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A SLAP IN THE FACE OF A.A.
legislation designed to open doors for people with disabling
diseases may be closing doors to recovery for alcoholics.
in the fine print of a civil rights bill in Congress is
the question of whether alcoholics and drug addicts need
more civil rights. Or do they need to assume more responsibility
for their own problems?
Americans with Disabilities Act is designed to open up doors
of opportunity for people with various kinds of handicaps,
providing for ramps for wheel-chairs and specially adapted
restrooms in a wide range of places. The legislation already
approved by the Senate and a committee in the House of Representatives,
will come up this year in Congress.
the legislation is the assumption that alcohol abuse is
a disability that also deserves special accommodation, on
the grounds that alcoholism is a disease a person is not
responsible for getting.
The disease theory takes many forms, sometimes pointing
just to the physical damage alcohol abuse does cause the
body. Some people can never control their drinking, and
genetics may be the cause. Proponents of the disease theory
argue that it has helped some people realize they have a
problem, a need to get treatment and to abstain from alcoholic
beverages. But critics of the theory suggest that it relieves
responsibility for the drinking problem, and they also note
that the medical field has not come up with a sure cure.
more psychologists and attorneys dismiss forms of misbehaviour
as uncontrollable compulsions, the less people are help
accountable for their actions - even when they have harmed
others," writes Stanton Peele, a consultant with Mathematica
Policy Research in Princeton, New Jersey.
a world of addictive diseases may mean creating a world
in which anything is excusable," he adds in his Sciences
from the disease theory abounds when it is introduced into
the legal system, especially as a matter of civil rights.
Specialists who help people get off the bottle emphasize
the responsibility of the alcoholic to recover and abstain
from drinking. In the hands of lawyers, though, the client
is never at fault. It's always the fault of the employer,
or the disease, or the employer's failure to offer treatment
for the alcoholism at the right time or the right place.
That approach suits the alcoholic just fine, because one
of the symptoms of the problem is to blame everyone else.
At this point, "civil rights" for alcoholics could
hurt alcoholics badly. What's needed for recovery is not
civil rights, which leads to lawyers and lawsuits. The need
is the alcoholic's growing sense of responsibility.
of the most effective responses to alcohol abuse has been
Alcoholics Anonymous, which places heavy stress on the responsibility
of the alcohol abuser through the Twelve Steps.
a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself,"
declares one step, followed by, "admit to God, and
to yourself, the exact nature of your wrongs. Be entirely
ready to have God remove all these defects of character."
Other steps include restitution to offended people.
principles of A.A. don't include a list of civil rights
for the alcoholic. Adding this problem to a legal list of
disabilities is not just bad law and bad policy. It's a
slap in the face of Alcoholics Anonymous and its work with
people for so many years.
far drug addiction has been successfully removed from the
legislation, on the sensible grounds that drug addicts do
not need additional civil rights at a time when the federal
government is declaring war on illegal drugs. The next sensible
step is to take alcoholism out of this legislation as well.
Civil rights and alcohol abuse make a bad mix.
THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, March 1990)