Herbert Fingarette’s Heavy Drinking and Heavy Semantics

by The Discovering Alcoholic on November 21, 2007

Today I would like to offer Herbert Fingarette’s very popular but controversial book entitled Heavy Drinking as the latest of my reviews in the Beating a Dead Horse series. Once again let me start out by saying that even though I disagree with Fingarette’s general opposition of the alcoholism as a disease concept, I find he makes many valid points and I highly recommend this book in the same manner as I have with Stanton Peele’s Diseasing of America.

Dr. Fingarette repudiates the disease concept of alcoholism because he feels the term has been defined by “pseudomedical, psychological, and religious ideas”. That the terms assumed severity will keep many problematic or “heavy drinkers” from accepting the designation of alcoholic and seeking help. I am sure to a degree he is right, but today’s science and medicine is the future’s folklore and country remedy. Heavy Drinking was published in the late 80’s and already some of his scientific proof that alcoholism is not a disease is being debunked as haughty conjecture by professionals such as Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and her ground breaking research using brain imaging to better understand addictions.

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One thing that I believe that Dr. Fingarette does hit square on target is identifying the large role politics and economics play in both the research and treatment of alcoholism.

No one has plotted an evil conspiracy to keep vital information secret; no one has censored information– indeed, the scientific literature fills bookshelves. Yet to all intents and purpose, the general public has been poorly informed, misinformed, and misled.

Of course the good doctor and I would probably reside on opposite sides of the aisle as far as how we would like to see knowledge and information interpreted and disseminated, but we both agree that the general public would benefit immensely.

Instead of breaking down Dr. Fingarette’s various findings, which to his credit he always cites his sources (he has an impressive list), I will just flat out admit I think he gets the facts right most of the time, but it is in his conclusions where I find fault. It seems he is waging a war of semantics fighting for scientific classifications in a field that has so many co-occurring illnesses and disorders that defending a narrow diagnosis is an untenable position. Sure he quotes this study or those results but as he also illustrates in his book, this data can be presented to support even polar opposite positions. His purpose; to increase the chances that those that don’t truly suffer from alcoholism will seek help and have access to “non-alcoholic treatment” also seems rather odd. If the disease concept of alcoholism repels heavy drinkers… well, who cares? If they are not suffering from a disease, a serious mental and physical disorder, then surely these heavy drinkers can just—stop.

I don’t agree with this.

What is my Beating a Dead Horse assessment of his AA bashing? Like Stanton Peele, I give Mr. Fingarette a pass also. While it would seem his book is a favorite of those that make it a point to attack and criticize AA, however Mr. Fingarette addresses only the facts and then gives his opinion based on these facts. Once again I don’t much agree with his conclusions, but neither do I believe is he out “to get” AA. All in all Heavy Drinking was an enjoyable read that although packed with info, it is relatively short and can be quickly read.

If you enjoyed this review, I suggest taking a look at my earlier review of Stanton Peele’s The Diseasing of America. The next book on my list is 7 Weeks to Safe Social Drinking by D. J. Cornett, it’s already read and I should have the review up shortly.

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