Alcoholism Disease

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : DECEMBER 19, 
| 3 Sources

We receive many inquiries into alcoholism disease, alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. This article briefly describes all three, based on the on-going studies many physicians and scientists are doing in order to understand alcoholism and help with its treatment.

Alcoholism was officially recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association in 1991. Overall, like any disease alcoholism follows a pattern, starting out slow and building toward more and more harmful levels of addiction.

It can affect both men and women, but it is more common for men.

Many people who are alcoholics show no visible signs of the disease until they reach a certain level of addiction. This means that many people who become addicted to alcohol initially believe that their drinking levels are acceptable or only cause problems with family members or friends. Like other medical conditions, alcoholism progresses through different stages before it's too late to treat it effectively.

The major difficulty with alcoholism disease is that it isn’t always easy to figure out the triggering mechanism. Each person with the disease is unique and has a wholly individual combination of contributing factors that need to be sorted and recognized.

These factors may include, but are not limited to

  • a person’s environment, 
  • genetics,
  •  having a family member who was alcoholic, 
  • physical or psychological illnesses, 
  • underage drinking. 

Over time this disease may lead to alcohol dependence where a person feels that they simply cannot stop drinking.

They may continue to drink even though they know that this is causing them severe problems. Alcohol dependence can lead to physical symptoms such as shaking and nausea when alcohol is removed from the system.

Alcohol abuse and dependence can be seen as a continuum rather than separate entities, but it's important to understand the differences:

Abuse - alcohol is still being used by those who are abusing it; however, there are no significant functional consequences (such as poor job performance or neglecting family) as a result of using it. It's important to note that people might not see these "functional consequences" as necessarily problematic at first.

They might only recognize that they're facing serious problems with alcohol after they reach peak levels of addiction. As a result, some people may deny that they have a drinking problem until it's almost too late.

Alcohol dependence - as mentioned before, this is where the use of alcohol begins to cause significant functional problems for those who are abusing it. These can include both physical and psychological problems such as liver damage or depression.

Dependence often progresses into the final stage of alcoholism: addiction. This is where an addict's entire life becomes focused on getting and using alcohol. They feel unable to function without it.

As mentioned before, there are also physical symptoms when addicts go through periods of withdrawal or when they haven't taken in any alcohol for prolonged periods of time.


Understanding Alcohol Dependence

Humankind has been making and enjoying alcohol for thousands of years. It has become part of nearly every important occasion from births and weddings to housewarmings and dances.

For young people drinking is also a “right of passage” into adulthood. In effect, alcohol has become part of our social conditioning. When used in moderation, it can even have positive effects.

However, considering that approximately 13 million people in the United States over-indulge, it’s obvious that this drug needs to be treated with care. Alcohol abuse accounts for numerous employment issues, domestic problems, financial struggles and physical illnesses.

Alcoholism disease creates some immediate effects on a person including emotional changes that the individual may find pleasant.

This happens when alcohol releases chemicals in the brain that signal pleasure centers. This pleasurable aspect is part of what causes alcohol dependence in some individuals.

The craving for alcohol grows stronger, and eventually a person cannot control their addiction. Additionally alcoholism lowers a person’s risk-taking constraints, making it easier and easier to consume greater quantities of alcohol even when the dangers are well known.

Alcoholism Disease & Health

Long-term alcohol dependence leads to a variety of moderate to severe health problems. The longer and heavier the consumption, the worse the physical results become.

In pregnant women, drinking can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome that causes deformities or other deficiency in a child that can affect them for life.

For some people alcohol opens the door to becoming dependent on other drugs. Men may experience impotency; women irregularity with their cycle. Additionally both men and women face the possibility of depression, heart problems, cancer, and liver disease just to name a few.

You can follow this link to learn more about the medical consequences of alcohol abuse.

Getting Help

If you or someone you know has a drinking problem there are numerous medical, social and religious organizations that you can turn to for assistance and information.

It is very important for friends and family members of an alcoholic to be educated about this disease, it’s signs, progression, and risks. It is also important that friends and family have a support system to help during difficult times.

Alcoholism is a life long disease that takes time and serious commitment to manage. The drinker must be ready and willing to make a change, and dedicate themselves to staying sober so that their quality of life returns.

Stopping drinking may not reverse all the negative effects of alcoholism, but it will negate the stress on one’s job and family that alcoholism brings.

If you are ready to put a stop to alcoholism, reach out to a treatment provider today. They can provide you with the ideal alcoholism treatment options and programs for you.

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

Related Information

What Causes Alcoholism - Follow this link to learn more about the causes of alcoholism disease.

Alcoholic Rehab - Find out about the five primary components of an alcohol rehab program so that you choose the right program for your needs.

What is Alcoholism - Information about alcoholism including the definition of an alcoholic. Learn about the signs and symptoms, and how it affects family, friends and coworkers.

Definition of Alcoholism - Find out the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Although many people think alcoholism is not a disease, experts tell us that addiction is an illness. Follow the links to learn more.

Acute Alcoholism - Important information about the short-term impact of heavy drinking on the body and brain.

Alcoholic Treatment Center - Learn about the treatment process at an alcohol rehab center.

Information on Alcohol Abuse - Take this self-test and see if you have a drinking problem. Read about the signs of alcohol abuse.

Alcoholic Denial - It is very common for alcoholics to lie about their condition. Being prepared for this will make it easier for family, friends and coworkers to cope. Find out what to expect.

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