Alcoholism is Not a Disease

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  November 29 ,
| 4 Sources

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.

Treating the Disease of Alcoholism

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,
  • mental health technicians. 

Believing alcoholism is not a disease seems unreasonable in this light.


What About AA?

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 fact, members of Alcoholics Anonymous are encouraged to seek whatever kind of medical care they need.

Although many people find AA helpful, the twelve steps do not work for everyone. It is important that alcoholics do not remain in this program if it isn't working for them. As you can see, it was only designed to help those with a serious problem who have sought out medical intervention and found it lacking or ineffective.

So Why do Some People Still Believe Alcoholism is 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.

It's also possible that some believe alcoholism is a disease but still struggle to accept the fact that they have it. Denial is a common symptom of alcoholism. It can be hard for someone who has had years of denial to finally admit the truth about his or her condition and ask for help.

There is nothing wrong with this-in fact, it shows just how strong an addict can be! As we've said above, many alcoholics need inpatient treatment in order to overcome their denial about having a serious problem and make the decision to get help on their own or continue on an outpatient basis as needed.

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. 

Until then, those who have been diagnosed with alcoholism may often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to convincing others that the medical model of alcoholism is not a bad thing.

But the sooner people understand that alcoholics do not choose to have a drinking problem, and when they do fully understand that alcoholism is a disease, the easier it will be for all involved.

Addiction treatment centers offer help for those suffering from alcohol abuse, but the public must also learn about the disease and how it affects millions of Americans every year. If we can better educate the public about alcoholism and its treatment, we might just end some of the misconceptions people have about it.

If you need more information or would like to find a treatment program in your area, please contact a dedicated treatment provider today. You will be in good hands, and you can find help for your loved one.

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

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