When Was Alcoholism Recognized As a Disease?
The concept of alcoholism is one that’s complex and difficult to understand, even if it’s something you’re living with or a family member suffers from. There are a lot of misconceptions about alcoholism, and also questions including when was alcoholism recognized as a disease, and what are the ideas behind that classification.
First, having an idea of why alcoholism is a problem is important before exploring the specifics such as when was alcoholism recognized as a disease.
Alcoholism is something that tends to develop or progress, particularly over the years. So a person may start as a social drinker to a heavy drinker, and then ultimately they may be dependent on alcohol, meaning if they don’t have it they experience physical symptoms of withdrawal.
There are many factors believed to contribute to alcoholism including genetics, but also environmental factors such as the environment a person grew up in. It’s believed that people with certain mental disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder may also be more likely to be an alcoholic. Situational factors including easy alcohol access or being in a culture where alcohol use is common can also contribute to problems.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there were around 17 million U.S. adults with an alcohol use disorder in the U.S. in 2012.
The American Medical Association deemed alcoholism as an illness in 1956, based on the theory that excessive drinking and alcohol addiction is caused by a disease of the brain, based on the structure and function of the brain.
Some of the elements of the disease include an inability to control alcohol intake, compulsive thoughts about alcohol and distorted beliefs. The underlying concept of this theory is that the disease of alcoholism can then lead to physical dependence and other diseases like cirrhosis of the liver.
While it’s been many decades since alcoholism was recognized as a disease, there is still debate and controversy surrounding the subject. Some people have said that addiction is a choice, while science has shown that it’s much more complicated than that.
In the medical sense, most professionals look at how alcohol and other substances impact the brain and its reward system that ultimately trigger certain responses, and the brain’s unique features play a significant role in how people experience the use of alcohol.
The American Psychiatric Association defines alcoholism in the same terms as alcohol dependence, and the American Hospital Association, American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, and the American College of Physicians all classify alcoholism as a disease.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has taken the position that alcoholism is a disease. They highlight the fact that the craving an alcoholic feels can be as strong as their craving for life-sustaining food or water. They also hold the position that as part of the disease of alcoholism, a person will continue to drink despite serious consequences, and it’s chronic. They say that it follows a certain course, which is shown the progressive steps of alcoholism, and that it will last a lifetime, with definable symptoms. They also say the risk of developing this disease is influenced by a combination of genetics and lifestyle.
Criticism of the idea of alcoholism as a disease includes the fact that it takes away from the personal choice component of abusing alcohol, and gives an excuse to the person, although again, this is very controversial. Opponents of the disease model also say that this theory and approach doesn’t offer a real solution for people to stop abusing alcohol.
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