Why is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease?
Although many of us think of alcoholism as “just a bad habit,” it is in actuality a chronic physical disease as well as a mental disorder. This fact places alcohol addiction in a new light and helps to find better ways to treat it. Here we discuss why alcoholism is considered a chronic disease with the mention and citation of numerous trusted sources.
What is Alcoholism?
The consumption of alcohol at uncontrollable, excessive levels is considered alcoholism. Individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction find it hard to manage their drinking. Alcoholism can be in mild to severe stages and the difficulties of treating it relate to the severity.
Over 14.5 million people in the US suffer from alcohol use disorder. Here are the signs of alcoholism as a disease:
- Drinking more than a regular person and consuming alcohol regularly
- Feeling uncomfortable and hungover when you stop drinking
- Short-term memory losses and blackouts
- Drinking alcohol alone and hiding it from everyone else in your life
- Distancing yourself from your family and loved ones
- Having mood swings
- Drinking alcohol over other daily tasks and responsibility
Alcoholism is a major issue in the US and it affects people personally and socially. Many have a tendency of blaming this issue on addicted people. The fact is alcoholism is a mental and physical issue.
Definition of Chronic Disease
Before understanding alcoholism as a chronic disease, we must understand the definition of chronic diseases and what differs them from regular diseases. The simplest definition is diseased which doesn’t just go away and lasts three months or more. It is extremely difficult to cure these diseases with medicines only.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that six out of ten people in the US suffer from at least one chronic disease. Various factors create this huge number. CDC’s research also shows that chronic diseases are the top reason for disability and even death in the United States.
In short, chronic diseases are conditions that are hard to cure with only medication, and these conditions may last for a long time. However, with proper medication and lifestyle, it can be managed and even treated. Progressive alcoholism sounds familiar with the definition of chronic disease as it starts as something harmless and ends up being a life-changing problem that becomes complicated to control and even harder to cure.
Chronic diseases and alcoholism share similar symptoms. The following information from George Washington University Medical Center gives an in-depth understanding of the relation:
- Chronic diseases have genetic components and so does alcoholism.
- Alcoholism and chronic diseases can be managed and cured with medication and behavioral changes.
- Addiction to alcohol and chronic diseases have common symptom control and relapse pattern.
Is Alcoholism a Chronic Disease?
According to The American Psychiatric Association, alcoholism is a disease. In fact, the modern disease theory of alcoholism states that problem drinking is sometimes caused by a disease of the brain, characterized by altered brain structure and function. What’s more, the American Medical Association also counts alcoholism as a disease under both medical and psychiatric sections.
Alcoholism is often a result of genetics and environment. Some people develop alcoholism without any genetic involvement. Such an addiction can also start from the availability of liquor and mental conditions. Some of the reasons why alcoholism is considered a chronic disease are:
Genetics is a reason for alcohol use disorder amongst 40-60% of the people with alcoholism. Just like with diabetes and heart diseases that run in a family, genetics affects one’s risk of alcoholism. So, if you have an ancestor or family member who has alcohol addiction, you may be prone to alcoholism and more like to develop it compared to others.
Like diabetes, along with genetics, environmental factors play a big role in alcohol addiction. The availability of alcohol, the acceptance of alcohol usage in your family or friend group, and many other similar factors let you develop an addiction.
Like other chronic diseases, relapse is possible during the treatment of alcoholism. Proper treatment and management are essential for treating it, otherwise, relapse can make it worse.
No Known Cure
Just like most other chronic diseases, alcoholism does not have a cure. It has to be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. You cannot just stop using alcohol right away because it may cause many withdrawal symptoms.
Since alcoholism is a complicated chronic disease, treating it can be tricky, often requiring medication and changes in lifestyle. It is best to be under medical supervision during the treatment of alcohol use disorder.
As with other chronic diseases, like diabetes or arthritis, no known cure exists for alcoholism. With alcoholism, the brain’s neurotransmitters affecting stimulation and pleasure are dysfunctional. Although medical professionals can rebalance these neurotransmitters with time and effort, the neural pathways created during heavy drinking remain. This is why relapse presents a lifelong danger to the recovering alcoholic.
Of course, just because there is no cure for alcoholism does not mean there is no hope for recovery. In recovery, the alcoholic’s brain will create new neural pathways to help them derive pleasure from activities other than drinking. In this way, the symptoms of alcoholism will eventually disappear. However, without the proper support, it becomes very easy for the recovering alcoholic to start drinking again.
Suddenly quitting drinking, or going “cold turkey” may result in anxiety, depression, wild mood swings, high blood pressure, and intense cravings for alcohol. That’s why a medically supervised detoxification process, followed by comprehensive addiction treatment, is the next best thing to a cure.
The term mental illness refers to those conditions that hinder people from behaving normally within their environment and toward other people. With this in mind, when one asks, “Is alcoholism considered a mental illness?” the short answer is yes. Many psychological, biological, and social components enforce the link between alcoholism and mental illness.
The American Medical Association counts alcoholism as a disease under both its medical and psychiatric sections. Meanwhile, many mental illnesses—including depression, anxiety, bipolar, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—can contribute to alcoholism. They can even stand as the main reason for a person engaging in addictive behavior.
That said, alcoholism is not just a mental illness. Alcoholism also takes a toll on a person’s physical health. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers alcoholism and alcohol use disorder among its top preventable causes of chronic illness, up there with tobacco use, poor diet, and lack of physical activity.
Is Alcoholism Progressive?
When a disease is “progressive,” it means the disease worsens over time. In the case of alcoholism, it means the negative effects of heavy drinking take a progressively larger toll on the user.
When someone first starts drinking, they may experience relaxation, fun, and a sense of well-being. Many people are prone to experiencing alcohol in this way almost from the very beginning, which inspires them to drink more, and more regularly.
However, over time, as drinking becomes heavy drinking becomes alcohol abuse, the negative effects on one’s health, family relationships, romantic relationships, and finances may start to show. Soon, the negative effects of alcohol abuse begin to outweigh the benefits. Those who continue abusing alcohol, despite, or, in some cases, because of these negative effects, typically go on to develop alcoholism. In short, yes, alcoholism is progressive.
Why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease? The answer is because of its progressive nature and the fact that no known cure exists. Being a chronic disease, alcoholism can be hard to treat. If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol addiction, know that it will take time and a lot of effort to recover. However, it is best to start the process of recovery and detoxification as soon as you can.
Get Help for the Chronic Disease of Alcoholism in Atlanta, GA
If you are experiencing the negative effects of alcoholism, or someone you love needs help with their alcoholism, we are here to help. The Retreat of Atlanta understands the heartache and desperation involved with alcoholism. We offer professional treatment teams who are familiar with alcohol use disorder and can design a comprehensive detox and treatment plan that is right for you. Contact us today and begin your journey to lasting recovery.