Bears watching: alcoholism, Glenn Gruenhagen, and the HHS Reform committee

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One clear sign of the Republican wave that brought Kurt Zellers to power is the election of insurance salesman and conservative ideologue Glenn Gruenhagen (R-North Sibley Crazypants) to office by 336 votes.

Now the Morning Take has released a list of state house committee assignments, and Representative Gruenhagen has found himself a seat on the Health and Human Services. Since Gruenhagen has never been shy about his opinions, this appointment should prove interesting.

Will he prove influential about the way in which state-funded programs address problems related to alcoholism? While in the majority party in the Minnesota House, Mr. Gruenhagen holds distinctly minority opinions on alcohol abuse, as he wrote in a 2009 letter to the McLeod County Chronicle, Alcoholism is not a disease:

. . . I have extended family members who have been in treatment for alcoholism and chemical dependency and I am well aware of the pain and sorrow these problems bring to families. However, labeling alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease is not only medically inaccurate (since there is no germ or gene), it also sends a false message to the abuser that they are a victim rather than to accept some level of personal responsibility for their abuse and behavior. In addition, it sends the completely wrong message to our young people about the dangers of alcohol and illegal drug abuse.

I voluntarily participated in Gideon International jail ministry with local prisoners for over 13 years. One of the questions I routinely asked prisoners was “how many of you were on alcohol or illegal drugs when you were arrested?” The answer was almost always the same: over 90 percent said “yes.” By the way, you won’t get a DWI for driving with cancer.

Labeling alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease is a recent trend and is bad for both the addicted and the non-addicted. It is rooted in a false psychological medical philosophy that everyone is a victim when it comes to wrong and bad behavior.

I am sorry if this letter seems stern, but I am sick and tired of the victim mentality in our schools, prisons and culture . . .

Fortunately, Gruenhagen isn’t serving on any committees with Mark Buesgens, so inner caucus tussles about the responsibility for Mr. Buesgens’ DWI will not be exposed to the public eye.

Less clear: How Minnesota’s world-class medical providers will respond to Gruenhagen’s opinion. The Mayo Clinic’s web site, for instance, begins its discussion of alcoholism with this sentence:

Alcoholism is a chronic disease in which your body becomes dependent on alcohol.

Related post: At least Gruenhagen, who has served as a school board member, isn’t on the Education Reform committee. Read Gruenhagen endorsed in HD25A: Crack-pot opposes “boiling pot,” mixed gender classes, and more to learn why this is a fortunate turn of appointments for the state’s school children.