Regarding James Kilpatrick's op-ed column Dec. 29 {"Alcoholism: Is It Really a Disease?"}, which mentions the Supreme Court case involving James McKelvey, Eugene Traynor and the Veterans Administration: let's get one thing straight here. Alcoholism is a disease. But being a drunk is not. That is a matter of choice.

Most people (lawyers included) tend to confuse the two. The disease of alcoholism has to do with the body's metabolism of alcohol, which produces an abnormally strong desire for alcohol (and even then addiction is only acquired through willful abuse).

Alcoholism is incurable. In fact, the primary step in the treatment of alcoholism is for the person to recognize and accept that he is and always will be an alcoholic. However, there are a great many alcoholics who do not drink alcohol. To purchase and consume alcohol in order to become drunk requires a conscious effort -- a choice. If the alcoholic chooses to do nothing, he will revert to the natural state, which even for an alcoholic is to be sober. All "primary" alcoholics are free to make that choice.

The National Council on Alcoholism's statement that a person's excessive drinking "is not something over which he or she has conscious or voluntary control" is erroneous. Thousands of alcoholics have quit, by choice. They stay sober, day by day, by choice.

We all have strong desires (food, sex, spending money, driving fast, etc.) which we must learn to repress. But regardless of the cause or the strength of those desires it is a matter of choice to act or not to act irresponsibly.

So please do not insult the Vietnam veteran who lost both legs to a land mine by calling him disabled just like an alcoholic. That vet doesn't have a choice.

R. A. ROBB Bryans Road, Md.