Is Alcoholism a Disease? Can it be Cured?

Alcoholism A Disease

"...alcoholism has both biological and psychological roots."Yes, alcoholism is a disease. Doctors don't know the exact mechanism that causes alcoholism, but it's currently believed that alcoholism has both biological and psychological roots. The alcoholic person's body reacts differently to alcohol than the non-alcoholic's body. There may a genetic or other biological reason for this reaction. Once the alcoholic begins drinking, he is not able to stop himself. This is a progressive illness; at first, the alcoholic gets a little drunk, but over time he needs more and more alcohol every time he begins to drink. If left untreated, this disease ultimately results in death, as the alcoholic will need so much alcohol in his system to function that his liver and other vital organs are affected.

Four Symptoms of Alcoholism

This disease is characterized by four symptoms. First, the alcoholic feels intense craving for alcohol while sober. The cravings don't subside when the alcoholic decides not to drink or attempts to distract himself from drinking. The alcoholic also is unable to stop drinking once he begins and exhibits physical symptoms of withdrawal such as nausea, vomiting and shaking, once he stops drinking. Finally, the alcoholic needs higher and higher levels of alcohol to function. Alcoholism appears similar to alcohol abuse, but a person who merely abuses alcohol is able to control drinking when he chooses to and doesn't have tolerance and withdrawal issues.

No Absolute Cure for Alcoholism -- Needs to Be Managed

Alcohol Addiction Medications

Side Note Picture Clinicians and therapists have come to understand that alcoholism is a complex stew of genetic, social, and environmental factors. The reasons one person becomes dependent on alcohol and another abstains remain a mystery, but researchers continue to pull back the curtain on this devastating disease.

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Since doctors don't know the precise mechanism by which alcoholism works, they haven't been able to find an absolute cure for the disease. It's not like diabetes or high blood pressure; you can't turn an alcoholic into a non-alcoholic by prescribing medication. However, like these diseases, alcoholism is a chronic, lifelong condition, and the alcoholic must learn to manage it. One way alcohol differs from other chronic illnesses, however, is that the manifestation of this disease is mainly psychological. For example, if a person is diabetic, you can show him that this disease is real by pointing to his blood sugar level. There is no physical test to show the presence of alcoholism. Thus, the treatment of this disease is dependent upon the alcoholic person's acceptance of the disease's existence. One of the primary ways this disease manifests itself is by the alcoholic denying that he has a problem. This makes treatment and management of this disease challenging. The alcoholic's friends and family must learn to manage their loved one's disease by changing their own behavior so that they don't support denial of alcoholism's effects. Family members often need treatment themselves for their loved one's alcoholism; they may participate in family or individual counseling sessions or join support groups for friends and family of alcoholics.

Treatment for Alcoholics

The treatment for alcoholism is usually both psychological and physical. In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication to help the alcoholic function without alcohol or resolve biochemical imbalances in the brain that cause the alcoholic to physically need alcohol to function. Anti-depressant medication is often a part of treatment for alcoholism, at least in the initial stage of treatment, because the alcoholic's brain chemistry needs to be rebalanced in order to reduce the physical need for alcohol. Doctors also routinely prescribe psychotherapy to help treat alcoholism. Some alcoholics need intensive care to recover from the disease's effects; they may attend an inpatient rehabilitation program. Other alcoholics participate in therapy or other treatments on an outpatient basis.

Helping Alcoholics Manage The Disease

"Abstaining from alcohol is a requirement for managing alcoholism."It's important to realize that all of these treatments help alcoholics manage the disease - nothing any doctor prescribes will cure the alcoholic. Abstaining from alcohol is a requirement for managing alcoholism. Since the alcoholic will always be alcoholic regardless of how much treatment he takes or how many years he abstains from alcohol, the negative cycle of getting drunk and getting hungover will begin again if the alcoholic touches alcohol.  In addition, different treatments work better for different alcoholics. So a particular management plan, such as outpatient therapy, might not be enough to keep certain alcoholics from drinking, while other alcoholics might do well with this kind of treatment. Until such time as an absolute cure is found, doctors must experiment with different treatments to find the treatment option that works best to keep each alcoholic patient's disease under control.

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