Is alcoholism a disease? The general consensus in the medical community is that Alcohol Use Disorder is a medical condition. Because there is so much disagreement on the exact definition, the WHO and NIH avoid pinning alcoholism as a disease, mental illness or behavioural problems. This is a question that is always up for debate. If we asked around a city street to ask passers-by whether or not they think alcohol dependence is an illness, then I am sure that any answer I get would either pick medical condition or self-inflicted.
If I were to ask those who are in the profession of helping people with alcohol addiction, they would tell me that those addicted to alcohol are suffering from an illness that is beyond their control.
Now, if, on the other hand, I was to ask a family member or a friend of someone who is addicted to alcohol, they may have a different answer. But, more often than not, families and friends may feel like the person in question is being inconsiderate to others by simply indulging in alcohol for the sake of indulging.
The real question is how there can be such a big difference between how medical professionals view alcoholism and how the public perceives it.
It is natural to get frustrated when someone you care about makes themselves sicker by the day from alcoholism. Eventually, loved ones get tired of feeling frustrated and will begin to resent such feelings.
These are not pleasant feelings, and we look to the person we think is causing those feelings to stop drinking. But it isn’t as easy as that. So it isn’t a case of putting an end to having an extra biscuit with your cup of tea.
Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having.
“Goddamn it, Otto, you’re an alcoholic!”
“Goddamn it, Otto, you have lupus!”
One of those two doesn’t sound right.
One strong explanation for the public perception of alcoholism as a personal failing rather than a disease is that it follows the pattern of a mental illness. Mental health problems can sometimes mimic or show themselves in behaviour problems. Diseases and illnesses of the mind are one of the most poorly understood health conditions in society.
There is a strong association between addiction and mental health issues
Whether or not you feel that alcoholism is a habit or an addiction, the truth is neither answer applies. It doesn’t matter what we think alcohol dependence means or why people do it. So the real questions are, what kind of help is available to those who need to come off alcohol for the sake of themselves and those around them?
At Rehab Guide, we recognise that alcohol dependence is an illness. Our view is simple. If someone is drinking alcohol in large quantities frequently, then it is safe to assume that the body is ill. As bodies, we know how resilient we can be, but there is a limit to everybody, and most people reach that limit when it comes to alcoholism.
So, what makes an alcoholic an alcoholic? We will not go into the factors that brought you to need alcohol. No, that would be impossible. Instead, we are going to look at what happens when you take alcohol and what effect that can have on the body.
Two factors of alcoholism lie beyond the control of the sufferer. The first of those factors is the physical factor. Someone who is an alcoholic will respond differently to consuming alcohol and will also process alcohol differently from those who indulge in alcohol now and again. Even those who abuse alcohol will process alcohol differently from those who rely on it to get through the day.
For example, when an alcoholic has alcohol in their system, their body will produce chemicals that send pleasure signals to the brain. These signals create an overpowering desire for more and more alcohol and, in time, bring forth a condition of necessity.
Nothing can undo the conditional response to alcohol. However, once the condition of alcohol dependence is made, it cannot be unmade. In other words, there is no cure for alcohol addiction, meaning that no matter how hard the individual tries, they cannot regain control of their drinking once they have started.
What does this mean for recovery? Well, it doesn’t mean a life without alcohol isn’t possible. It is more than likely. It means you must always be wary of triggers and make significant lifestyle changes.
Now, let us look at the other factor of alcoholism, which is the mentally obsessive side of being an alcoholic. Alcoholics tend to be obsessive, especially regarding how they think about what they are doing to themselves and others when it comes to drinking. So, in general, their thinking style will come across as deluded.
It is not unusual for an alcoholic to spend hours thinking about when they can get alcohol, how they can get it and hide it from others etc. Even when facing solid evidence, alcoholics will remain convinced that they control their urges. But this is never the case, and alcoholics will fall time and time again for the false belief that they can have one or two drinks and then stop.
Casual drinking for an alcoholic isn’t possible; they will never be able to have one or two drinks due to the bodily reaction that alcohol sets off.
So now that we have established, at least from our end, that alcoholism is a disease without a cure. What are your options? How can your alcohol addiction be controlled or treated?
If you are an alcoholic in need of treatment, then the first step of treatment can only begin once you admit that you have a drinking problem and require professional help.
Once you admit that you need help, the treatment can begin. But what exactly is involved in alcohol treatment? At Rehab Guide, we believe that getting to the root of the causes of your drinking can allow you to identify the triggers and thinking patterns behind your addiction. For example, coming off alcohol will involve medical detox at home or a treatment centre, followed by intensive therapy that will encourage new thoughts and behaviours that help you avoid going back to alcohol and maintain a sober life.
If you have any questions regarding this article, please call Rehab Guide now for help and advice on alcohol addiction. Our team will be happy to answer any questions you have.
A Disease You Can Get Yelled At For Having – New findings on the genetics of addiction call for compassion by David J Linden PhD – A Disease You Can Get Yelled At For Having | Psychology Today