Society’s Perception of Disease


Dr. Carl Jung, Dr. Robert Holbrook-Smith, Dr. James West, Dr. Jules Hirsch, and many other physicians of past generations have provided research and experience in the areas of eating disorders, addiction and alcoholism. Today’s research on genetics and metabolism confirms and expands our knowledge on what many of these physicians initially saw.

Dr. Carl Jung, a psychiatrist from Switzerland, saw a relationship between the need for spirituality and humility for a recovering alcoholic. Dr. Robert Holbrook-Smith, who cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous, recognized the psychological effects of his own alcoholism and suspected the physical response from the body may be from an allergy. We now know that the difference he was seeing is a metabolic conversion and a genetic predisposition, not an immunological conversion or predisposition.

Dr. James West, who assisted in the first kidney transplant, referred to himself as an alcoholic. Dr. West never had a DUI and never operated under the influence. Although many questioned his self diagnosis of being an alcoholic, he stated that problems with alcohol and with other drugs can happen to anyone, regardless of their economic, social or educational background. As medical director of the Betty Ford clinic, he used the same medications for withdrawal as other facilities, but he recognized the importance of treating addicts and alcoholics with love, stating that one of the psychological effects of alcoholism and addiction is the feeling by the patient that the medical profession doesn’t want to treat them.

Dr. Jules Hirsh, researched the body’s regulation of weight and found individuals are biologically predisposed to obesity, that some individuals have more fat cells, and that fat cells come in different sizes. His work brought new understanding and acceptance for those who struggled with being overweight.

Society owes much to each of these physicians for the same common reason; they changed bias and prejudice towards those who suffer from what is often termed as eating disorders and chemical dependency. Both the diseases of obesity and addiction are viewed by many to be due to the sin of gluttony, the sin of sloth, or the lack of will power.

At times, society and the health care profession cannot help alcoholism, addiction, and those who suffer from obesity and eating disorders, no more than society can help a disabled individual determined on doing something his or her way regardless of the consequences to health and well being. However, if society avoids them, if society is not willing to assist them, consciously or subconsciously, in order to “teach them a lesson”, that may be as cruel as disciplining a disabled person for not accepting their disability. For if we can accept their obesity or their addiction as a disease, maybe, just maybe, so can they!