Treating alcoholics

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“New Treatments for Alcoholics” (Dec. 1 Forum) by Markus Heilig is interesting and worthy of comment.

First, in discussing the success in reducing smoking rates while implying that drinking has not been similarly reduced, Dr. Heilig neglects to point out the differences in how government and the public view the addiction substances, nicotine and alcohol. In the media, nicotine (with its accompanying smoke) is treated as a cancer-causing killer. Conversely, alcohol is treated as a social beverage.

For evidence of this compare the product packaging warnings, advertising and promotion of each. Further, at the point of sale nicotine is highly taxed with the stated objective of curtailing consumption. Alcohol is modestly taxed, enough to produce significant revenue for government, but not enough to curtail consumption. For evidence of this consider the state store controversy in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Heilig alerts that “alcohol use remains the third most preventable cause of death in the United States,” a fact that most of us may not have realized. However, to say that alcoholism “is propagated over generations, through poverty, violence, broken families and harm to fetal brains” is in error. 

Dr. Heilig is stating some of the results of alcoholism, not the means of propagation. The causes of alcoholism are more than these, and such as they may be defined, are found in every socio-economic, cultural and racial constituency. Alcoholism knows no bounds, although it may be more common in some than in others.

As for Dr. Heilig’s claim that Alcoholics Anonymous founders Bill Wilson and Bob Smith would align themselves with his position, well, after he undermines the major precept of AA, “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” I find it, well, surprising.



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