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Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Table of Contents

What Is A Chronic Disease? What Is Alcoholism? What Causes Alcoholism? When Alcoholism Becomes a Disease? Is Alcoholism a Progressive Disease? Why is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease? How to Overcome Alcoholism?

What Is a Chronic Disease?

Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both [1]. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and alcohol use disorder are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. According to CDC, excessive alcohol use is a leading preventable cause of death in the United States, shortening the lives of those who die by an average of 26 years. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to chronic diseases and other serious problems, including alcohol use disorder and difficulties with learning, memory, and mental health. This begs the question, “Is alcoholism a disease?”

One term often used in discussions between patients and medical providers, academic literature, and policy discussions is “chronic disease.” For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classify the following as chronic diseases: heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have a more extensive list of 19 chronic conditions that include Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and HIV, to name a few.

Popular Internet sources used by the general public to gather medical information use the terms “chronic disease” or “chronic condition” to mean slightly different things. For example, MedicineNet describes a chronic disease as one lasting 3 months or more, by the definition of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. Chronic diseases generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they disappear.

Finally, the World Health Organization states that chronic diseases are not passed from person to person. They are of long duration and generally slow progression. The four main types … are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma), and diabetes.

is alcoholism a disease
Six in ten Americans live with at least one chronic disease. Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a disease of the brain. Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It encompasses the conditions that some people call alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and the colloquial term, alcoholism. AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe.

According to a national survey, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older (5.6 percent of this age group) had AUD in 2019. Among youth, an estimated 414,000 adolescents ages 12–17 (1.7 percent of this age group) had AUD during this timeframe. Regardless of the problem’s severity, evidence-based treatment with behavioral therapies, mutual-support groups, and medications can help people with AUD achieve and maintain recovery.

Warning Signs Of Alcoholism

  • Being unable to control alcohol consumption
  • Craving alcohol when you’re not drinking
  • Putting alcohol above personal responsibilities
  • Feeling the need to keep drinking more
  • Spending a substantial amount of money on alcohol
  • Behaving differently after drinking
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What Causes Alcoholism?

What is the root cause of alcoholism? There is no easy answer. But certain factors can raise your risk. Like other addictions, alcoholism—alcohol use disorder (AUD)—appeals to the brain’s pleasure centers. When you drink alcohol regularly, your brain begins to associate the drinks with sensations like relaxation, euphoria, and loss of inhibitions. Alcohol triggers the brain to release dopamine, a reward-system chemical. This leads your brain to link positive feelings with drinking and motivates you to crave more. It also affects serotonin, which involves things like sleep and mood.

Is being an alcoholic a disease? As you consume more and addiction to alcohol takes hold, you will experience less pleasure (develop tolerance) and may have alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking. Heavy drinkers will begin to drink even more to keep the effects of alcohol withdrawal at bay. Early signs of problem drinking or alcohol abuse can be subtle. For instance, beginning to prioritize activities that involve alcohol steadily leads to a shift in daily routines and relationships. As drinking alcohol becomes more routine, changes in mood, sleep patterns, energy, and interests can signal the onset of an early alcohol use disorder,

What are the psychological causes of alcoholism? Alcoholism has various psychological causes, and each person’s psychological causes may differ. The American Psychological Association claims that several variables might interact to produce circumstances that raise the risk of alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism has various psychological causes, and each person’s psychological causes may differ.

These include:

  • Personal tendencies toward impulsive decisions
  • Persistent issues with low self-esteem
  • Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety
  • Prior trauma, sometimes including physical and sexual abuse

People may rely on alcohol to avoid feeling stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, and grief, to forget about responsibilities, or to feel more confident socializing. To understand addiction, you have to ask what function alcohol serves for someone, even if it comes at a great cost.

is alcoholism a disease
Alcohol addiction results in changes to brain chemistry and neural pathways such that as the addiction develops, the person feels normal without alcohol in their brain but feels better with alcohol in their brain

When Alcoholism Becomes a Disease

In 1994, the US Department of Justice [4] stated that alcoholism and other types of addictions are not diseases but behaviors in which people engage. However, over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has looked to American Medical Association (AMA) policies and an amicus brief to help it first establish that alcoholism is a disease.  The high court’s first reference to AMA policy defining alcoholism as a disease came in a dissenting opinion in a case the majority decided not to consider. The 1966 case, Budd v. California, posed the question of whether it is constitutional for California to punish someone who suffers from alcoholism, not just someone who periodically voluntarily overindulges. 

Is Alcoholism A Progressive Disease?

Alcoholism is now recognized as a disease. However, not as many people recognize it as a progressive disease. In many ways, alcoholism differs from most other diseases. First, it generally develops slowly over a person’s life and can occur in people of all ages. Second, it has no single known cause: Heredity, culture, economics, and the environment all contribute to its development, and each alcoholic has his or her personal drinking history. Third, both alcoholics and their alcohol-related disabilities can change over time.

Timeline on the Progression of Alcoholism

The Early Stages

  • You start sneaking into drinking alcohol or minimizing how much you consume.
  • You begin to feel preoccupied with drinking.
  • You start gulping drinks – especially that first one.
  • Your tolerance goes up.
  • You stop talking about your drinking with most people (drinking buddies excepted) – you’d instead not bring it up.
  • You start having alcohol blackouts.
  • You start drinking before and after social drinking occasions.
  • You start drinking to relieve uncomfortable emotions/stress, etc.
  • You start feeling uncomfortable in social situations that don’t allow alcohol.
  • You start to feel a loss of control over how much you drink (sometimes, you stay out way later than you had intended).
  • You start to lie to others about how much you drink.
  • Your habits of drinking as a way to relieve negative emotions get more entrenched.

Middle Stages

  • You start hiding your alcohol or ensuring you always have a good supply.
  • You start to need the first drink of the day.
  • You get morning shakes or tremors.
  • You try to force yourself into periods of abstinence (you go on the wagon.)
  • Other people start commenting on how much you’re drinking.
  • You start becoming occasionally aggressive or grandiose.
  • You begin to feel real guilt about your drinking.
  • Eating becomes less important than drinking.
  • Personal relationships become less important than drinking.
  • You have multi-day drinking binges.
  • You start to develop unreasonable feelings of resentment.
  • You start thinking of getting away temporarily as a way to stop drinking.
  • Your drinking leads to your quitting or losing your job.
  • You start feeling overly jealous.
  • Your sex drive diminishes.
  • You get into a habit of solo drinking.
  • You start drinking early in the morning.
  • Your guilt has blossomed into constant remorse.
  • Your thinking becomes scattered and impaired.
  • You start drinking with people you wouldn’t have associated with earlier.

Late Stages

  • Your alcohol tolerance goes down.
  • You start experiencing fear that is not attached to any outside definable threat – just vague fear.
  • You are no longer able to work or hold down a job.
  • Your physical condition/health deteriorates.
  • Your remorse becomes a constant feeling.
  • You lose your sense of morality – start doing things you wouldn’t have considered previously.
  • You are hospitalized for your drinking.
  • You can no longer count on any family or friends to help you.

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Is alcoholism a disease? Alcoholism is a treatable disease.

Why Is Alcoholism Considered A Chronic Disease?

Alcoholism is a long-lasting condition that gets worse with time. It involves a risk of relapse and, like many chronic diseases, can be diagnosed and treated but not totally cured. One fundamental question regarding addiction is, “Why is it regarded as a chronic disease? Specifically, “Is alcoholism a disease? “Addictions to alcohol and other drugs share many characteristics with other chronic diseases. The similarities and differences between alcoholism and other chronic diseases are discussed in this article.

Is alcoholism a hereditary disease? There are many reasons why alcoholism is seen as a chronic disease. It possesses certain heritable traits, meaning some genetic components may run in families. Environmental factors are also part of the equation. Take diabetes as an example, another chronic disease. The likelihood of acquiring diabetes depends on your genetic makeup and the dietary and activity habits you choose. Alcoholism is similar. If you have a relative or ancestor who struggled with alcoholism, you may be genetically prone to the disease. This risk is increased by growing up in an environment where alcohol use is common. The progression of the disease is influenced by both heredity and environmental risk factors.

How to Overcome Alcoholism?

Being a chronic disease, alcoholism, or an alcohol use disorder frequently necessitates therapy to be overcome. There is support available if you struggle with alcohol addiction. It is crucial to contact a treatment facility to explore choices and create a plan that works best for you because there is not one single treatment approach that works best for everyone.

Some people could be required to sign up for an inpatient program, which entails living on-site at a treatment facility. Others might succeed with outpatient treatment, which enables them to remain at home and work while receiving treatment. Regardless of the specific therapies, alcohol use disorder is frequently managed by combining medicine, which can reduce cravings, and counseling, giving patients the skills they need to manage stress and avoid triggers for drinking. Attending meetings with support groups like AA might also help you stay dedicated to your recovery.

How To Help Someone With Alcoholism?

How to reduce alcohol consumption safely? If you’re looking to help a loved one with alcohol addiction, there are steps you can take to offer support. Consider the steps below:

  • Learn about alcoholism to understand what your loved one is facing.
  • Do not blame or pass judgment when talking with them; instead, come from a place of concern and care. 
  • Give specific behavior examples that concern you rather than making vague statements such as, “You’re addicted!”
  • Offer to support their recovery by providing resources or helping them get into treatment.
  • Avoid enabling them by giving them money or covering up for their mistakes. 
  • Understand that drinking around them places them at risk of relapse, so it’s respectful to refrain from drinking or serving alcohol in their presence. 

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Is Alcoholism a Disease or a Choice?

Alcoholism is classified as a disease. The debate over categorizing alcoholism and addiction as a disease was largely settled in the medical and scientific community decades ago. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) position was even cited in the U.S. Supreme Court case (Budd v. California, 385 U.S. 909 (1966). Today alcohol dependence is understood as a disease and listed as such in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Today, most authoritative medical organizations consider addiction to alcohol and other substances a disease. Examples of authoritative medical organizations include:

  • American Society of Addiction Medicine: “Addiction is a disease, just like asthma, diabetes and heart disease.”
  • American Psychiatric Association: “Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.”
  • National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: “Addiction is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences.”
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “[Alcohol use disorder] is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

Is alcoholism really a disease? In the past, addiction was misunderstood because it’s a disease many individuals exposed to alcohol never develop. People assumed those with alcohol use disorders (AUD) chose to keep drinking. Today, we know that alcohol causes severe changes in the brain that prevent the individual from making rational decisions regarding alcohol use. We know it’s a chronic disease associated with alcohol relapse.

 

is alcoholism a disease
Is alcoholism a disease? Alcoholism negatively changes the brain’s chemistry, and as tolerance to alcohol increases, so does alcohol overconsumption. 

Alcoholism Is A Family Disease

Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is often called a “family disease” because it affects more people than just the person with alcohol addiction. Addiction occurs in all types of families, and its emotional side effects are felt by children, spouses, and other family members. This chronic and progressive disease can change their lives, attitudes, and behaviors. They can even experience depression, anxiety, and shame due to alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease. Living in a home with alcohol use disorder can lead to disruptive behavior, tension, and strained relationships—all of which can cause significant stress on the family unit.

Effects of Alcohol Use on Families

  • Alcohol use in families can have a damaging effect on many generations. When a family member suffers from alcohol abuse, those closest to them can find that they have to contend with strained relationships, financial problems, and harm to their well-being and health.
  • Alcohol use disorder causes emotional and physical health problems. Someone with alcohol use disorder experiences the brunt of the physical issues, but people close to them often share the emotional side effects of that individual’s addiction.
  • Family members of alcoholics can experience anxiety, depression, and shame related to their loved one’s addiction. Family members may also be the victims of emotional or physical outbursts.
  • People suffering from alcohol use disorder may try to protect their families from the effects of alcohol abuse by distancing themselves. Sadly, isolation does little to shield family members from the emotional and financial side effects of alcoholism. In addition, neglect can also harm loved ones.

Is Alcoholism a Genetic Disease?

Alcohol dependence (alcoholism), the most severe alcohol use disorder, is a complex genetic disease. Alcoholism has long been noted to run in families, but that alone is not sufficient to demonstrate that genetic factors contribute to risk. Many independent lines of evidence point to genetic contributions to its etiology. Adoption studies show that alcoholism in adoptees correlates more strongly with their biological parents than their adoptive parents [6].

Animal studies also demonstrate genetic liability; mice and rats have been selectively bred for many traits associated with alcohol dependence, including alcohol preference, alcohol sensitivity, and withdrawal sensitivity. The ability to genetically select for these traits demonstrates that there are genetic bases for them and that different genes contribute to different aspects of the phenotype. Taken together, there is overwhelming evidence that genetic variations contribute to the risk of alcohol dependence.

It should be emphasized that while genetic differences affect risk, there is no “gene for alcoholism,” and both environmental and social factors weigh heavily on the outcome. Genetic factors affect the risk not only for alcohol dependence but also the level of alcohol consumption and the risk for alcohol-associated diseases, including alcoholic cirrhosis and upper GI cancers. . Knowing that genetic factors affect risk does not mean that we know which specific variants contribute, nor how. This is an area of active research as new genes and variants are being identified.

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Alcoholism Treatment

How to help a drunk person? First and foremost, if you think a loved one is abusing alcohol, you should research the substance and its associated addiction to understand better what your loved one needs.  How long does alcohol withdrawal last? Next, you must plan an intervention to provide your loved ones with options to battle the effects of alcohol withdrawal in a safe and supportive environment. During this intervention, offer compassion and support instead of judgment. Lastly, show your support throughout the entire treatment process. Alcoholism is a treatable disease.

In addition, prolonged alcohol consumption can have severe physical and psychological effects, so seeking treatment as soon as possible is essential. Inpatient alcohol rehab offers intensive care that can help you promptly get through the early stages of alcohol withdrawal. 

Treatment for alcohol use disorder may include:



There are thousands of treatment centers in the country, but not all are right for everyone. Those looking for help need to find a center that offers definitive treatment for alcohol addiction. This center must also be able to treat other drugs and co-occurring mental conditions. Our medical staffs, therapists, and counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions if you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction. We Level Up NJ addiction specialists are standing by to help.

is alcoholism a disease
You can recover from alcohol addiction with a strong medical detox program and the right support, including family support structures like systemic family interventions and group therapy. Help is available.

Is Alcoholism a Disease? FAQ’s

Why is alcoholism not a disease?

Why alcoholism is not a disease? We all know addiction is a disease. All the authoritative sources have so classified it. However, there is still an ongoing argument that alcoholism is not a disease or alcohol is not a disease. The acceptance of alcoholism as a disease by authoritative medical institutions forces insurance companies to pay for alcohol treatment (they will only pay to treat diseases). The Centers for Disease Control, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and Alcoholics Anonymous urge us to think of alcohol and drug addiction as diseases.

Why is alcoholism considered a disease?

Addiction is physiological and psychological and can be all-encompassing. And its broader impact can take a devastating toll on family life. Addiction, clinically referred to as a substance use disorder is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves the compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. Addiction disrupts brain regions responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment, and memory.

Alcohol is a progressive disease; why?

Alcoholism doesn’t develop in a day. It isn’t something that comes about overnight. In reality, alcohol addiction is a progressive condition. What starts as casual drinking advances into dependence and addiction over time. 

Alcoholism is a disease not a choice; why?

Why alcoholism is a disease? Alcoholism is a brain disease because it affects how the brain operates, causing symptoms such as compulsive behavior and intense cravings. Multiple environmental and hereditary factors cause alcoholism. Vaccines can’t prevent it. A medication for alcoholism, such as disulfiram or acamprosate, may aid alcohol recovery. But no medicine can cure it. A combination of medications, behavioral therapy, and support can help you or a loved one recover. Read Alcoholism is a disease quotes for inspiration.

Alcoholism is a disease true or false?

Is alcoholism a disease or illness? Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition. It’s a brain function disease requiring medical and psychological treatments to control it. Alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It can develop quickly or over a long period of time.

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