Marty Mann and the Disease Theory

Here’s a really interesting article in The Atlantic about how Marty Mann promoted the disease concept of addiction in order to get doctors to promote AA.

“Mann’s reply to Armstrong was both fascinating and revealing. She agreed with Armstrong regarding the inefficacy of conventional medicine regarding alcoholism; she also vouchsafed her commitment to AA and its less-than-generous opinion of conventional treatment enterprises. “Not that I, as a dyed-in-the-wool AA,” she wrote to Armstrong in reply, “believe that clinics, or any other medical or psychiatric means can straighten out very many “alkies” (although I know it can in some instances, here and there) but I do believe that the average individual will more readily go into a clinic to find out what to do for what ails them than they will investigate a layman’s organization such as ours [AA]. And also I believe that the very presence of a clinic will emphasize and advertise to the uninitiated that alcoholism is a disease which is to be treated, not hidden or punished.”

And here is a fascinating intellectual history of addiction as disease, Addiction as Accomplishment: The Discursive Construction of Disease by CRAIG REINARMAN —

“In 1942, the Alcoholism Movement was founded by Marty Mann, a public relations executive and former ‘‘drunk’’, and others. By 1944, she joined with Dr. E.M. Jellinek at Yale to create an organization whose purpose was to popularize the disease concept by putting it on a scientific footing. Note the chronology: science was not the source of the concept but a resource for promoting it. This organization later became the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA). Their goal was to create a new ‘‘scientific’’ approach that would allow them to get beyond the old, moralistic ‘‘wet’’ versus ‘‘dry’’ battle lines of the Temperance and Prohibition period (Roizen, 1991). While there were a few scientists doing research on alcohol in the 1930s, the bulk of the scientific research that Mann and her allies hoped would be the basis for their new disease concept had not yet been done. Indeed, they hoped the NCA would generate contributions needed to fund that research. The 1942 ‘‘Manifesto’’ of the Alcoholism Movement clearly stated that they sought to ‘‘inculcate’’ into public opinion the idea that alcoholics were ‘‘sick’’, and therefore ‘‘not responsible’’ for their drinking and its consequences, and were thus deserving of medical treatment (Anderson, 1942; Roizen, 1991; Room & Collins, 1983).”