Civil War surgeon Dr. Leslie Keeley is famous for asserting that ”Alcoholism is a disease and I can cure it.” Although he claimed that his secret medication contained bicloride of gold, chemical analysis revealed that it actually contained muriate of ammonia aloin, tincture of cinchona, and 27.55% alcohol. Although there was no gold, the false claim was probably a successful sales gimmick. He also injected patients with a solution containing sulphate of strychnine, atropine and boracic acid.

The threat alone of such treatment should have been enough to induce his patients to renounce alcohol. However, he began selling franchises for his popular alcoholism treatment and by 1893 there were 93 Keeley franchises. That number grew to over 200 in the U.S. Canada, Mexico and locations in Europe.

Dr. Keeley claimed that 95% of the patients were permanently cured. When former patients returned to drinking, he insisted that they were cured of their disease, but drank because they chose to do so.

Keeley died in 1900, with a fortune worth about $1,000,000 (roughly $25,000,000 in today’s currency). Quackery pays well and the last Keeley facility closed in 1966.

The assertion that alcoholism is a disease is still common today, although modern medical efforts to cure the alleged disease are no more effective than Keeley’s quackery.
Alcoholism isn’t a disease and it can’t be cured by medical means. It’s a behavior and it can be effectively changed through the non-religious St. Jude’s Cognitive Behavioral Education program.