Why Is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease?

One of the primary questions a lot of people have about addiction is why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease? There are many things that not just alcoholism but other drug addictions have in common with chronic illnesses, which will be detailed below.

Why Is Alcoholism Considered a Chronic Disease?
Before looking at the specifics of why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease, it can be helpful to understand what the medical definition of a chronic disease is.

A chronic disease is classified as one that lasts three months or more, and there are some features they share in common including the fact vaccines can’t prevent them, they can’t be cured by medicine, and they don’t just go away. In general, chronic diseases impact older Americans more prevalently, with 88 percent of Americans over the age of 65 believed to have at least one chronic health condition. There are some behaviors that contribute to chronic diseases including using tobacco, not being physically active and having poor eating habits.

Some of the most common chronic diseases include arthritis, cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, obesity and oral issues.

Chronic disease are the top cause of disability and death in the U.S. according to the CDC, with an estimated seven out of ten deaths each year resulting from chronic diseases. Many chronic conditions, while there is no cure, can be managed or treated with changes to lifestyle or certain medicines.

The Mayo Clinic defines a chronic disease as one that progresses over time. This means it gets worse without treatment, and this definition is an important part of understand why alcoholism is considered a chronic disease.

While there are medications that can treat the symptoms of many chronic conditions, these drugs often have their own sets of side effects, and they may also interact with one another.

Now that we’ve highlighted what a chronic disease is, you may still be wondering why alcoholism is considered a chronic disease.

First and foremost, alcoholism is considered a chronic disease because it has some elements of heritability, meaning there are genetic components and it can run in families.

At the same time, when looking at why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease, environmental factors are also part of the equation. For example, consider diabetes. There are some genetic components that influence whether or not you develop diabetes, and also environmental factors, such as diet and exercise. It’s similar to alcoholism. You may be genetically more predisposed to developing alcoholism, and then if you grow up in an environment where alcohol is prevalent, this can also contribute.

As with other complex chronic disease, with alcoholism, there are environmental risk factors and genetics that work together and determine the course of the disease.

Also when defining alcoholism as a chronic disease, you’ll see that it can be identified and diagnosed based on certain symptoms, as with other diseases, and with professional treatment, it can be managed. Often treatment options include a combination of certain medications as well as therapy and cognitive behavioral treatment.

When alcoholism isn’t being properly treated and managed, relapse is possible, which is the case with other chronic diseases. This can again go back to the diabetes example. While you can’t necessarily cure your diabetes, you can keep it under control with proper management including lifestyle choices like exercise and a healthy diet, and medications. If you stop doing these things, your diabetes would be out of control, and there would be adverse consequences.

This applies to alcoholism as well. While your alcoholism might not ever be cured, if you participate in a rehab program or a group like AA, and possibly take certain medicines while also making lifestyle changes, you can keep it under control. Otherwise, you’re putting yourself at risk for relapse.

Relevant to the discussion of why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease is the progressive nature of it as well. Alcoholism is defined as moving through stages, and certain symptoms and behaviors mark each stage. For example, during early stage alcoholism, the person is usually drinking larger amounts and becoming more secretive or elusive about what they’re doing.

As alcoholism progresses, behaviors become more out of control, and there are also more health symptoms that begin to appear as well.

Since alcoholism is considered a chronic disease with a long-term course, it’s important that treatment addresses this concept. The best treatment plans are typically also long-term, and the evolve over time to continue addressing the changing needs of the individual as they move through the steps of recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.