The Public Interest

Thin Thinking About Heavy Drinking

Herbert Fingarette & William Madsen

Spring 1989

THE CONFLICT between the moral and medical approaches to alcoholism is being revived. The newest champion of the moral cause is Herbert Fingarette, who has argued in The Public Interest (Spring 1988) that “the idea that alcoholism is a disease” is a “myth” that is being pawned off on a gullible public by a coalition of avaricious doctors, cynical providers of ineffective “treatment,” public officials eager to shirk their duties and millions of alcoholics who wish to avoid taking personal responsibility for their actions. Those who perpetuate the myth, Fingarette suggests, do so for the most venal reasons: physicians “defend an enormous growth in institutional power and fee-for-service income”; researchers seek government funds; legislators, judges, and bureaucrats lighten their work loads by compelling heavy drinkers to enter costly but ineffective treatment programs, as a show of addressing the social problems posed by alcohol abuse.

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