Is Alcoholism a Disease?

alcoholic man

Is alcoholism a disease? In my experience, people like to consider it a serious problem which plagues sufferers and those around them.

But I’ve encountered resistance to the idea that alcoholism is a disease.

Many people don’t like to group alcoholics with people who suffer cancer, degenerative diseases and so on.   It seems to be disrespectful to sufferers of those conditions, and I get that. Yet, people who ask “is alcoholism a disease?” need to be informed of the life-threatening nature of this condition.

As you know, I’m a bit of a laid-back guy, and I’ve confessed on this blog to an awful lot of screwups.  So I don’t think I qualify as someone who wants to play the role of a victim.  But I do think it’s just a simple fact that alcoholism is a disease.  One of the main issues people have with referring to alcoholism as a disease is that alcoholism does spring from a choice–yeah, I did develop a fondness for Crown Royal in the early 90’s.  But aren’t other diseases either caused or aggravated by the sufferer’s lifestyle choices: heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes?

Maybe we can compromise: no one suffers from alcoholism without deciding to drink quite a bit first, but once there, it’s a disease.  That’s relevant to how it’s treated.

What do I mean?  Well, many still perceive that all an alcoholic has to do is to sober up, clean up, and show some self-restraint in the future. Unfortunately for alcoholics, it’s not so simple. Alcoholism manifests itself with a series of long-term, nasty symptoms, which can grow progressively worse as time goes by.

Liver and kidney damage is commonly associated with excessive alcohol consumption, and can leave a person’s body vulnerable and unable to fight off other diseases and infections.Still doubting whether is alcoholism a disease?

Now, I didn’t get this far and I hope you haven’t either, but subsequent excess can even lead to alcohol-related dementia, which is only too similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Even when a person decides to quit alcohol, he’s still vulnerable.

Alcohol withdrawal, in particular Delirium Tremens or the DTs, can take an enormous physical toll on a person. Going through withdrawal, a person can find themselves suffering from hallucinations, seizures, fever, nausea and dehydration.

Though Delirium Tremens are rare, they’re serious–a third of people suffering them will die if they don’t receive proper care. This is a mortality rate higher than for  numerous strains of cancer and other life-threatening diseases. That’s one way of asking “is alcoholism a disease?” So now that this fact has been established, what needs to be done to change perceptions of alcoholism, and how can sufferers of this disease be helped?

The first step is to have a clear understanding of the issue.  the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence defines alcoholism as a chronic disease which begins with mental obsession resulting in the overwhelming compulsion to drink, which in turn can lead to further physical and mental symptoms.

With this clear understanding that alcoholism is a disease, one can now look at how best to treat it. I’d say that since alcoholism begins as a mental disorder, the first step toward treatment is to bring about a change in attitude on the part of the sufferer.  I know I went to a therapist, and that experience was in turn what got me into rehab.

In some serious withdrawal cases, you may have to seek medical assistance. The good news, however, is that with treatment and long-term abstinence, many of the physical and mental symptoms of long-term alcoholism are reversible- the body’s liver can repair itself, while the brain can actually regain some of its functions.  The human body is a miraculous thing.

So, it seems clear to say that indeed alcohol is a disease.  For that reason,  sufferers need peoples’ support and respect.

The symptoms and methods of treatment have been broadly outlined, as well as the most common methods for treating this disease. Is alcoholism a disease? Yes, but there is hope for those who are willing to change their lives for the better.

Photo credit Alaniz on Flickr