Is Alcoholism a disease?

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Is Alcoholism a disease?

This was an idea from another thread.

Apparently many of us (even the dictionary) seem to think alcoholism is a disease. I disagree. There may be a gene that makes some people more prone to addiction, but addictive personality types can become addicted to anything. Alcohol is merely more convenient than many other drugs/habits. If gambling addiction is an addiction, not a disease, and cigarette smoking is an addiction (or even if you think it’s just a bad habit), how come addiction to alcohol is not treated the same?

I am not saying alcoholism isn’t a serious problem. I just think it might make more sense to inject a bit of personal responsibility into the mix here. If any other kind of addict is blamed for their addiction, shouldn’t the alcoholic be blamed for ingesting more alcohol than is healthy? Sure they may have a genetic predilection for addiction (though I doubt they have a genetic predilection for alcoholism specifically), but does that mean there’s no hope? I don’t think that’s the case.

I also feel as though alcoholism is very difficult to define. Most diseases are you have them or you don’t. With alcoholism almost every rubric for deciding if you have a problem is different.

For instance, though I’m not longer a teen, I answered yes to seven of the questions. Supposedly you’re at risk with just two.

So I took another one.

Here’s what is said:

You answered 6 items out of 20 Yes.

Your score is 30%. According to the Office of Health Care Programs, Johns Hopkins University Hospital, developers of this screening quiz, if you answered 3 of these questions with a Yes it is a definite sign that your drinking patterns are harmful and possibly considered alcohol dependent or alcoholic. You may want to seek an evaluation by a healthcare professional.

Intrigued, as I don’t think of myself as an alcoholic, and although my friends think I drink a lot, they don’t think I’m an alcoholic either. And they know me pretty well. Anyway, so I was intrigued, so I looked around the site and I found this little article.

Hmm, doesn’t sound like me. Seems it must be compulsive. My drinking is not compulsive, as much as it’s habitual, and cultural. When I’m in a different environment, I often “forget†to drink when I usually do and I don’t feel the same urge as when I miss a smoke. Often I won’t realize I haven’t drank for several days unless Andy or Tim say something about the last time they drank.

So I kept looking around, and I found this:

Symptoms of Alcoholism:

· Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.

· Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.

· Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.

· Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high.â€

Okay, I’m absolved. None of that sounds like me. I feel better. But why would all the quizzes make it seem as though I am an alcoholic, when I’m clearly not?

Why, after reading these and several other sites do I notice a lot of references to God as the main part of the solution? Check out what the twelve steps actually entail.

So we have a disease that only god can cure?

Okay, there’s a few other options.

Still though, basically these places just lock you up long enough to dry you out. You’re not cured if you can’t leave these places without falling off the wagon. I also am not sure you’re “cured†if you cannot drink normally, but have to abstain for the rest of your life.

I have one last important link to read before you vote.

this site explains the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse. They say any more than 2 drinks for a man in a night is abuse. Apparently, my alcohol problem may be real after all. I’m not an alcoholic, I’m an alcohol abuser. Hmmm. I still disagree. Somehow I find that number a bit low. When we go out even the DD has a few early in the night. Then we make them stop until they’ve sat there an hour per beer so we can get home safely. I don’t think it comes down to the volume of alcohol actually consumed, but down to the purpose or the intent of the drinking. We don’t drink to get drunk, though sometimes we do get a bit tipsy, we drink because we were brought up to drink in certain circumstances. It’s much more cultural than it is fueling an addiction. Couple beers/glasses of wine after work while the family discusses the day; Bloody Mary’s on Sunday morning (if I’m not working); a few beers while we grill up dinner—if we’re grilling; Couple beers while watching sports; a few beers here and there, That’s normal; it doesn’t affect my job or drive my family away, in fact, the moments when I’m hanging out with my dad, or my close friends on a nice night with a cold brew have been some of my fondest memories.

So to wrap up, what are your thoughts on alcohol, it’s role in society, and what constitutes abuse of it? What about alcoholism? Disease? Curable?


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I dunno, I looked at the quiz you referred to from (second quiz) and I see many combinations of two questions that would raise a huge red flag to me that there is an alcohol problem.

This addresses why alcoholism doesn't seem like a disease, but why it is:

We can all argue whether we think it is a disease or not, but it is considered a disease by the following organizations out there and it is hard to argue with their expertise and stance. This article actually admits that there are a lot of medical practitioners out there that don't believe it is a disease, but concludes as to why it is.

During the past 35 years, numerous studies by behavioral and social scientists have supported Jellinek’s contentions about alcoholism as a disease. The American Medical Association endorsed the concept in 1957. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the World Health Organization and the American College of Physicians have also classified alcoholism as a disease. In addition, the findings of investigators in the late 1970s led to explicit criteria for an "alcohol dependence syndrome" which are now listed in the DSM IIR, DSM IV, and the ICD manual. In a 1992 JAMA article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine published this definition for alcoholism: "Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic."
Alcoholism should not be judged as a problem of willpower, misconduct, or any other unscientific diagnosis. The problem must be accepted for what it is—a biopsychosocial disease with a strong genetic influence, obvious signs and symptoms, a natural progression and a fatal outcome if not treated.

Sure there's hope for people who suffer from alcoholism just like there is hope for people who have cancer, aids, etc. It doesn't mean one can't be cured and it doesn't necessarily mean they will be cured forever.


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It's a disease because Mitch Hedberg says so. :D

"Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only one you can get yelled at for having. 'Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic." "Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupus' ... one of those two doesn't sound right."


It's a disease because Mitch Hedberg says so. :D

"Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only one you can get yelled at for having. 'Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic." "Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupus' ... one of those two doesn't sound right."
:lol: :lol: Exactly my thought when I saw the thread title.
RIP Mitch.


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I answered yes to two of the questions on the first screener and I'm certainly not an alcoholic.

"2. Do you drink to “loosen yourself up†when around people?"
Who doesn't?

"7. Have you even passed out from drinking?"
Sheesh, it was only a couple of times when I first started drinking.


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Alcoholism is not a disease in the sense that it's not an affliction or something you can "catch". I think that you're probably either born with it, or develop it at a very early stage. My dad's a sober alcoholic going on his 5th year, and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), along with the Minnesota treatment (sp?) has helped him immensely. He says he's had alcoholic symptoms since he started drinking around age 16 or so.

It can't be cured the same way a regular disease can, but with the right help/treatment and a good amount of willpower, it can be controlled. On rare occasions, recovered alcoholics can go back to "regular" modest normal-people drinking, but it's a terrible idea since he/she will fall back at some point.

If you think you're an alcoholic, you can always show up at an AA meeting and you won't have to speak, you can just listen. Alot of people do that. Just don't show up drunk...
I reject alcoholism as a disease. The idea of genes being encoded with rates of use for man-made products that didn't exist when the genes came into being is pretty ludicrous to me. There might be genes that influence addictive behavior, but if that's the basis for alcoholism being a disease, then any and all addictive behaviors should be classified as such, rather than having "alcoholism" as a disease and pretty much every other addiction being either a felony or ignored entirely.

The main problem with the gene argument would be that the individual in question still has to make the conscious decision to over-consume alcohol (or whatever other addictive product) on numerous occasions before one can become addicted, even if one is predisposed to addiction. Joe-split-a-six-pack-with-his-buddy-on-the-weekend can't become an alcoholic.


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I only got a 1 but that was on the lost time one so i guess a lot of the other stuff could'a happened, i just don't remember.


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I got a 7 - I win (hic)! (Ok, so I cheated... f'rinstance, I like the George Thoroughgood song "I drink alone", and having the doctor tell me to cut out liquor to lose weight is quite a stretch - but how many of you haven't regretted the previous night's drinking when you wake?)

I thought the quiz was going to be a little more pansy-oriented, but at least it wasn't asking pop-psych questions and drawing serious inferences from them. Too often this "everyone needs a disease" mentality smells of Political Correctness to me. Even worse is the subtle inference that you can "catch" alchoholism, like from a drunken relative or friend.

Yes a predilection for alchohol can be very dangerous and I don't think there's many drunks that can avoid such temptations yet continue to indulge. Are there many smack addicts that can get back on, once they've gone clean, yet not fall back into the addiction?


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Alcoholism is a disease. It has a genetic component. My grandfather had it; my sister has it. She's sober now, but she'll be alcoholic for the rest of her life. There's no going back to casual, social drinking for her.

It's not physically treatable. You can't prescribe medicine that makes an alcoholic suddenly able to have one or two beers and stop there. It is treatable in the mental conditioning sense--that's what groups like AA do. They provide the environment alcoholics need to recognize their condition and persuade themselves to stay away from the substance that is so dangerous to them.

If alcoholism were nothing more than one facet of an addictive personality, you'd see huge overlap in the populations of alcoholics, gamblers, smokers, and lotto ticket purchasers. But this isn't statistically the case. (Well, although I guess you might see a number of alcoholics who took up smoking to give their hands something else to do than shake as they unscrewed yet another bottle of whiskey.)


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Not a disease. And AA is a load of crap. It's religious in nature, and is sometimes made mandatory by the courts. Doesn't sound right at all.
I think the problem is that like with many other things today, society and those who are opposed to the substance misrepresent it in such a way as to make it seem much worse than it is.

Is alcohol a dangerous substance? Absolutely. Can it be devastating for some people and absolutely ruin them? Absolutely. Can other people handle it responsibly or even irresponsibly without serious impacts on their daily lives? Absolutely.

I'm not going to even bother with those tests. I can guarantee you every one of them tells me I should rush straight to the nearest hospital and check myself in because when I had a few friends over for a nice dinner on Saturday night we went through three bottles of wine (the horror!).

What is dangerous behavior for one person is not for another, in my opinion. My college freshman roommate was a good contrast to me in this sense. We both drank 6 nights a week freshman year. We would both black out--he would black out frequently (read: 90% of the time), I would black out very infrequently (read: only when I'd drank so much that I should have by all rights been in the hospital instead of my bathroom floor). He would often get aggressive, belligerent, or downright violent when drunk. I would usually just bring girls home or befriend random people. He got to the point where he questioned his ability to go more than a few days without drinking. I stopped without realizing it as soon as I went home for the holidays. He would be conscious of the fact that he was sober and felt like he should have a drink. I wouldn't notice it unless I was going out to party and was sober.

Did we both drink too much? Absolutely. Was it alcohol abuse? Sure, and as freshmen in college, we wore that fact on our sleeves. Was it healthy? Ha. Did it make us both alcoholics? Now here's the million dollar question. I have no doubt in my mind that he's an alcoholic. In fact, he's gained control of it. He rarely, if ever drinks, and while he has not quit cold turkey, he limits himself to one or two beers because he's become so aware of how badly he tends to **** up when he's drunk. I won't get into stories, but some of them are just agonizing. He's actually afraid of being drunk, and has a very healthy respect for alcohol. Am I an alcoholic? Not hardly. Do I drink heavily, even excessively? Well, when I do drink, I tend to, yes. I even get obnoxious, annoying, and occasionally very grouchy when drunk. Unlike my former roommate, however, I am not conscious of the fact that I am sober when I do not drink. I almost never drink unless I'm out with friends (and if I do drink when I'm not out with a lot of people, I'm enjoying a nice pint or glass of wine at home with my fiancee to unwind). I don't wake up the next morning after I go out drinking wondering where I am, what I did last night, and who I need to apologize to.

I guess that's my take on it, if you can wade through it and make sense of it. There are certainly some people who undeniably have problems with the substance such that we could call it a disease (though I'm not a doctor, have no medical training, and very little knowledge of the field, so I use that term loosely), but it is difficult to nail down. There are other people who can go toe to toe with alcoholics and walk away from it the next day without looking back.

One final note--there is nothing that screams "ignorant" to me more than someone who will sit there and tell me that I am an alcoholic because I like to go out with my buddies on a Friday night and drink to get drunk. Judge all you want, tell me how wrong it is to want to unwind and get a little messy, but don't start telling me I have a disease and need medical attention because I choose not to be a stuffed shirt all the time. If I had a problem, my close friends would be concerned, and frankly I'd be concerned. Until, however, I start drinking more often than 2 or 3 times in 2 weeks, you're going to get laughed at. I'm not denying that there are people out there who cannot handle going out and getting smashed once in a while, but you have to keep in mind that there are people who can.


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DrunkPotHead said:
Not a disease. And AA is a load of crap. It's religious in nature, and is sometimes made mandatory by the courts. Doesn't sound right at all.
It saved my sister's life, but yeah, you have all the answers. Whatever.
DrunkPotHead said:
Look at their success rate. Same as if they tried to cure themselves. 5%.
DPH, try to be a bit more sensitive here. Some people need a little more motivation or group support to fight the problem. If that means AA and religion, so be it. At that point in people's lives, the alternative is not something worth contemplating. We're not talking about your average college drinker here, we're talking about alcoholics.

People who legitimately have issues with alcohol need to deal with the problem in whatever way they can. If AA is the way they choose to do so and it works for them, more power to them.


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DrunkCajun said:
DPH, try to be a bit more sensitive here. Some people need a little more motivation or group support to fight the problem. If that means AA and religion, so be it. At that point in people's lives, the alternative is not something worth contemplating. We're not talking about your average college drinker here, we're talking about alcoholics.

People who legitimately have issues with alcohol need to deal with the problem in whatever way they can. If AA is the way they choose to do so and it works for them, more power to them.
The problem that i have with AA is that they are a front for religious conversion. That would be all fine and dandy EXCEPT that it is sometimes made mandatory by courts and employers.


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After all this typing, I need a drink

From a psychiatrist's point of view, alcoholism is a disease. It is a treatable disease but it is not entirely curable (as relapse is possible). There is a difference between alcohol intoxication, dependence, and abuse (for more information about the differences, you can PM me but the real issue here is whether or not alcoholism is a disease; for this argument, I consider alcohol abuse and dependence to be subtypes of alcoholism and thus disease states). Suffice to say, alcohol can cause so many physical and psychological problems that it can be considered a disease-causing substance. As such, the continuous use and abuse of alcohol leads to the disease of alcoholism.

Anyone who thinks that they are not addicted to alcohol, please try this little experiment. Try to go 14 days without a drop of alcohol and see what happens (in fact, document what happens). If you go through withdrawal, if you substitute one activity in place of drinking, if you shut down emotionally, you may well be addicted. Then, come to me and tell me that you aren't addicted to alcohol.