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Alcoholism

April 08, 1988

I'm not surprised that Herbert Fingarette, the subject of the article "Alcoholism: Is It Really a Disease?" (by Beverly Beyette, March 23) is "controversial." His credentials for taking on the medical profession and for involving himself with a behavioral complex like "heavy drinking" aren't imposing, and what is quoted of his argument is not persuasive; but I guess he wanted to stick a "little finger" in the pie.

If he wished only to question the practice of calling alcoholism (a vague concept) a disease (an even vaguer concept), I'd write an "I'm with you, Herb!" letter, but he steps off the deep end when he makes pronouncements about how to help (or leave alone) people who drink too much. Anyone who has ever worked with people of any age having trouble curbing or acquiring certain habits knows that you have to have some method, some guidelines.

I don't like the practice of calling certain recurrent behaviors diseases, and I don't like Fingarette's term addiction , either; but learning a way of thinking about something that is destroying you and hurting those around you can be the first solid step you've put your foot on in a long time. AA members turn to each other and to a higher power because they know that trying to control some things "is bigger than both of us," and doctors are doing the same thing when they assure us that something is a disease. It's unfortunate and perhaps deliberate that they feather their own nests at the same time, but the idea that one has something like diabetes does seem to help one be more sensible about living with the disability, the genetic deficit, the addictive personality, or whatever it is that one is encouraged to admit to.

Fingarette evidently calls drinking an "avoidance behavior" that becomes a way of life. I wonder if he read about Masserman's cats in his search of the "scientific" literature? During the time they were subjected to electric shocks in their caged lives as laboratory animals, Jules Masserman's cats preferred to drink milk spiked with alcohol, but when the experimenters knocked off the torment the cats switched back to straight milk.

If we drink when the pressure gets too great, and I know we do (we also smoke and overeat and shoplift, etc.), why do we keep on doing it when the pressure lets up? Those with no answer say disease or addiction . One word is as good as another when you don't know. It does seem, though, that we're not as smart as cats.

FORREST STRAYER

Laguna Beach

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