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Is Alcoholism a Disease?

By November 27, 2021July 11th, 2023Sober living

It’s triggered by genetic and environmental factors, and it causes biological changes in the brain that make abstaining from alcohol nearly impossible without medical treatment. It’s also called alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse. Like other chronic diseases, alcoholism can be identified and diagnosed based on certain symptoms and can be managed with professional treatment. Treatment options often include a combination of medications, therapy and cognitive behavioral treatment in inpatient and outpatient settings. We all admit alcohol can be the biggest enemy of human health, prosperity, and relationships.

is alcoholism a disease

The story of alcoholism begins with both the person and their whole family believing that alcoholism could not affect them. The family member is in denial of their heavy drinking, and the entire family joins them in the dissent, thinking their loved one could not be a problem drinker. Their denial becomes the barrier to addressing the needs for recovery. Rationalizations protect them from feeling the shame and fear experienced in acceptance of alcoholism in their family.

Addiction relapses are a reality, but not failure

Besides the mental health portion of addiction, alcoholism is considered a brain disease because it affects its operation. Generally, alcoholism causes compulsive behavior and disrupts a person’s critical thinking ability. Many people with alcohol use disorder hesitate to get treatment because they don’t recognize that they have a problem. An intervention from loved ones can help some sober house people recognize and accept that they need professional help. If you’re concerned about someone who drinks too much, ask a professional experienced in alcohol treatment for advice on how to approach that person. Just as someone with diabetes or heart disease has to choose to exercise and change to a healthy diet to control their disease, someone with addiction has to choose treatment.

is alcoholism a disease

But, with some thought one realizes that these ideas are oxymoronic. To point out the obvious, if someone is “powerless” they would, by definition, not be able to control themselves, not even one day at a time. A significant proportion of the disease burden attributable to alcohol consumption arises from unintentional and intentional injuries, including those due to road traffic crashes, violence, and suicide. Fatal alcohol-related injuries tend to occur in relatively younger age groups.

In what way is alcoholism a mental health disorder?

For example, consider conditions such as diabetes and cancer, which can often offset one’s personal preferences for exercise, sun exposure, or diet. The dopamine neurotransmitters that manage pleasure are also responsible for eating food, engaging in social interaction, and having sex. When our reward system suffers from substance abuse, it often results in people experiencing less and less enjoyment from other areas of their lives when they’re not under the influence.

  • Stay current on the latest on the issues impacting physicians, patients and the health care environment with the AMA’s Advocacy Update Newsletter.
  • In general, alcohol consumption is considered too much—or unhealthy—when it causes health or social problems.
  • This broad category of alcohol consumption comprises a continuum of drinking habits including at-risk drinking, binge drinking, and AUD.
  • They cannot tell whether a person has been drinking heavily for a long time.

Medications, such as benzodiazepines, are given to help control withdrawal symptoms. If necessary, patients may receive intravenous fluids, vitamins, and other medications to treat hallucinations or other symptoms caused by withdrawal. In 75 years, Alcoholics Anonymous has become a part of our social structure. Its tenets have led the medical establishment and been used to diagnose patients with alcoholism while simultaneously giving birth to dozens of spin-off anonymous meetings.

Tests for alcoholism

If you answered yes to more than five of these questions, you might have an alcohol problem. It might be helpful to speak with an addiction specialist to better understand your relationship with alcohol. You can also take our “Am I an Alcoholic” quiz below for a more comprehensive evaluation. You may want to take the Alcohol Abuse Screening Quiz to see how you compare.

  • He believed those who drank too much alcohol were diseased and used the idea to promote his prohibitionist political platform.
  • If you try to quit using substances, your brain tries to protect you from the pain and intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Increased cravings for alcohol to provide desired feelings like calmness or emotional numbing make it all the more difficult to stop the cycle.

However, today, we know how alcohol causes changes in the brain, messing with someone’s ability to make rational decisions about their alcohol consumption. Everyone makes a choice about using drugs or taking a drink for the first time. Willpower and shaming won’t undo the changes in the brain and cure addiction. There is no cure, but treatment helps you manage and successfully live with the disease. High-rent districts, “seedy” neighborhoods, age, race, sex or income—addiction weaves its way through all walks of life. No one thing can predict your risk of developing a substance use disorder.