Alcoholism: The Disease Theory

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Last Updated on May 25, 2021 by Ben Lesser

Alcohol use disorder has been popular since the Second World War; and after decades of the negative stigma associated with alcoholism, negative views changed after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was formed. The epidemic is ongoing in America. It is one of the most widely abused substances today with the law allowing it to be consumed. Alcohol is readily accessible, easy to obtain, and affordable. It is accepted by society. 

Almost 87% of U.S. adults over the age of 18 had consumed alcohol at one time or another in my SAMHSA study in 2012 and suffer from alcohol use disorder. Many of these people drink alcohol lightly or moderately, but many also binge drink. Binge drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), results in a liquor concentration amount of 0.08 when you are not sober. 

Binges are defined as drinking more than four alcoholic drinks in two hours for women, and five alcoholic drinks in one sitting for men. However, there is no guarantee that binges will lead to alcohol use disorder. There are certain times when people drink too much at social gatherings, and that is often the custom at parties.

What is Alcoholism?

An alcoholic’s use of alcohol causes harm or distress, a condition known as an alcohol use disorder, or AUD, by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Most people are familiar with alcoholism as a disorder.

Alcohol Disorder can Manifest Itself in the Following Ways:

The life of an alcoholic is focused around alcohol, which is their drug of choice. They spend much of their time figuring out how to obtain it, drinking it, and recovering from its effects. Everyone and everything around them suffer the consequences of their actions in one form or another.

It can harm employment, colleagues, and relatives, and can lead to criminal behavior. It is estimated in 2012 that there were 17 million alcoholics in the United States.

Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Alcoholism is a disease that affects the brain and behavior, which makes it difficult for people to stop drinking. Alcohol addiction can be triggered by many factors such as genetics, mental health problems, stress or childhood trauma. It doesn’t discriminate and if you are an alcoholic then it’s likely that your family members have alcoholism too.

Moreover, Alcoholics Anonymous is a group of people with the same problem: alcoholism. Alcoholism, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, is “a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking and preoccupation with the drug alcohol.” The definition also states that alcoholism is often progressive and fatal.

>>> READ THIS NEXT: Begin with the Alcohol Detoxification Program

Diagnosis and Treatment

There is also some evidence that medical evaluations can suggest effective treatments on an individual basis. An Individual Must Present Four Symptoms to be Considered:

  • An excessive tolerance to alcohol that results in overindulging to become intoxicated
  • Feelings such as nervousness, nausea, confusion, and so on occur after stopping alcoholic beverages usage.
  • A person who consumes too much alcohol finds it impossible to control his or her behavior.
  • A person’s ability to cope with life as it occurs in later years can hinder him or her in many ways.

Alcoholism as a Disease

As a consequence of a disease concept, it is viewed as a remitting and relapsing illness. Taking too much ethanol can harm the brain, heart, and liver. If left unchecked, addiction can quickly intensify due to its loss of effects (tolerance) and increased neurological effects.

Drinking alcohol can have a devastating effect on a person’s family, professional, and social life. Friendships can break down, careers may fall apart, and legal outcomes may emerge. 

It is also supported by the disease theory, in which the disease cause is viewed as a debilitating illness that can be treated. The best treatment is tailored precisely to the individual patient, and the presence of loved ones can greatly assist recovery.

The third degree of addiction was commonly viewed as morally wrong and even shunned at the beginning of the 20th century by the general population as bad individuals. These types of viewpoints led many medical professionals of the time to oppose the common perception and try to treat patients rather than dismiss them.

A recent study published by a noted psychiatrist and Director of the Yale Center for Alcohol Studies E. M. Jellinek has contributed to greatly changing perceptions. In his theory, Jellinek detailed stages of alcoholism that drinkers pass through in stages. During Jellinek’s lifetime, there was not a drinker who did not experience alcohol use disorder.

The Phases of Alcohol Use Disorder Include: 

  • Pre-Alcoholic Stage, the problem often comes from people drinking for social reasons and who start drinking to relieve stress or to feel better.
  • The Prodromal Stage, is a middle stage of drinking during which the drinker begins to have blackouts and continues to drink alone and in secret while their alcohol tolerance increases
  • The Crucial Stage, is a type of alcoholism that is characterized by frequent drinking. It can also cause visible alterations to the victim’s brain and body.
  • Chronic Stage with Daily Drinking, alcohol as the main focus of life, physical and mental issues with long-term alcohol abuse, and health problems are cropping up from alcohol misuse.

Due to its depressant effects on the central nervous system, alcohol has been shown to affect multiple parts of the brain simultaneously despite its relatively modest volume and cause alcohol use disorder. 

The intoxication shifts brain chemistry, originally leading to greater levels of neurotransmitters that are linked to the brain’s pleasure centers. However, if the chemical compounds are abused severely, they may start to deplete. Also, the body and brain are further damaged as the drinker’s tolerance to alcohol increases, causing him/her to drink more.

How the Detractors Feel

The Disease Theory of Alcoholism is said to have the same problem. According to addiction specialists Reid Hester and Nancy Shelby, this theory effectively removed “doubt and personal choice” from the equation, and ended up being embraced by the liquor industry since it indicated that a lot of individuals could freely have a drink without becoming victims.

Baldwin Institute supports this assertion, stating there is an underlying assumption that alcohol use disorder requires medical treatment, which transfers the responsibility of alcoholism from the individual to the caretakers.

Updates and Adaptations

The Original Disease Theory Has Led to Many Breakthroughs in Research.

  • Biological Design: Biophysical investigations suggest a new model for alcoholism called the biophysical disease model. This model examines how genetic influences contribute to chemical imbalances in certain brain regions. Those with certain genetic qualities are more likely to exhibit impairments in brain lipid and enzyme functions.
  • Genetic Design: Recent studies point to the possibility of the existence of a “tolerance gene,” which may promote alcohol obsession. Another genetic model suggests that people with a family history of alcohol addiction will be more likely to develop alcohol addiction. Having an alcoholism gene is, however, only part of the picture. Other factors such as exposure to alcohol and education play a significant part as well.
  • Psychological Design: One other model of alcoholization is based on the psychological perspective, for instance; rejection and adoption. Those who are alcoholics tend to deny underlying problems within their lives and attempt to mask them with alcohol. Many people who suffer from alcoholism fail to undergo positive change because they fail to recognize alcohol as a problem.

In addition to the disease model, several designs rotate around the principles of individualized treatment, but it’s essential to recognize that recovery depends on individual treatment. Individuals can receive counseling and be assessed for other underlying alcohol use disorders by professional clinicians to develop an individual treatment program.

The Disease Model

A comparison between alcohol dependence is provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The nature of addiction is that it is determined by the absence of any control over the substance and the symptoms that show up as a result are managed by a professional, but this requires medical treatment as well. 

One of the reasons why alcohol use disorder has been regarded as a physical disease is because of the withdrawal symptoms and physical cravings that often accompany the disease.

As alcoholism is a disease of the brain, it can be seen as an addictive behavior. The physical changes to the brain cause people who suffer from this addiction to behave differently and have uncontrollable desires for alcohol.

In turn, a genetic link was identified between addiction and hereditary predispositions to obsession. These predispositions or genes were suggested as factors in determining a person’s likelihood of becoming diabetic. The causes of addiction are unclear. Many believe it stems from genes and environmental factors which lead to addiction. Still, other people believe addiction is an emotional issue and not a visible condition.

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Alcoholism Treatment Plan

A growing number of medical facilities and insurance providers recognize that alcohol use disorder is not only a disease, it is also a bodily process that needs to be treated. Treating alcoholism as a disease rather than as a deviant behavior can make medical treatment more accessible. 

In general, the term “disease” is used to describe a chronic illness with the expectation of a successful treatment, as well as the notion that relapses are normal and should not be ashamed of. A report by the New York Times concluded that between 80 and 90 percent of people suffering from alcohol dependency are likely to relapse. 

According to the first model of disease, the only solution to alcohol use disorder, which is incurable and irreversible, is complete abstinence from alcohol. Some in the addiction field dispute this theory even though it is still widely believed. It is frightening to be diagnosed with alcoholism, but treatment and help are available for those who seek them. Remaining sober needs commitment and support. 

Our experts are well-trained and can assist addicts to determine cultural, passionate, and environmental factors that cause their issues. Many patients suffering from addiction also have psychic disorders, making them more hesitant to get well.

The whole person is treated not just the addiction because dual diagnosis treatment works on a holistic approach.

Personalized alcohol use disorder treatment programs for you or your loved one should include both group and individual therapy. A disease pattern of alcoholism also stresses the importance of peer support. We encourage you to contact our admissions coordinator now to discuss how dual diagnosis treatment can help you get back on your feet and treat your alcohol use disorder.