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The Disease Model: Pros and Cons

Updated on June 6, 2012

The disease model follows the concept "that individuals suffering from alcoholism had a physiological problem with alcohol." This is one of the most widely accepted theories. In fact, it is so accepted that the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group have adopted this concept and have implemented it into their recovery process. After AA adopted this concept, many other groups like "Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), and Overeaters Anonymous (OA)" decided to adopt the disease model into their programs as well (Stevens and Smith, 2009). One of the great things about the groups that follow the disease model, such as the AA support group, is that they also support the belief that you have to submit yourself to a high authority. That higher authority to most people is God. Including any form of religion into the recovering process is vital to an addict sustaining substance abuse free.

Once the disease model became accepted by the APA, many treatment centers became available to alcoholics. These treatment centers viewed alcoholism as a disease and provided in and out-patient treatment to those in need of it. This also opened a lot of doors for alcoholics to seek help for themselves with their addiction. In the past, if you were unable to hold down your liquor, then you were considered to have unfit morals and no will-power. This model explains how the idea of having will-power with alcohol isn't achievable for someone who suffers with the alcoholic disease. The acceptance of alcoholism as a disease made more alcoholics less embarrassed about their addiction.

Unfortunately, the disease model follows the belief that "abstinence equals a healthy lifestyle and relapse equals sickness" (Stevens and Smith, 2009). This thought process is a weakness for this very well liked and used model. Relapsing is now considered part of the recovery process, in which, many clinicians encourage. It is believed that a relapse will help the recovering addict understand why he or she began their addiction. This also helps the clinician establish how the recovering addict can remain free of substance abuse. It would be difficult for a clinician who is wanting their client to relapse for the recovering process to recommend going to AA group meetings while the client is attending individual treatment; both of these treatments would contradict each other.


Stevens, P., & Smith, R. (2009). Substance abuse counseling: Theory and practice. (5th ed., p. 4). Boston: Pearson.


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