Alcoholism not necessarily a disease, educator says


Alcoholism is a disease, right? Not so fast.

It depends on how you define disease, according to Health Enhancement educator Steve Lux.

“One of the reasons, I believe, alcoholism became viewed as a disease is to help destigmatize it, to help people get help and to get people to feel less shame,” Lux said. “Sometimes we believe that diseases are out of our control.”

If alcoholism is defined as a disease because alcoholics can’t control their actions while drinking, then Lux isn’t buying it.

“I don’t want to see people use the term disease to get out of taking responsibility for their actions,” Lux said.

Family history is another big topic of alcoholism. Lux cautions students to be careful when associating family history with alcoholism.

“Just because you have alcoholism in your family doesn’t mean you can’t be a healthy moderate drinker,” Lux said.

Michael Flora, president and CEO of Ben Gordon Health Center in DeKalb, believes alcoholism is a disease. Flora, who also teaches a class on drugs and alcohol addiction at NIU, said the brain plays the biggest role.

“There are certain stimul[i] within the brain that guide the individual to seek the stimul[i]. One of things we look at for individuals who have alcohol abuse disorders is that these individuals definitely seek that addictive quality,” Flora said. “Therefore, that does define alcohol-related problems as disease models and treatment moves from the disease state.”

Michael Haines, former director of Health Enhancement services, believes alcoholism isn’t a disease universally, but believes it is for some people. For those that do have the disease, Haines said, they shouldn’t be blamed for it.

“If you have the disease, you can’t be blamed for getting it, you can only be blamed for what you do when you know you got it,” Haines said. “So, for example, I can’t be blamed for whether or not I’m diabetic, but I can be blamed if I don’t change my eating habits.”

Lux believes students should respect alcohol and its negative consequences.

“Alcohol can certainly be abused. One of the surest ways to get into trouble with it is to not pay attention to the relationship you have with it and not treat it with any respect.”