Chronic Alcoholism


Chronic alcoholism is a serious disease. Alcohol addiction can be a chronic illness just like diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, or high blood pressure. Yet, the perception is often that alcohol and drug addiction are acute conditions.

That’s not really the case, though. Diabetes requires lifelong management. There is no cure, but it can be managed with diet, exercise, and insulin. Despite the best management tools, diabetics may sometimes experience problems due to their condition.

Alcohol addiction is much the same way. It can be managed, but it is generally believed that there is no cure. Those coping with chronic alcoholism can manage their disease with drug and alcohol counseling, treatment programs, twelve step groups, and other relapse prevention tools. Despite their best efforts, alcoholics may sometimes relapse.

Complications of Chronic Alcoholism

Just as there can be complications of diabetes, there are also a number of complications of chronic alcoholism. Complications include:

  • Chronic malnutrition
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Pancreatitis
  • Heart disease
  • Certain forms of cancer (including cancer of the esophagus, colon, and in women, breast cancer)
  • Liver disease

The longer a person has been drinking, the greater the risk that they will develop these complications. If a person drinks heavily and continues drinking for several years, it is almost guaranteed that they will develop liver disease. Some forms of liver disease are treatable, but for those who drink heavily for more than ten years, a liver transplant is often the only treatment available.

Treating Chronic Alcoholism

When you accept that alcohol addiction is a chronic disease, it changes the face of treatment. Twenty-one days in a rehab facility is not going to do it. Instead, treatment must be set in place for the long haul.

We’re not suggesting that an initial intensive treatment is not useful. It is. But following inpatient rehab, outpatient services are indicated. An intensive outpatient program can follow inpatient care. Then a less intensive outpatient program can begin. After that, on-going services may include individual counseling, a support group, and/or a twelve-step program.

A plan should also be set in place to step up the level of treatment if relapse occurs. It should be recognized that despite the best efforts of the recovering alcoholic, relapse is common. Understanding this allows treatment providers to arrange flexible levels of care. This way the level of care can be adjusted to best meet the needs of the alcoholic.

Medical care is also an important component of treating chronic alcohol addiction. Medical care includes medically supervised detoxification, but should not stop there. There are a number of medical complications of the disease, as specified above. Ongoing medical care is often necessary to treat these serious health conditions. Ideally, medical care is coordinated with other forms of treatment.

Is Alcohol Addiction Always Chronic?

Yes, it is. At least, that’s what many experts say. That’s why alcoholics are said to be “in recovery” instead of recovered, even they haven’t had a drink in months or years. That’s also why it’s so important to provide follow-up care after inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment. Ongoing care is necessary to help prevent relapse.

Just like diabetics have to be proactive about their health and eat right, exercise, and take their insulin, alcoholics also have to actively take steps to manage their disease. Just as diabetics need to work closely with a doctor to manage their illness, alcoholics need to work closely with a professional to plan the best care for themselves. They may need to work with both a medical doctor to treat alcohol-related health problems and a drug and alcohol counselor to address other addiction issues.






More than chronic alcoholism on our alcoholism facts page

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