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Deviant Drinking as Disease: Alcoholism as a Social Accomplishment

Joseph W. Schneider
Social Problems
Vol. 25, No. 4 (Apr., 1978), pp. 361-372
DOI: 10.2307/800489
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/800489
Page Count: 12
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Deviant Drinking as Disease: Alcoholism as a Social Accomplishment
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Abstract

This paper presents a brief social history of the claim that certain forms of deviant drinking behavior should be defined as disease, and that their authors ought to receive medical treatment rather than moral scorn and punishment. It provides a case example of the medicalization of deviant behavior. The concern is then with the viability rather than the validity of this claim. The almost two hundred year history of the medicalization of repeated and disruptive alcohol intoxication is reviewed. The twentieth century "success" of the disease concept is linked to three developments: the scientific Yale Center on alcohol Studies, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Jellinek formulation. The symbolic endorsement by the American Medical Association is seen as a product rather than a cause of these developments. I concluded that rather than an achievement of medical science, the disease concept of alcoholism is understood best as a social and political accomplishment.

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