Author: Alex Thompson

Alcoholism: Disease or a Choice? Considered a Brain Disease

is alcoholism a disease

A heavy drinking binge may even cause a life-threatening coma or death. This is of particular concern when you’re taking certain medications that also depress the brain’s function. The third idea is that medical help is necessary to deal with alcoholism. Indeed, most alcoholics control their drinking without any help from anyone else. The second idea is that drinking necessarily becomes uncontrollable once it has begun.

  1. Medications, behavioral therapies, and social support groups are among the strategies to combat this disorder.
  2. The problem is the alcoholic’s mental obsession with alcohol is much more subtle than a song playing in one’s mind.
  3. But as you continue to drink, you become drowsy and have less control over your actions.
  4. It disrupts a person’s ability to think critically, make rational decisions and function normally.
  5. “Lack of control” is central to the disease theory of alcoholism.

Weisner, C., and Schmidt, L. Alcohol and drug problems among diverse health and social service populations. The number of alcoholism rehabs mushroomed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. But most people lacked the funds or insurance to pay for these very expensive programs. Alcoholics Anonymous is available almost everywhere and provides a place to openly and non-judgmentally discuss alcohol problems with others who have alcohol use disorder. The sooner you recognize there may be a problem and talk to your healthcare provider, the better your recovery chances.

Impact on your health

He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). If you are concerned about your alcohol use and would like to explore whether you might have AUD, please visit the Rethinking Drinking website. To see the effect of AA on one person’s life visit What NOT to Do.

is alcoholism a disease

Healthcare providers use the umbrella term “alcohol use disorder” to classify a wide range of problematic alcohol use, such as alcohol abuse, dependence, addiction, and severe alcohol use disorder (alcoholism). People who drink too much alcohol are at risk of developing a host of health conditions and disorders including certain types of cancer, liver disease, and heart disease. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the brain and other organs, and it also increases the chances of developing sleep problems, depression, and other mental health problems. Alcohol can interfere with a person’s ability to care for their other medical conditions or make other medical conditions worse. Like many other substance use disorders, alcohol use disorder is a chronic and sometimes relapsing condition that reflects changes in the brain. This means that when people with the disorder are abstaining from alcohol, they are still at increased risk of resuming unhealthy alcohol consumption, even if years have passed since their last drink.

What is the outlook for people who have alcohol use disorder?

Because he is a member of a support group that stresses the importance of anonymity at the public level, he does not use his photograph or his real name on this website. The progression of the disease is subtle, and usually takes place over such an extended period, that even the alcoholic themselves fails to notice the point at which they lost control and alcohol took over their life. “It is not a complete loss of autonomy—addicted individuals are still accountable for their actions, but they are much less able to override the powerful drive to seek relief from withdrawal provided by alcohol or drugs.” Alcoholics build such a tolerance that they are no longer able to reach the high they once did, however, the lows they experience when not drinking become lower and lower. Other pursuits in life that once brought pleasure and balanced out the lows no longer do so. At this stage, the person is no longer drinking to experience pleasure.

is alcoholism a disease

It is important to remember that AUD is not due to an individual’s lack of self-discipline or resolve. Long-term alcohol use can produce changes in the brain that can cause people to crave alcohol, lose control of their drinking and require greater quantities of alcohol to achieve its desired effects. It can also cause people to experience withdrawal symptoms if they discontinue alcohol use. For many people, alcohol seems inextricably linked with a social life.

The terms chronic disease or chronic condition have multiple definitions. Major medical agencies and organizations disagree about which diseases are considered chronic, according to a 2016 article published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health. Many people say that you can never become an alcoholic if you choose to never drink alcohol.

Is Alcoholism a Disease? (Here’s the Evidence and Logic)

Medications, behavioral therapies, and social support groups are among the strategies to combat this disorder. However, alcoholism has been recognized for many years by professional medical organizations as a primary, chronic, progressive, and sometimes fatal disease. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a detailed and complete definition of alcoholism, but the most simple way to describe it is a mental obsession causing a physical compulsion to drink. If your pattern of drinking results in repeated significant distress and problems functioning in your daily life, you likely have alcohol use disorder. However, even a mild disorder can escalate and lead to serious problems, so early treatment is important. That would appear to be appropriate because AA is a spiritual group.

Today, most authoritative medical organizations consider addiction to alcohol and other substances a disease. Alcohol consumption by an expectant mother may cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and pre-term birth complications. People who have AUD may continue to use alcohol even though they know it is causing social, health, economic, and possibly even legal problems in their life. Are you worried you or a loved one have a drinking problem? Take a look at the Alcohol Abuse Screening Quiz to see how symptoms compare. When the drinkers were still relatively healthy, they could control their impulse to drink because the judgment and decision-making circuits of their prefrontal cortex would balance out those impulses.

Alcohol use disorder is a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol or continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems. This disorder also involves having to drink more to get the same effect or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. Alcohol use disorder includes a level of drinking that’s sometimes called alcoholism. Several evidence-based treatment approaches are available for AUD.

One of the difficulties in recognizing alcoholism as a disease is it doesn’t quite seem like one. It doesn’t look, sound or act like most diseases we know. And, generally, alcoholism remains hidden and resists treatment.

Medications can make detoxification safe while avoiding the worst symptoms of withdrawal. And medications and behavioral therapies can help people with AUD reduce alcohol intake or abstain from alcohol altogether. If you feel that you sometimes drink too much alcohol, or your drinking is causing problems, or if your family is concerned about your drinking, talk with your health care provider. Other ways to get help include talking with a mental health professional or seeking help from a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar type of self-help group. The disease theory of alcoholism never explains how or why people are alcoholic.

Drinking Linked to Other Cues

At this point, their reward system has become pathological, or, in other words, diseased. Health care professionals use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to assess whether a person has AUD and to determine the severity, if the disorder is present. Severity is based on the number of criteria a person meets based on their symptoms—mild (2–3 criteria), moderate (4–5 criteria), or severe (6 or more criteria). Jellinek, E. Phases in the drinking history of alcoholics. Analysis of a survey conducted by the official organ of Alcoholics Anonymous, Q J Stud Alco, 7, 1-88. The existence of chemical dependencies is a medical fact.

Your treatment setting will depend on your stage of recovery and the severity of your illness. You may need inpatient medical (hospital), residential rehabilitation (rehab), outpatient intensive therapy or outpatient maintenance. Hosted by Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares strategies for coping with alcohol cravings and other addictions, featuring addiction specialist John Umhau, MD. While the brain’s dopamine transmitters drive us to seek pleasure, the stress neurotransmitters found in the extended amygdala region of the brain drive us to avoid pain and unpleasant experiences. In some people, the initial reaction may feel like an increase in energy.