The term "Recovery" refers to the idea that addiction to alcohol is an ongoing process whereby the addicted person or alcoholic never recovers from this condition, but is involved in a process of continual recovery. This idea comes from the philosophy that alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease.
This disease model of alcoholism has evolved from its origins in the 1930s when two alcoholics were developing the Alcoholics Anonymous program. At that time, the public, including the medical profession, saw addiction to alcohol as a weakness in character or part of a mental illness. Inebriants, as drunks were referred to in those days, were thought of as moral reprobates and it was very difficult for anyone that was addicted to alcohol to have his problem addressed in a sane and professional manner.
During these times, cities would have "paddy wagons" pick up drunks off the street and take them to the local mental sanitarium where they were many times treated with the latest mental health treatment fad, electroconvulsive therapy or shock treatments. The outcome of this treatment put the alcoholic in a worse condition than he was in before the "treatment".
The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous knew that their fellow drunks weren't crazy and they didn't deserve this inhumane treatment. Therefore, they concluded that since no treatment, at that time, could keep them from relapsing, then this condition must be an incurable and chronic disease. Having a disease gave the alcoholic a condition that society would accept as if they are being victimized by an organic process and not choosing to cause the pain and destruction that usually accompanies drunkenness. Alcoholism being a disease helped relieve their personal guilt in that they hadn't chosen to be in this state, but were overtaken by a disease. The mental health professionals saw addiction as a mental problem and the clergy viewed it as a moral problem or as a possession from the devil. Having a disease was helping to get alcoholism out of the closet and allowing alcoholics to admit to their problems.
In 1956, the American Medical Association followed suit by proclaiming that alcoholism was an illness that was characterized by being a chronic disease, meaning that it was incurable and followed the patient throughout his life. They also stated that this addictive disease was progressive in its nature, meaning that it wasn't a static disease, but progressed in its clinical severity as one grew older. It was stated that the disease of alcoholism gets worse over time even if the person is staying away from alcohol completely. They hypothesized that there was some mental chemistry changes that would make a person who was getting intoxicated with three mixed drinks in his forties, would perhaps be equally intoxicated with one drink when he reaches his sixties.
As Alcoholics Anonymous began to have more and more alcoholics that were able to abstain from drinking and regain a productive life, the idea that addiction was a disease that needed continual support gave rise to the idea that you don't get well from alcohol addiction, but that you are in a process of continual recovery.
This philosophy supported the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and the organization grew rapidly throughout the United States.
In recent years, medicine has expanded on the disease theory of alcoholism. They believe that problem drinking is many times caused by a disease of the brain. This idea of alcoholism being a brain disease has its proponents, but there are many in the scientific community that are skeptical of this model.
The believers of the disease model in the medical community state that alcoholism is a life-long disease, much like diabetes, but admit that if an alcoholic manages his life properly and stays away from alcohol, the damage to the brain can be stopped and reversed, to some extent. The disease model also states that this disease expresses itself by weakening a person's control over alcohol, increasing his compulsion to crave or think about alcohol continually, which distorts one's normal thinking.
There is evidence that the idea that one has a progressive compulsion for alcohol creates an atmosphere of resisting the presence and thoughts of alcohol, which leads to compulsively thinking about the drug. The fear that the cravings for alcohol may, at some time, overtake one's power and resistance to withhold themselves from drinking, causes one to be focused on alcohol rather than accepting one's personal responsibility for their drinking and moving forward without the idea that a disease is progressing under their consciousness.
Narconon Rehabilitation programs do not subscribe to a strict disease model as seen in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but work on the theory that by increasing one's abilities so that they are in control of their choices and, therefore take responsibility for consequences of their actions. This form of self-empowerment appears to free the individual from his fear that this "disease" can be bigger than the being himself. The outcomes from their treatment show that approaching alcoholism as a condition that can be overcome results in better sustainable, long-term successes for those that have had years of addictive drinking of alcohol.
There are many that have truly benefited from the fellowship of the Alcoholics Anonymous support groups. These 12-step support group meeting are an important part of the treatment efforts in our communities to reduce the levels of pain and suffering connected to alcohol addiction. The idea of a process of recovery may not be appropriate for everyone, but it is part of the entire alcohol treatment picture in America. AA meetings offer a place for those persons that can't afford the time or the money to have residential treatment for their addiction, which is a valuable part of the entire treatment community and respected by everyone.