Alcoholism as a Disease: Intervention Information

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : FEBRUARY 14, 
| 2 Sources

Since the late 1700’s numerous scientists and physicians have regarded alcoholism as a disease. The symptom of alcohol abuse is simple – the individual in question feels the need to drink even in the face of severe health risks.

Some individuals who become addicted may require alcohol intervention to regain control, while others seem able to overcome their struggles privately.

Alcoholism follows a fairly predictable pattern, starting out slowly and growing over time. There is speculation that heavy drinkers may be influenced by a brain disease that influences whether or not a person becomes addicted.

Not everyone agrees with this theory, but in 1939 the idea was explored by E. Morton Jellinek in, The Disease Concept of Alcoholism. By 1956 the American Medical Association agreed that alcoholism is an illness, followed in 1980 by classifying it as a “disabling condition,” and in 1991 the AMA finally sanctioned the classification of alcoholism as a disease.

There is no one cause for alcoholism, but we do know that several factors influence the development and severity of the disease. These factors include genetic predisposition, environmental influences, family history, gender, psychological or physiological conditions, and the age at which a person begins drinking.

Long term alcoholics face numerous potential physical and psychological issues including memory loss, liver failure, and heart problems. The damages caused by this disease can sometimes be reversed partially if caught in time, and if a person stops abusing alcohol. This is where alcohol intervention can become helpful if handled carefully.

Diagnosing Alcoholism as a Disease

Diagnosing the alcoholism as a disease can be done using some basic criteria.

  • First, the person will begin to show increased tolerance to alcohol. 
  • Second, a person may experience withdrawal similar to other substance abuse victims. 
  • Third, the person is unable to cut down or stop drinking (even in the face of viable consequences), and finally they spend a lot of time focused on managing their habit. Many alcoholics deny their problem repeatedly, which delays treatment and recovery.

Alcohol Intervention

An intervention is when someone confronts the alcoholic with his or her problem, especially how it’s effecting work, friendships, family, etc. The goal is to get the alcoholic into treatment. However, experts tell us that any intervention should be a well-considered matter that occurs in a safe, supportive environment.

If you can find a person or group who specializes in interventions, that’s recommended.

Having said that, there are other types of interventions including clinical, professional and private.

  • Clinical interventions (from a private physician or counselor) offer the considerable advantage of a controlled setting with someone more experienced in handling the topic effectively.
  • Professional interventions (done with the help of an employer) are not so controllable, and may leave the alcoholic feeling embarrassed among peers. 

This awkwardness holds true for private interventions (done by families and friends), especially since most families have no training in effective intervention techniques.

It’s very important that the alcoholic doesn’t feel abused, trapped, or betrayed or the alcohol intervention is unlikely to be successful. Worse, the impact on the family can be devastating. Even if the individual agrees to treatment they’re starting out with a negative attitude and may hold that grudge (which can become a contributing factor to relapse).

Some people believe that alcohol intervention doesn’t really work unless the person is truly ready for help.

Since there is no quick cure for alcoholism as a disease, intervention and treatment requires a commitment from the alcoholic that will be life-long. 

More about alcoholism as a disease on our alcoholism intervention page

Alcoholism home page

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More