Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Selected Beliefs about Alcoholism and Other Addictions Held by Recovering Psychologists

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Selected Beliefs about Alcoholism and Other Addictions Held by Recovering Psychologists

Article excerpt

Selected Beliefs about Alcoholism and other Addictions Held by Recovering Psychologists

Psychologists and other mental health clinicians often identify and treat addictions in the course of their professional careers. Addictions manifest themselves in overt behaviors as well as covert attitudes and beliefs. Healthcare professionals frequently disagree over the etiology, characteristics, and nature of addictions. Vaillant (1983) addressed these differences and concurred that practitioners often disagree on the cause(s) of alcoholism. Whereas some psychologists believe that alcoholism is a disease, other psychologists depict alcoholism as a bad habit or a culturally-induced behavior (Vaillant, 1983).

Although reliable numbers are difficult to obtain regarding the extent to which mental health practitioners have experienced addictions, it is undoubtedly clear that some mental health practitioners have experienced addictions in their own lives. As such, recovering mental health professionals may have personal insights into the nature, etiology, identification, and nature of alcoholism and drug addiction. These personal experiences with addictions and with recovery programs may influence how the medical and mental health communities therapeutically approach the problem of addictions in their own practices. Thus, this study was specifically targeted at psychologists who were recovering or had recovered from one or more addictions to obtain a better understanding of the identification and nature of addictions.

An Evolving Definition of Alcoholism

Attempts at defining alcoholism have been as numerous as the number of scientists, health care professionals, and professional societies that have been concerned with the nature, identification, and treatment of alcoholism. Early on, the World Health Organization maintained that alcohol dependence could only be defined by first determining cultural norms with respect to what is acceptable; and that alcoholism exists when consumption by an individual exceeds limits to the extent that health is injured or impaired and/or social relationships are compromised (World Health Organization, 1952).

Limitations became apparent in defining alcoholism by cultural norms alone; thus, the great debate at establishing a precise definition of alcoholism occurred. A confounding factor still present today concerns the many variations in the patterns of obsessive drinking. To gain a clearer understanding of the ways in which people drank, Jellinek (1960) categorized the various types of drinkers among selected members of Alcoholics Anonymous. As such, Jellinek's work (1960) marked the first known attempt to study alcoholism using scientific inquiry. Five types of alcoholics identified by Jellinek (1960) were: (a) the alpha type where psychological symptoms were reported being present, but physical dependence was not present; (b) the beta type where medical problems were observed in the individual, but physical dependence was not identified; (c) the gamma type where both medical symptoms and physical dependence were present; (d) the delta type where physical dependence on alcohol was present, but few symptoms were observed; and (e) the epsilon type where intermittent drinking episodes occurred. In disagreeing with Jellinek, Valliant (1983) noted that although the sample represented a good cross-section, Jellinek's study was time specific and did not represent longitudinal data. Valliant stated that the idea that alcoholism is a progressive disease, with clear symptoms at each stage, as Jellinek proposed, is not supported by studies which are more longitudinal in nature.

A dozen years later, the National Council on Alcoholism (1972) published three categories of criteria for diagnosing alcoholism: (a) physical dependency, (b) medical symptoms, and (c) behavioral, psychological or social abnormalities. Decades later, Alan Leshner (2000) categorized users of alcohol and drugs as either novelty/sensation seekers or self-medicators. …

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