There are many people in society who see alcoholism as a moral failing or a consequence of bad behaviour when it is, in fact, an illness of the brain. Some refer to addictions such as alcoholism as a disease because of the negative impact it has on the lives of those affected. The idea of alcoholism being referred to as a disease may go against the grain for some people who would prefer it to be known as an illness. One thing is certain though; alcohol addiction can destroy the lives of those directly and indirectly affected by it. According to Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism is a disease that has three elements in terms of how it affects individuals. They believe that because it affects the individual on a physical, mental, and spiritual level, it should be considered a three-fold disease. But why is alcohol addiction a disease in the first place? How does it negatively affect the lives of those who suffer with it as well as the lives of those closest to them.
The Impact of Alcohol Addiction on the Individual
When it comes to how alcohol addiction affects the individual, there are many things to consider. Alcoholism is a leading contributor to poor health here in the UK, but it can also lead to unemployment, divorce, poverty, crime, homelessness, and premature death. Below are some of the main ways that alcohol addiction affects the individual.
- Physical Health – Alcohol affects almost every cell in the body and as such, it has been linked to hundreds of illnesses. It is said to be a leading cause of heart disease, liver disease, and some forms of cancer, including breast and liver cancers. It is also linked to the development of conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Mental Health – It is often the case that those with certain mental health conditions like anxiety and depression turn to substances such as alcohol for relief. However, those who abuse alcohol are also risking developing these mental health problems, and alcohol abuse has now been linked to the onset of dementia.
- Finances – Funding an alcohol addiction can have an impact on the finances of the individual and his or her family members. As the addiction progresses, the addict will need to drink more and more alcohol in order to achieve the desired effects and this will put further strain on his or her financial situation. The deeper the person spirals into addiction, the less likely he or she will be in a position to hold down a job, which can lead to unemployment and a detrimental impact on income.
- Relationships – The behaviour of the alcoholic is often said to be unpredictable and chaotic. This can have a deep and lasting effect on relationships with loved ones. In many instances, those under the influence of alcohol will be verbally or physically abusive towards loved ones, leaving them frightened and upset. It is common for alcoholism to lead to the breakdown of relationships and divorce.
- Future Hopes – Without help for alcohol addiction, those affected may lose all hope for the future. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that will worsen over time if left untreated.
What Makes Alcohol Addiction a Disease?
The question of ‘why is alcohol addiction a disease’ is one that must be addressed here. It is important to remember that, like many other diseases and illnesses, alcohol addiction can affect absolutely anyone. It is not something that anyone chooses. In the same way that bacterial meningitis or chicken pox are diseases that affect people from all ages, races, and backgrounds, so too is alcoholism. The only difference is that alcohol can, by and large, be completely avoided.
While there is a much greater understanding of alcoholism these days, and the fact that it is classed as a disease or illness, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to it. This is largely due to negative stereotyping in the media. For a long time, those with addictions such as alcoholism were viewed as bad people who drank alcohol because of a moral failing or lack of willpower.
The change in how those with alcoholism and other addictions came to be seen by the public was in response to the success of fellowship support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The view of AA is that the alcoholic is not to blame for his or her situation. They believe that blaming the addict is the same as blaming someone who is suffering with cancer or has had a stroke.
The Oxford English definition of disease is:
“A disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.”
In medical terms, it is described as an ‘abnormal condition that causes suffering and distress’, and it is easy then to see why alcohol addiction is referred to as a disease.
Can Alcohol Addiction be Treated?
As with other diseases, treatment is available for alcohol addiction. There is currently no cure for this illness and those affected will always have to be vigilant to the threat of relapse, but treatment can help alcoholics to put their days of alcohol abuse behind them.
It is important to remember that even the most severe alcohol addictions can be overcome with the right help and support. For most, it will mean an initial programme of detoxification followed by rehab in either an inpatient or outpatient facility. Inpatient treatment is probably the preferred option for most people because it means being removed from everyday life and forced to concentrate on getting better in a distraction-free environment where there is no access to temptations or triggers.
Professional counsellors and therapists will work closely with the alcoholic to identify the root cause of the illness and will then help him or her to learn new coping skills to avoid a relapse in the future. One thing to note, however, is that addiction treatment does not stop once a programme of rehabilitation has ended. Continued maintenance is required for those who want to stay clean going forward. This is where groups such as AA come into their own.
Fellowship support groups work on the premise that groups of recovering addicts can help each other through sharing stories and experiences. This model has helped millions of people around the world to get sober and stay sober, and most rehab providers adopt an element of 12-step work into their programmes these days. They also encourage patients to get involved in fellowship support groups once they leave rehab.
If you would like more information on alcoholism and how to overcome it, please contact us here at Liberty House Clinic.