How is Alcoholism a Disease?

The American Medical Association declared alcoholism a disease in 1956. The American Bar Association declares that the principle of dependence on alcohol or other drugs is a disease. Although it is generally accepted by the scientific and medical communities that alcoholism is a disease, there is still some debate on the topic.

It is a disease in the sense that, like other diseases, alcoholism has signs and symptoms, causes and effects. The hallmarks of alcoholism are cravings for alcohol and withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is not available. When an individual has alcoholism they drink until there are negative consequences and typically they ignore the consequences in favor of another drink. Although there are those who criticize that alcoholism is a disease, medical doctors and scientists agree that alcoholism is a disease.

Alcoholism is a chronic, life-long disease and just like other chronic life-long diseases if the patient does not manage the disease, there are health consequences that can be severe. The individuals diagnosed with alcoholism have impaired and compulsive thoughts and behaviors towards alcohol that includes distorted thinking, a physical dependence upon alcohol, the inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed and an inability to cut back or to stop drinking alcohol. Alcoholism that is not managed properly can develop into cirrhosis of the liver, and heart disease.

Risk Factors

Individuals with the highest risk for developing the disease, alcoholism are those with a family history of alcoholism and those with mental illnesses and those who are exposed to alcohol on a regular basis. Studies indicate that 40 to 50% of alcoholism is the result of environment factors and 50 to 60% is caused by genetics (family history) a very small percentage is due to personal choice.

Doctors typically diagnose alcoholism based on three or more symptoms occurring within the same 12-month period of time out of a seven possible signs or symptoms:

    • A need for increasingly higher amounts of alcohol to give the same intoxicated effect.

    • Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is unavailable

    • Frequently the individual consumes more alcohol that originally intended at the time to drink

    • There are unsuccessful attempts to slow down or to stop drinking

    • Substantial time is spent on obtaining alcohol or in being able to get to where the alcohol is.

    • The individual is known to give up favorite activities in order to consume alcohol

    • Even after the negative consequences of drinking are pointed out to the individual, it is still important for that individual to continue his/her drinking

Alcoholism is a serious, life-long disease in which most alcoholics never achieve the ability to control the cravings for alcohol. Uncontrolled alcoholism leads to serious health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease and high blood pressure.

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