The Disease Model of Alcoholism

Girl with alcohol problem sitting in grass
September 27, 2017
|   Updated:
December 12, 2021

The disease model of Alcoholism can be a controversial topic because of the perception and stigma attached to the word “disease.” The fact remains that alcoholism is a chronic, lifelong condition that must be monitored and managed. There are, like most diseases, behavioral, environmental, and genetic factors that contribute to alcoholism. Alcoholics have a physical and psychological need for alcohol throughout their addiction and many even report being addicted immediately after their first drink. Alcoholism is a progressive and degenerative disease that most people need help to fight against.

Alcoholism and Genes

There are undeniable commonalities between alcoholism and other chronic conditions that further reinforce the disease model. Alcoholism has a genetic component and has been shown to run in families. In fact, studies at the National Institutes of Health claim alcoholism is 50% genetic. The same can be said for a condition like heart disease, some people are genetically predisposed to factors that increase their risk.

The Mayo Clinic website states that “Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, and continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems.” Alcoholism results in physical and chemical changes in the brain. Prolonged alcohol abuse and a lack of continued-care will lead to serious health complications and an increased risk for certain cancers.

Managing Alcoholism

The general rule of 12-step programs like Al-Anon is that dependence on alcohol cannot be cured, but recovery can be maintained through abstinence and symptom management. Chronic diseases require constant vigilance and proactive maintenance. While alcoholism is widely recognized as a chronic disease, it’s important that recovering people do not live in a “disease frame of mind”. The attitude of an afflicted person is key during their recovery journey. The condition is a disease, but this doesn’t mean that you continue abusing alcohol and claim your behavior is out of your control. You wouldn’t stop treating your diabetes, so don’t stop treating your alcoholism.

If you have alcoholism, or suspect you may be an alcoholic, recognize that you are sick and choose to treat the problem by taking control of your health. Do not allow the negative consequences of alcoholism to ruin your life or the lives of those around you. Seek treatment and develop a continued-care plan that continuously treats your disease. You can live a fulfilling life outside the bounds of alcoholism with alcohol recovery.

About the Author

Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.

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