Is Alcoholism a Mental Illness or Chronic Disease?

When you or your loved one completes an inpatient or outpatient alcohol treatment program, this is a time for celebration. Like with all drugs, long-term alcohol abuse creates changes in the brain’s biochemistry. While many consider alcoholism, or any addiction for that matter, to simply be a lifestyle choice, researchers and addiction specialists classify alcoholism stop glamorizing alcoholism as a chronic brain disease. Addiction is a disease, but like many diseases, alcoholism isn’t curable. For those who are experiencing an addiction to alcohol, a future free of alcohol dependence exists. The issues that began in the problematic drinking stage evolve in this stage to further affect the user’s life, relationships, and overall health.

How do I know if I’m an alcoholic?

Exhibiting signs of irritability and extreme mood swings. Making excuses for drinking such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal. Choosing drinking over other responsibilities and obligations. Becoming isolated and distant from friends and family members.

Alcoholism and other types of addictions are not diseases, but rather behaviors in which people choose to engage. The changes in brain chemistry are linked to the brain’s “reward” system and how alcohol consumption influences the production of the brain’s “feel-good” chemical, dopamine. When someone does something that they find pleasurable, such as eating delicious food or hearing a song they love, dopamine is produced in the brain. The way that the brain normally functions is altered to the point where someone suffering from AUD is unable to control their drinking. This early stage can be difficult to recognize as many people can conceal their problematic drinking. As AUD progresses, though, a decline in performance at school or work, a decline in physical health, and other serious issues begin to become apparent.

Recovery Coaching

However, it is common to suffer setbacks or relapses during substance abuse treatment. Seeking professional treatment for substance use disorders like alcoholism can help to prevent relapses and ensure long-term recovery. It’s also important to get treated for co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Cognitive-behavioral therapy begins with an analysis to identify beliefs, attitudes, and situations that contribute to the patient’s AOD use. Based on this analysis, coping responses that the patient can use are developed and practiced in high-risk situations to avoid relapse (Carroll 1998; Monti et al. 1999). The correction of biased beliefs and attitudes as well as the improvement of coping skills are thought to increase the patient’s self-efficacy, which then may lead to improved coping in high-risk situations and further enhancement of self-efficacy .

why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease

After completing the program, the patient is referred to AA for continuing care. In addition, the patient may participate in outpatient aftercare group therapy sessions to facilitate the transition from the protected inpatient setting back into the “real world” with all its problems and temptations. Although this approach has been effective for many patients, it suffers from two main drawbacks.

Extended Telephone-Based Recovery Support

A second limitation is that the rates of participation in continuing care and retention rates throughout the entire program were relatively low, particularly in studies that more closely mirrored real-life conditions. It therefore is important to develop interventions that enhance participation and retention. Some approaches to increasing retention are described in the next section. Dropout rates are high during the initial phase of treatment, so that only a minority of the patients who begin an acute treatment episode reach the stage at which they could transition to continuing care.

  • Similarly, according to a 2002 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study, about one of every six (18%) of alcohol dependent adults in the U.S. whose dependence began over one year previously had become «low-risk drinkers» .
  • The Retreat of Atlanta understands the heartache and desperation involved with alcoholism.
  • One issue that needs to be investigated in this context is how continuing care programs can be designed so that remaining actively involved in treatment becomes a more appealing proposition to patients.
  • Of those physicians with known outcomes, 81 percent completed their contracted period of treatment and supervision.
  • In this article, we will answer the question — Is alcohol misuse a mental illness or chronic disease?

These rats preferred drinking alcohol over other liquids, resulting in a tolerance for alcohol and exhibited a physical dependency on alcohol. Upon analyzing the brains of these two strains of rats, it was discovered that there were differences in chemical composition of certain areas of the brain. This study suggests that certain brain mechanisms are more genetically prone to alcoholism. Harnessing science, love and the wisdom of lived experience, we are a force of healing and hope ​​​​​​​for individuals, families and communities affected by substance use and mental health conditions. Education– Understanding the diseases of addiction and co-occurring disorders is important for dispelling myths about these diseases and helping patients shed feelings of guilt and shame.

Alcoholism Is Not a Disease (From Alcoholism, P 34-44, 1994, Carol Wekesser, ed. — See NCJ-

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers hope to victims of an alcohol use disorder, noting a third of alcoholics do recover. Alcoholics in recovery either stop alcohol use altogether or may engage in casual drinking on occasion without falling into old habits. Treatment from medical professionals leads to the highest percentage of recovery success stories.

What is Germany’s drinking age?

Countries like Denmark, Germany, and Belgium have set a minimum age of 16 years for this purpose. People of 16 years can easily buy beverages containing 1.2% of distilled alcohol whereas people of 18 years are allowed to buy spirits containing more than 1.2% of distilled alcohol.

Dennis ML, Scott CK, Funk R. An experimental evaluation of recovery management checkups for people with chronic substance use disorders. 2Controlled studies compare the characteristics of two or more groups of patients receiving different continuing care interventions, with the participants assigned randomly or sequentially to the different groups. As indicated above, one of the major problems in the implementation of continuing care is retaining patients for the intended duration of the intervention. Several studies have developed and investigated methods to increase both patient involvement/participation and treatment retention. Many patients are ambivalent about their need for treatment and only enter a treatment program because of some sort of external pressure (e.g., from family, employers, or the judicial system). These patients may be particularly reluctant to enter a continuing care program.

Careers – Join Our Team

In 2004, the World Health Organization published a detailed report on alcohol and other psychoactive substances entitled «Neuroscience of psychoactive substance use and dependence». The first major empirical challenge to this interpretation of the disease theory followed a 1962 study by Dr. D. L. Davies. Davies’ follow-up of ninety-three problem drinkers found that seven of them were able to return to «controlled drinking» . The disease theory is often interpreted as implying that problem drinkers are incapable of returning to ‘normal’ problem free drinking, and therefore that treatment should focus on total abstinence. Some critics have used evidence of controlled drinking in formerly dependent drinkers to dispute the disease theory of alcoholism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define chronic disease as a health condition that lasts a year or longer.

As with other chronic medical conditions, long-term care therefore is more and more becoming an integral component of treatment for AOD use disorders. In fact, with the move away from inpatient therapy to outpatient therapy for the initial phase of treatment, the lines between initial care and aftercare are increasingly blurring. Although initial treatment in an outpatient setting has many advantages, it also has some disadvantages compared with inpatient treatment. For example, a significant percentage of patients participating in IOPs continue to drink or use drugs (e.g., McKay et al. 1997a). Patients who fail to achieve at least several consecutive weeks of abstinence during the initial treatment stage have poorer long-term outcomes than patients who do achieve abstinence (Carroll et al. 1994; Higgins et al. 2000; McKay et al. 1999). Therefore, continuing care programs that treat patients who have completed an IOP may have to simultaneously accommodate both patients who have achieved abstinence and those who have not, which may impact treatment effectiveness.

Therapy teaches alcoholics to control emotions, cope with stress, make healthy decisions and avoid relapse. After months or years of abstinence, most people who have completed all the stages of recovery from alcoholism exhibit improved functioning and decision-making. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction, is a chronic disease of the brain that’s characterized by compulsive decision-making, impulsive behavior and relapse.

Behavioral therapy– Both one-on-one and group therapy can help patients explore issues and find alternative ways of thinking to positively influence future behaviors. Recognizing that you rehabilitation center baton rouge or a loved one has a problem with alcohol can be jarring. If you’re concerned that someone you know may be struggling with alcoholism and don’t know where to turn, Nexus is here to help.

why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease

Of those physicians with known outcomes, 81 percent completed their contracted period of treatment and supervision. Of those who did complete treatment and resumed practicing, only 19 percent showed evidence of any AOD use over a 5-year followup. Similar results were obtained in a study of physicians in the Washington State PHP who were treated for AOD use problems (Domino et al. 2005). Again, only about 25 percent of the patients had at least one relapse during the follow-up period of up to 10 years, and most of those patients also were able to subsequently achieve abstinence and continue practicing medicine. Thus, both of these studies indicate that continuing care involving extended intensive monitoring can generate positive outcomes, at least in highly motivated patients.

The composition of regular attendees can vary greatly, and some groups may attract certain subgroups of addicts (e.g., younger people, women, or nonsmokers). Therefore, new members may have to try out several meetings to find a group that is most appropriate for them. In addition, self-help programs with a more secular focus (e.g., SMART Recovery, Rational Recovery, or Save Our Selves ) are available for those people who are uncomfortable with the religious aspect of AA. These critics hold that by removing some of the stigma and personal responsibility the disease concept actually increases alcoholism and drug abuse and thus the need for treatment.

Can you be a heavy drinker and not an alcoholic?

Nine in 10 adults who drink too much alcohol are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The problem is that alcoholism is a progressive disease where tolerance levels increase over time, thus leading to more severe symptoms such as physical dependence and alcoholism-related illnesses. Schmitt SK, Phibbs CS, Piette JD. The influence of distance on utilization of outpatient mental health aftercare following inpatient substance abuse treatment. As this article has shown, much progress has already been achieved in the development of continuing care models that take into consideration the chronic nature of AOD use disorders. If additional issues like the ones outlined above can be addressed by future research, effective disease management approaches are likely to evolve that will allow greater numbers of patients to overcome the debilitating and often chronic condition of AOD dependence.

Thus, extended behavioral interventions have demonstrated some benefits in terms of treatment engagement, participation, and retention as well as with respect to AOD-related outcomes. It is important to note, however, that in many cases these studies compared the extended intervention with some form of “treatment as usual” rather than with a shorter version of the extended intervention. Therefore, it is not entirely clear if the positive effects in these studies are due primarily to the longer duration of the treatment or to the specific components of the extended how to avoid alcohol withdrawal interventions. Twelve-step facilitation is designed to help patients engage more successfully in 12-step programs (Nowinski et al. 1995). It focuses particularly on the first five steps of the 12 steps,1 but also includes other components, such as assessing the patient’s family history of AOD use and the situations that typically lead to AOD use, and providing support for sober living. The TSF program was developed for the Project MATCH study of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism , but the extent to which it currently is used is unknown.

For those who have come to the realization that they do have a problem, help may be as close as the white pages of the telephone directory. While the brain’s dopamine transmitters drive us to seek pleasure, the stress neurotransmitters found in the extended amygdala region of the brain drive us to avoid pain and unpleasant experiences. A mental obsession can be defined as a thought process over which you have no control. Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Verywell Mind’s content is for informational and educational purposes only.

why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease

Like any chronic disease, recovering from alcoholism can take time and may not always be a smooth road. Many reputable treatment programs try to include family and friends in the recovery process as much as possible, as having the support of loved ones outside of treatment can be invaluable for the recovering alcoholic. Although your participation in the process can be vitally important, you also need to take care of yourself. Programs such as Al-Anon, which is a support group for friends and family members of alcoholics, may be beneficial as you help support your loved one on the road to recovery. Many people with alcohol use disorder do recover with behavioral therapies, medications, or a combination of the two.

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