Alcoholism – disease or not?

Would you consider alcoholism a disease? As an addiction counsellor I have done a lot of investigation into how this disorder is viewed.

Looking at the 2 statements below I have come to my own conclusion:

Human disease: an impairment of the normal state of a human being that interrupts or modifies its vital functions (Stanley L. Robbins – Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)

Disease: any harmful deviation from the normal structural or functional state of an organism, generally associated with certain signs and symptoms and differing in nature from physical injury. A diseased organism commonly exhibits signs or symptoms indicative of its abnormal state (Dante G. Scarpelli – Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)

Whilst it is confusing, even ambiguous, I believe in the ‘disease concept’ of alcoholism. Unlike other diseases such as cancer, users can simply decide to stop drinking alcohol. Whereas those living with cancer do not have the luxury of deciding to stop having cancer. That said, I believe that alcoholism is a disease of the mind. Alcoholism presents itself in ways far beyond the external appearance of a stereotypical ‘drunk’, staggering around, making a fool out of themselves. We see this behaviour in most people intoxicated by alcohol as it is a mind-altering substance. It is a well-known fact that people who are drunk do not behave in a composed, pragmatic, and dignified way in which they normally would. Users lose their inhibitions, even self-respect, saying and doing things they simply would not do if sober. Hence why there can be problems at family functions where alcohol is involved; weddings and funerals for example.

My opinion, in relation to the ‘disease concept’ of alcoholism, is based on the profound and direct link to an array of physical and mental health illnesses such as Korsakoff’s Syndrome.

Looking at the evidence below this also supports my conclusion.

·         The disease concept of alcoholism has changed the way we view the condition, allowing users to ‘come out’ and seek professional help without fear of being condemned.

·         Alcoholics Anonymous played a vital role in the promotion of the disease theory with the 12 steps recovery system. This has been based on the idea that those who develop the disease need a cure in order to overcome it (source: UK Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Services Locator).

  • The fact that neurologists have been able to detect physical changes to the brain due to alcohol abuse has further promoted the idea that alcoholism is a disease (source: UK Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Services Locator).

  • In the USA, alcoholism is officially recognised as a medical condition; Health Care Act 2014 lists alcoholism as one of the conditions that must be treated by health insurance providers (source: UK Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Services Locator).

  • It is considered that alcoholism should be in the ‘same bracket’ as diabetes and heart disease (source: UK Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Services Locator)

  • Alcohol problems and being an ‘alcoholic’ are two completely different conditions.

  • Alcoholism, in my opinion, is a disease of the brain. Whereas detrimental drinking patterns emerge as problems in the user’s life.

  • Alcoholism, I believe, is a form of disease or allergy to alcohol itself. Therefore, surely, this condition should be recognised as an illness.

  • I share the viewpoint that alcoholism is condition that cannot always be controlled by the sufferer. This condition is far beyond will power or the desire to simply stop. Therefore, by taking the responsibility away from the user and putting it into the hands of medical and healthcare professionals, with a steadfast care plan and support system, the patient can then start to focus on abstaining.

  • Alcoholic personality: this leaves the user predisposed to developing a drinking problem, resulting in psychiatric illness labelled alcoholism.

Supporting my opinion is around socialisation. Genetic influence can be passed down to children in relation to drinking. As such, the child inherits some level of vulnerability. I agree that we, as children, model our parents. However, regardless of background or upbringing, as adults, we know the difference between right and wrong. That drinking to excess is not healthy. So, we have a choice whether or not we wish to copy our parents as adults. However, if genetic influence can transcend from parent to child, I believe this is a disease as that child is destined to have an unhealthy obsession with alcohol.

If you are worried about your drinking or that of someone close to you please do reach out for a no obligation free consultation.