Is Alcoholism A Disease?


Is alcoholism a disease? Perhaps to those who ascribe to self-control, will-power, and self determination, alcoholism is seen more as a weakness or a character flaw than a disease.

Certainly a person has control over whether or not he or she will start to drink alcohol.

Once, however, a person starts to abuse alcohol and eventually becomes dependent on alcohol, that person is caught in the grips of a disease that is uncontrollable, debilitating, and potentially fatal without the appropriate treatment.

The Pleasant Experience of Drinking Alcohol

For most individuals who drink, alcohol is an enjoyable experience, especially when they drink in moderation and are engaged in social and recreational activities.


Not only this, but in most situations, drinking in moderation is not harmful for most adults.

A significant number of individuals, nonetheless, cannot consume any alcoholic drinks because of the many problems and difficulties they encounter when they ingest alcohol.

Just how many people should not or can not drink alcoholic beverages? According to current research findings, approximately 14 million Americans abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent.

Not only this, but according to the alcoholism research literature, approximately 53 per cent of adults in the United States have claimed that one or more of their close relatives has a drinking problem.

The Debilitating and Unhealthy Effects of Alcoholism

The consequences of alcoholism are not only serious, but in many instances, fatal.

For instance, excessive drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, such as cancer of the kidneys, esophagus, liver, rectum, larynx, colon, and throat.

Moreover, heavy, chronic drinking can also lead to harm to the fetus while the mother is pregnant, problems with the immune system, brain damage, and cirrhosis of the liver.

In addition, drinking alcohol increases the risk of death from motor vehicle accidents and alcohol-related injuries and accidents in recreational activities and in the workplace.

Finally, research studies have verified that homicides and suicides are more likely to committed by individuals who have been drinking.

In basic economic terms, alcohol-related issues and problems cost the people in the United States approximately $200 billion per year.

In human terms, however, the cost of the following alcohol-related issues cannot be measured or calculated: destroyed lives, illnesses, traffic fatalities, wife battering, broken homes, child abuse, failed health, and injuries.

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Many individuals mistakenly think that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are the same.

This probably stems form the fact that the two concepts are relatively similar.

Alcohol abuse, unlike alcoholism, however, does not include an extremely strong desire for alcohol, the loss of control due to drinking, or physical dependence.

Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following within a twelve-month time period:

  • Drinking in situations that can result in physical injury. Examples include driving a vehicle or operating machinery.

  • Experiencing recurring alcohol-related legal problems. Examples include getting arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, for damaging someone's property, or for physically hurting someone while drunk.

  • Failure to attend to important responsibilities at work, home, or school.

  • Continued drinking in spite of ongoing relationship problems that are the result of drinking.

A Definition of Alcoholism

Also known as alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence, alcoholism is a progressive degenerative disease that includes the following symptoms:

  • Tolerance: The need to drink increasing amounts of alcohol in order to "feel the buzz" or to "get high."

  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms when a person quits drinking after a period of heavy drinking. Such symptoms include: nausea, "the shakes," sweating, and anxiety.

  • Craving: A strong and continuing need or compulsion to drink.

  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one's drinking over time or during a particular event or occasion.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Perhaps the best way of focusing on alcoholism as a disease is to examine the withdrawal symptoms that occur when a heavy drinker stops drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a collection of symptoms manifested by individuals who suddenly quit drinking alcohol after a pattern of excessive and repetitive consumption.

These symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe and include both behavioral and psychological components.

Mild to Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms

The following list represents mild to moderate physical symptoms that typically take place within 6 to 48 hours after the last alcoholic drink:

  • Rapid heart rate Looking pale, without color

  • Loss of appetite

  • Eyes or pupils different size (enlarged, dilated pupils)

  • Headaches (especially those that pulsate)

  • Clammy skin

  • Sweating (especially on the face or the palms of the hands)

  • Abnormal movements

  • Nausea

  • Insomnia, sleeping difficulties

  • Tremor of the hands

  • Involuntary, abnormal movements of the eyelids

  • Vomiting

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

The following features a list of severe symptoms that usually occur within 48 to 96 hours after the last alcoholic drink:

  • Severe autonomic nervous system overactivity

  • Visual hallucinations

  • Fever

  • Black outs

  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

  • Convulsions

  • Seizures

  • Muscle tremors

What To Do When Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

The first concern when experiencing alcohol withdrawal should be who you should contact about the alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Stated differently, when experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, always see your doctor or healthcare provider immediately so that he or she can evaluate the seriousness of your situation and recommend the most effective treatment for your particular circumstance.


Conclusion: Is Alcoholism A Disease?

Is alcoholism a disease or is it a character flaw or a weakness? Clearly, an individual has control over whether or not he or she will start to drink alcohol.

Once, however, an individual starts to abuse alcohol and eventually becomes alcohol dependent, he or she is caught in the grips of a disease that is extremely unhealthy, damaging, and potentially fatal without treatment.

Indeed, an examination of the withdrawal symptoms that result when a heavy drinker abruptly stops drinking reinforces the assertion that alcoholism is, in fact, a disease.