Some people still believe that alcoholism is not a disease, but experts in the field tell us that addiction is in fact an illness just like any other.
The “alcoholism not a disease” way of thinking views alcoholism as a weakness or a moral failure. But experts point to the fact that alcoholism is at least in part genetic, and to the fact that it responds to professional, medical treatment.
Like many other illnesses, alcoholism is a chronic disease - it lasts a person’s lifetime. It follows a predictable course. It has recognizable symptoms. There is also a recognized course of treatment.
It’s not enough for an alcoholic to want to get better, and it’s not a matter of needing to “try harder.” That might work if alcoholism is not a disease. But it is a disease, and medical care is needed, just as for any other disease.
The first step to treating the disease of alcoholism is medical treatment. The patient may need to detox, which should be done under medical supervision. In addition, the alcoholic patient may have health problems related to alcoholism that require treatment. Believing “alcoholism not a disease” can be a dangerous way of thinking, as it can prevent alcoholics from receiving the medical treatment they need.
After detoxing and addressing any urgent health needs, alcoholics still require treatment. Depending on the extent of their illness, many require further medical care. Many require inpatient treatment, which is often provided in a hospital setting. Care is provided by a number of professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, counselors, and mental health technicians. Believing alcoholism is not a disease seems unreasonable in this light.
You may be wondering about Alcoholics Anonymous. Nowhere in the 12 steps does it say that alcoholism is a disease. There is also a strong spiritual component to the program. So do they believe that alcoholism is not a disease? Do they believe that turning to God is the answer?
No. In fact, AA was started by a doctor at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, along with an alcoholic who sought a new model for recovery. It was designed to facilitate the recovery of alcoholics from the disease of alcoholism. While there is a spiritual component to the program, that is not meant to take the place of medical care. Medical care is not provided by AA, and should be sought elsewhere. AA is strictly a self-help support group. Never do they recommend that alcoholics should reject medical care or suggest alcoholism not a disease.
In many cases, it may simply be a lack of education. They believe alcoholism not a disease because they have not been educated about the medical model of alcoholism. In alcohol treatment programs, alcoholics are educated about the condition and how it is in fact a disease. Most treatment programs have a family component as well, and family members will also be educated about the condition.
But the general public may not understand alcoholism very well. They often view drinking as something a person chooses to do, and at first, it is a choice. The problem for alcoholics is that at some point, they lose control. They become addicted and the disease takes over. They need treatment in order to regain control of their lives. Perhaps organizations concerned with drug and alcohol addiction will one day provide better public education programs so that the general public can better understand why alcoholism is a disease.
For further information or questions about alcoholism, please write to us.