The Public Interest

Alcoholism: the mythical disease

Herbert Fingarette

Spring 1988

THE IDEA that alcoholism is a disease is a myth, and a harmful myth at that. The phrase itself—“alcoholism is a disease”—is a slogan. It lacks definite medical meaning and therefore precludes one from taking any scientific attitude toward it, pro or con. But the slogan has political potency.  And it is associated in the public consciousness with a number of beliefs about heavy drinking that do have meaning, and do have important consequences for the treatment of individuals and for social policy. These beliefs lack a scientific foundation; most have been decisively refuted by the scientific evidence.

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