The conservative view of alcoholism, Freud meets Jesse Jackson, insanity on the ropes. THINKING ABOUT DRINKING
By Daniel Seligman REPORTER ASSOCIATE Alan Deutschman

(FORTUNE Magazine) – You wouldn't ordinarily expect a mere book to affect the law of the land, and you doubtless wouldn't expect a book called Heavy Drinking to deviate from that rule. You could be wrong. The volume in question, written by Herbert Fingarette and subtitled The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease, formidably challenges some far-reaching federal regulations. The views of its author, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, have already been cited favorably by the Supreme Court. Doctors have argued for decades about the roots of alcoholism: Is it a sickness, or is it just irresponsible conduct? The argument tends to divide folks along liberal-conservative lines. Hardhearted conservatives see alcoholics as irresponsible characters needing to straighten up and fly right, while the liberal bleeders prefer to think of them as victims needing help from their friendly government. Being in control of the government during the latter Seventies, the liberals began offering succor. The Carter Administration determined that alcoholics, and for that matter drug addicts, were ''handicapped individuals'' and so should be covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ruling by Attorney General Griffin Bell said it was reasonable to include alcoholism because ''a substantial body of authority'' viewed it as a disease. Bell's ruling, later embraced by Joe Califano's Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services), also argued that alcoholics would benefit from the rehabilitation services provided by the act. Instant implication of these rulings: Public housing and other government services could not be denied to alcoholics, and business could not discriminate against them in employment. These regulations were set in place with no particular outcry from anybody, yet their intellectual foundation was always quite wobbly. Fingarette's book, recently excerpted in the influential quarterly Public Interest, makes these compelling points against the disease view of alcoholism: (1) Nobody has been able to find a biological cause of alcoholism. (2) There is a genetically based predisposition to alcoholism, but it is weak, and there is no evidence for a genetic factor that leaves alcoholics unable to control their behavior. (3) The medical profession does not really know how to treat alcoholics. Recovery rates for those in rehabilitation programs are about the same as for people not in such programs. In both groups, about one-third get better (becoming either abstainers or moderate drinkers) over time. Washington being Washington, we would recommend against laying odds on the repeal of the regulations. It is somewhat pause-giving that the Reagan Administration has never let out a peep against them. As Professor Fingarette observes, the existing situation appeals powerfully to several different constituencies including doctors and clinic managers, not to mention the alcoholics themselves, who respond quite affirmatively to the message that their retrograde behavior is not their own fault. Yet it does seem that one powerful branch of our government would be amenable to repeal. In a recent decision involving the rights of some alcoholic veterans, a majority of the Supremes respectfully cited Fingarette and his disdain for ''the proposition that alcoholism is a disease, much less that it is a disease for which the victim bears no responsibility.'' In other words, straighten up and fly right.