Alcoholism is a complicated disease, and it’s difficult to understand, along with being hard to live with, not just for the people who are addicted to alcohol but also their family members.
First, it’s important to understand what alcoholism is, why alcoholism is a problem, and when alcoholism becomes a disease.
Alcohol use disorder was previously broken into two categories which were abuse and dependence by the medical community, but now it’s measured on a spectrum. Depending on the number of criteria a person displays, they can be diagnosed as having mild to severe alcoholism.
Some of the abuse diagnosis criteria include having a craving to use alcohol, drinking more than was intended, or continuing to use alcohol despite problems in relationships.
Research shows that alcohol use disorder is also often found in conjunction with other mental illnesses including bipolar disorder and major depression.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are huge problems in the U.S., with nearly 27 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 believed to have suffered from alcohol use disorder in the past year. Some of the reasons why alcoholism is a problem can be seen at not just a personal level for people, but also a societal level.
Reasons why alcoholism is a problem at the personal level include the fact that it diminishes the health and relationships of the addicted person, and they may be more likely to sustain injuries, hurt someone else, have financial problems and ultimately end up dying as a result of their alcoholism.
Many of the effects at the societal level are similar and include high healthcare costs, drunk driving and similar accidents, and losses in productivity.
These are just a brief overview of the reasons why alcoholism is a problem. It also can destroy the lives of children who grow up in these homes, lead to unemployment problems, and it can be something that impacts several generations of a family because of a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
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At the start of the 20th-century people with alcohol problems were seen as morally corrupt, and that led to the sense that addiction should be punished. In the 1930s AA was formed as a way to help people with addiction problems, and E.M. Jellinek wrote a book about alcoholism around the same time which started the concept of alcoholism as a disease. Under his theory, alcoholism was not just a disease but included stages through which the addicted person would go through.
These stages are still regarded today, and they start with the pre-alcoholic phase and early alcoholic stage. During the earlier stages, someone will often start drinking socially and may develop a tolerance. They may also start to think about alcohol more often, and blackouts may occur.
Then, as alcoholism progresses they may start to lose control, drink at inappropriate times, or have problems with their relationships and daily lives.
The chronic phase of alcoholism is when drinking is the primary focus of a person’s life, when they have resulting health problems, they drink nearly all the time, and they have both cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
One of the main reasons why alcoholism is a disease is because it does have some genetic components that play a role in its development. Also, the physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms that accompany alcoholism are reasons it’s considered a disease. For example, if you are a chronic alcoholic and you stop drinking, you will experience physical side effects such as shaking and nausea.
Alcoholism is characterized as a brain disease, resulting from the alterations alcohol use makes in the brain, changing its function and therefore also changing the behavior patterns of the addicted person.
You may start drinking casually, and then more heavily, which could constitute an abuse problem, but not necessarily the disease of alcoholism.
When alcoholism becomes a disease is when you try to stop and can’t, continue despite sometimes extremely adverse outcomes, and when you have a physical dependence on alcohol and experience withdrawal if you try to stop.
There are ways medical providers can diagnose when alcoholism becomes a disease, because of sets of criteria and signs and symptoms.