The Definition of Alcoholism
Many people still think that alcoholism is caused by lack of self-control, or an absence of morals, or bad upbringing, or a low social status. It is easy for them to say that alcoholics have control over it, they just chose to drink. The surely do not believe that this is a disease. But unless you have experienced alcoholism, most likely you cannot understand how strong and harmful the need to regularly have alcohol can be. I certainly did not choose to be an alcoholic. I grew up with high morals, with a pretty good upbringing and in the middle class! Yet, I became an alcoholic and quitting drinking was the hardest thing I have ever committed myself to do.
My personal image of an alcoholism was my biological mother. The person that was in and out my life during my first four years. I do have some memories of that time; a kitchen counter filled with wine bottles, no food in the fridge, and random strangers stopping by often. When I was finally taken away from that environment, I lived with my grandparents and I grew to have a mutual hate for my mother. After all what kind of person is more devoted to drinking than her own child?
I lived with this belief for a long time, then, at some point, alcohol had become my world and nothing else mattered. It was absolutely excruciating to even think that maybe, maybe I myself had become that person. I did not want to be an alcoholic. I just couldn’t be an alcoholic! I searched for explanations everywhere and none seemed to quite fit. I could always find someone way worse off than me, after all I didn’t live under a bridge. But in the end I found myself so consumed by alcohol and without any ability to drink like a normal person, that my life had very closely resembled that of a person living under a bridge.
Some of us may come to this turning point, we question ourselves and try to find reasons why we are NOT alcoholics. If you have come to this point, you have most likely experienced at least alcoholic like drinking, and some part of your life has become unmanageable. Maybe you have been pondering if you should quit, then actually tried for few days or weeks and just to find out that it is not so simple. Whether you are ready to accept that you are an alcoholic or not, you are the only person that can determine if your drinking has become alcoholic.
The first step towards change is acceptance, from which you can move forward and change your life.
In a 1992 JAMA article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published this definition for alcoholism:
To establish a more precise use of the term alcoholism, a 23-member multidisciplinary committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine conducted a 2-year study of the definition of alcoholism in the light of current concepts. The goals of the committee were to create by consensus a revised definition that is (1) scientifically valid, (2) clinically useful, and (3) understandable by the general public. Therefore, the committee agreed to define alcoholism as a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic. (JAMA. 1992;268:1012-1014)
Question: What is alcoholism?
Answer: Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, includes the following four symptoms:
- Craving — A strong need, or urge, to drink
- Loss of Control — Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun
- Physical Dependence — Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking
- Tolerance — The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high”
Question: Is alcoholism a disease?
Answer: Yes, alcoholism is a disease. Like many other diseases, alcoholism is chronic, meaning that it lasts a person’s lifetime; it usually follows a predictable course; and it has symptoms.
Question: Can alcoholism be cured?
Answer: No, alcoholism cannot be cured at this time. Even if an alcoholic hasn’t been drinking for a long time, he or she can still suffer a relapse. Not drinking is the safest course for most people with alcoholism.
Question: Can alcoholism be treated?
Answer: Yes, alcoholism can be treated. Alcoholism treatment programs use both counseling and medications to help a person stop drinking. Treatment has helped many people stop drinking, rebuild their lives and continue a life in long-term recovery.
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