose you as an "alcoholic" who will be plagued for life. They also warn that alcoholism is a permanent, powerful disease that can't be cured.
At Saint Jude, we agree: alcoholism can't be cured. However, our reasons are different from the defeatist and dangerous perspectives that set 12 Step participants up for failure. For all of the following reasons, alcoholism can't be cured — and shouldn't play a role in your progress.
Only diseases can be "cured", and alcoholism isn't a "disease", let alone an incurable one. It's just a series of behaviors which have formed into habit, which stem from a series of deliberate choices. You may drink heavily, and breaking your habit may feel impossible, but no matter what, alcohol is just an inert substance. It can't follow you for the rest of your life unless you allow it.
If you compare excessive alcohol use to actual medical diseases, it becomes clearer that it doesn't belong in this category. Though heavy drinking is the very definition of alcoholism, 12 Step programs tell you that you're still an alcoholic years after your last drink. We disagree. Medical diseases aren't diagnosed for life, regardless of whether they respond to treatment. Move forward with your life and move beyond a habit that you left behind years ago. You don't define your life by the habits you had and how you lived your life as a baby, as a toddler, or as a teenager.
If alcoholism were truly "incurable", every substance use program would have a 0% success rate, and the world would be full of heavy drinkers. Neither is true. Some people lose access to alcohol because of financial instability, imprisonment, probation, rehab, or hospitalization. Still more decide to stop drinking and then stick to that decision forever and are successfulâ€”in fact, a healthy percentage does just that.
As you socialize with friends who drink in moderation, work with colleagues who haven't had a drink in years, and attend parties that serve non-alcoholic beer, you're surrounded by empirical evidence that alcoholism isn't a permanent or inevitable problem. You do have to make choices and decide what is most important to youâ€”continuing what you are doing or making new choices — it's up to you to decide.
Alcoholism relies on a narrative that's more subjective than scientific, and it goes something like this: the more frequently you drink alcohol, the harder it is to stop; and if you drink so heavily that stopping feels impossible, you have the disease for life. This arbitrary "diagnosis" inserts a wall into your behavior patterns, instead of making room for progress.
That doesn't mean stopping is easy, though. After months or years of heavy drinking, your body and brain may physically adapt seeing alcohol as a food and making detox a medical necessity if you want to get sober. Medical detox softens the blow of withdrawal symptoms and allows chemical changes to happen gradually, so your brain or heart aren't shocked by your newfound sobriety. You can suffer seizures and other serious complications with abrupt alcohol withdrawal so if you have any doubts about your ability to safely stop, consult with your medical provider about ways to detox prior to stopping. Once you have detoxed, take that opportunity to continue your healthy decisions to stay sober and make new decisions about your drinking habits.
"Alcoholism" stigmatizes alcohol users as diseased and permanently powerless. Don't let this myth affect your decision to stop drinking. If you want to improve your life by decreasing your alcohol use, take control today. Contact us for more information about our self-directed programs.