Why Is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease? Recognizing Illnesses

September 30, 2023

Addiction | Barbara Decker

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Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholism is considered a chronic disease because, like diabetes or asthma, it persists for a long time, requires ongoing care to manage, and can worsen over time if left untreated.
  • Addressing alcoholism involves concurrently addressing any underlying mental health problems, as these conditions can exacerbate each other and worsen the situation.
  • Dealing with alcoholism is more than quitting drinking; it requires a combination of medical assistance, personal support, and lifestyle changes.

It’s understandable if you think that “chronic disease” and “alcoholism” are unrelated topics. But the truth is that they are connected and share a common story.

Health experts worldwide say alcoholism is a chronic disease, but why? What’s the reason behind this correlation? How can we support our loved ones in their battle against alcohol addiction?

In this exploration, you’ll decode scientific language, dispel common myths, and learn how to fight alcohol dependence. So, let’s delve into this important topic, breaking down scientific terminology and debunking myths, to gain a comprehensive understanding of alcohol dependence.

Why is Alcoholism a Chronic Disease?

Alcoholism is considered a chronic disease because it requires long-term, ongoing management and shares characteristics with other chronic conditions, such as persisting over time and potentially worsening if left untreated. Its treatment involves a comprehensive approach, addressing both the addiction and any underlying mental health issues.

The clinical term for alcoholism is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), and it involves more than just drinking excessively. It is a medical condition that impairs a person’s ability to stop drinking despite adverse consequences in their social life, work, and health.

Signs of Alcoholism as a Chronic Disease

When you want to get help for an alcoholic loved one, there are apparent symptoms you can see. Suppose at least two of the following indicators occur within 12 months. In that case, a person may be diagnosed with AUD by a healthcare professional:

  • Your loved one often drinks more than intended or longer than planned.
  • They want to reduce alcohol use, but their attempts are unsuccessful.
  • They spend a lot of time in behaviors necessary to obtain alcohol, use it, or recover from its effects.
  • Intense cravings to consume alcohol.
  • Recurrent alcohol use, resulting in failure to meet their obligations at work, school, or home.

Alcohol Addiction as an Illness

A man displaying alcohol addiction, which is often recognized as an illness, with a glass of whiskey on a desk.

When you have a headache, you take an aspirin or rest. When you catch a cold or flu, rest and ibuprofen might be the battle plan.

But what about when you’re dealing with excessive alcohol use? The steps for understanding and treating alcohol abuse aren’t as straightforward, demanding a deeper dive into the murky waters of the illness paradigm of alcoholism.

Is Alcoholism Curable or Merely Manageable?

The word “Cure” is often associated with positivity and hope, as it signifies a life free from illness. However, when it comes to helping an alcoholic child, is a cure possible?

When you compare it to other common chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, the focus seems to be more on managing the condition than curing it. In fact, recovery is a lifelong process characterized by:

  • Ongoing treatment and therapy
  • Continuous self-care and personal development
  • Controlled alcohol withdrawal and relapse prevention techniques.
  • Conscious commitment to maintaining sobriety

Comparing Alcoholism and Other Chronic Conditions

Perhaps comparing alcoholism can bring more clarity. In the following table, you can see the similarities between alcoholism and other health problems:

Characteristics Alcoholism Diabetes Hypertension
Long-term Yes Yes Yes
Needs continuous management Yes Yes Yes
Impacts on physical and mental health Yes Yes Yes
Biological/genetic predisposition possible Yes Yes Yes

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Unfolding the Disease Model of Alcohol Use Disorder

Looking at alcoholism through the lens of the disease model, you’ll find a completely different perspective on addiction. Rather than blaming individuals, this model views alcoholism as:

  • A disease where alcohol alters brain chemistry, structure, and function.
  • An illness that is not related to weakness or moral failing.
  • A health issue that is not a choice. It’s a disease much like any other.
  • A condition where genetic factors may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to alcohol.

The disease model of addiction offers a lens to view alcoholism as something more. Alcoholism should be addressed like mental health concerns because it takes compassion, understanding, and professional attention to stop alcohol addiction successfully.

The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

A man with a mental disorder, potentially influenced by alcohol abuse, is laying on a bed with a city in the background.

The relationship between alcoholism and mental health issues has complex and intertwined links. To better understand this issue, it’s essential to recognize the connection between alcoholism and mental health and how it may affect your loved one.

Symptoms of Concurring Disorders

Your loved one’s well-being can be affected not only by alcoholism but also by an underlying mental illness. Some signs of this are:

  • Individuals with mental health problems may use alcohol as self-medication.
  • Alcohol misuse can intensify symptoms of existing mental disorders.
  • Mental health issues and alcohol abuse create a cycle where one magnifies the other’s impact, leading to more health issues.

Navigating Recovery with a Dual Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with multiple conditions can make recovering from addiction even more challenging. How can your loved one achieve successful rehabilitation when dealing with two separate diagnoses? They shouldn’t do it alone, so encourage them to follow these tips:

  • Choose a holistic treatment approach to address addiction and mental health disorders.
  • Address the underlying mental health issue first, as it often serves as a foundation for addiction.
  • Combine self-awareness, medical advice, support networks, and healthy coping mechanisms.

Treatment for Alcohol Use and a Lasting Recovery

Dealing with alcoholism can be pretty challenging. It involves understanding how long it takes to become addicted to alcohol and making lifestyle changes. The ultimate goal is to provide people with the necessary tools, skills, and strategies to promote a good life in recovery.

How can your loved one achieve it? They can opt for a treatment program because substance use disorders require medical supervision and professional treatment.

Exploring the Options for Treating Alcoholism

Alcohol Use Disorder does not have a one-size-fits-all treatment strategy. Addiction treatment approaches vary based on someone’s individual needs. Some commonly employed methods include:

  • Detoxification: This is usually the first step, where individuals experience withdrawal symptoms from alcohol in inpatient facilities.
  • Therapies: Evidence-based therapies, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can help individuals recognize environmental factors and manage triggers that lead to alcohol consumption.
  • Medications: Cravings can be managed with medication, reducing the effects of alcohol, or maintaining a balance in disrupted brain mechanisms.
  • Support groups: They offer a sense of community, shared experiences, and mutual support towards sobriety.

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H3: The Role of Rehab in Achieving Lasting Recovery

Picturing alcohol rehab as a simple solution to stop drinking underestimates its potential. Here are some reasons why rehab is crucial for recovery in the long term:

  • It equips individuals with coping mechanisms and preventative strategies to avoid relapse.
  • It provides a safe and supportive environment for recovery.
  • It focuses on personalized treatment plans tailored to your loved one’s needs and challenges.
  • It provides ongoing support and aftercare even after completion of the program.

Approaching Alcoholism as a Disease

A man confronting alcoholism as a disease while sitting at a table with a glass of alcohol.

Alcoholism is recognized as a chronic disease – with this recognition, we should adopt a kinder outlook. Criticizing and being ignorant towards people with alcoholism must be replaced with understanding, professional help, disease control, and prevention.

We should continuously strive to learn about the intricacies of alcoholism and display empathy toward those affected by it. Every bit of knowledge gained brings us closer to helping those struggling with addiction.

If you have a loved one dealing with alcoholism, you are not alone; there is hope for a brighter future. Remember that they deserve a happy life and that achieving long-term recovery is within reach.

Frequently Asked Questions About Why Is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease

Is alcoholism considered a chronic illness?

Yes, alcoholism is widely regarded as a chronic illness by medical and addiction professionals. This view is based on the fact that alcoholism is a long-term and persistent condition, much like other health complications. It requires constant management and often involves periods of relapse and remission.

How does alcohol contribute to chronic disease?

Alcohol can have detrimental effects on the body, leading to chronic diseases. It can damage vital organs such as the liver and brain, disrupt the body’s nutrient balance, and weaken the immune system, making it more vulnerable to diseases. Consistent heavy drinking can cause irreversible damage, resulting in severe conditions such as liver disease or alcohol-related dementia.

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Is alcoholism a chronic disease that is often progressive but not fatal?

Alcoholism is a disease that can progress and become fatal if left untreated. If not intervened and treated, it can lead to severe health complications such as liver disease, heart problems, cancer, and neurological complications, which can be life-threatening.

What is the definition of chronic alcoholism?

Chronic alcoholism, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a disease that involves physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. It lasts for a long time, often lifelong, and is characterized by an irresistible urge to consume alcohol despite its adverse effects on one’s health, relationships, and responsibilities.


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