America is suffering from an epidemic of pseudo-diseases, says psychologist Stanton Peele.
It is widely asserted, by what Peele calls the “addiction treatment industry,” that not only drinking, drug abuse and smoking, but also gambling, overeating, and even compulsive shopping are caused by factors (often biological) outside the individual’s control. Murder charges are being countered by “disease-model” defenses, in which the accused claims to have been the victim of pre-menstrual syndrome, lovesickness, and overindulgence in junk food. Further, it is maintained that these “diseases” can be treated only by extensive counseling—preferably by ex-addicts—which is largely funded by the federal government and, in the case of alcohol and drug use, is often coercive.
In a devastating indictment, Peele demolishes these claims, declaring that they “are bad science and are morally and intellectually sloppy.” He argues that drinking, smoking, drug use, etc. are not diseases, but volitional behavior— volitionally begun and volitionally terminable—and that most treatment programs are ineffective. Defying current opinion, Peele insists that “people are active agents in—not passive victims of-—their addictions.” He argues that “rather than determining people’s conduct, substance use is the result of what people believe, value and want.” Peele’s lucid and uncompromising book focuses mostly on alcoholism. The accepted “facts,” he writes, are “an implausible mélange of scientific, cultural and historical prejudices.” He notes that the prevalence of severe alcohol use—and the power of alcohol itself—is grossly exaggerated, especially by those who want more government funding to study or to treat it. People drink excessively not because they cannot help it, but because they want to feel “good” temporarily and to experience the illusion of having resolved the problems in their lives. The great majority of people are able to control their drinking. “Without question, values are crucial in determining who becomes and remains addicted or who chooses not to do so,” Peele says.
There is one critical and obvious factor in controlling drinking and smoking, according to Peele: the genuine desire to stop. Most problem-drinkers, in fact, recover on their own, just as 38 million smokers have given up cigarettes without treatment. The “disease” model actually undermines self-control by telling people that they have a biological “chemical dependency” and are therefore helpless to overcome it. The most effective treatment programs for alcoholism—unlike the typical ones today—stress: holding the individual responsible for his behavior; morally disapproving of irresponsible conduct; imposing legal sanctions for such acts as drunk-driving; and getting the alcoholic to deal appropriately with life’s exigencies.
There are minor problems in the book, such as a vague emphasis on the 40 importance of a “sense of community” in dealing with addictions. However, this does not seriously diminish the value of this excellent work. Peele challenges almost everything you have heard or read about alcoholism and related “diseases” and offers a radical alternative, based on the fact of an individual’s rational capacity.
This review is made available by the Ayn Rand Bookstore (formerly Second Renaissance Books)