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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.

Alcoholism Webster Definition

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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)

From National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD)

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.

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please click the Find Support link for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful resources in the sidebar, and always feel free to contact me anytime at

You may also find some great inspiration and support from all the awesome sober bloggers listed in the side bar under POSTS I LIKE and RECOVERY BLOGGERS, as well as Sober Courage page on Facebook and Sober Courage on Twitter.



    • Hi Carrie! I agree, and there are probably many more. For me no matter what I though the facts were all there, it didn’t matter how I put it or what I called it. The great part though is that there is a solution – sobriety!


    • Hi Momma Bee, you’re very welcome. You know many times I write to remind myself too! I think this might be a part of the disease, actually forgetting how truly bad it was! I need to remember that, and keep it right up front, not to beat myself up, but to keep myself moving forward and sober.


  1. Love this post. I think it really is true what you said though. So many just think addiction is something caused by a lack of
    a moral code or something. I feel to truly understand addiction, you have had to of gone through it.

    I can also relate to that excruciating pain that is felt when realizing that the person I never wanted to be, was now staring
    right back at me in the mirror. But I am glad that both of us can now say we are past that point.

    It’s good to be back and to be able to read your posts again. Hope all is well.


    • Hi Danny! Glad to see you back! Hope you had good holidays and you’re doing well!

      I am so glad we are past that point too! Oh man but it was so hard, I would have given a million dollars not to be like my mother. Of course now I understand better. I understand the crazy obsession, the inability to make any sound judgements and the need for more and more. And the unbelievable amount of strength and courage that it takes to come out to the other side. Sobriety maybe hard at times, but nothing compared to my drunk existence, for sure.


      • Thank you! Im glad to be back! and I hope the same for you.

        And exactly. I could not of said it better! Look forward to more of your posts =]


  2. Oh, the Lao Tzu quote!
    I often think about why it’s so difficult to accept the label “alcoholic”. I knew I was one waaaay back, but I thought things would magically change. Ha! I learned the long way that magic doesn’t change things- I DO.
    “Alcoholic” describes me, but it doesn’t define me.


    • Hi Amy! I love that quote! I have to admit, when I first saw it, I read it over and over and it wasn’t quite clicking. But it got stuck in my head and it seamed quite fitting here.

      I think the stigma that is out there and that we put on ourself really makes it hard to accept the label alcoholic, or addict, or any such which is viewed as negative. Can I say I have alcoholism? Would that make it any better? Not really. But it is what it is. And I absolutely agree, it may describe us but it doesn’t define us!


  3. Thank you friend! It is my belief that education is key and knowledge is power. Being an alcoholic it is also my experience that all the knowledge in the world could not have helped me. I only gained some power by admitting my powerlessness! Ironic huh?
    I too never wanted to grow up and be an alcoholic or a crack head for that matter. Not once was either of those two titles a reply to what do you want to be when you grow up? Can you imagine?!
    But, as you said, I have a disease.
    I am not cured because I am sober. But…
    I have a ‘daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition.’
    There IS HOPE!
    My love & (((((HUGS))))),
    Clairey Grubbs


    • Hi Clairey! Lol! Told you there was a comment worth of a post! I had to get this research done for myself, because for years I just though that I was a bad, worthless human being. I heard it defined as a disease in the rooms, but seeing that the medical community had defined it as a disease gave me a new understanding – there was a reason for all this and I was not just crazy worthless person! It was a huge light built moment for me.

      But yes in the end, giving up the power was what set me free and gave me power to rebuild! Ironic, because I sure though that I had all the control over it – even if I didn’t at all, I just kept trying to find new ways. But by finally giving up the fight and accepting that I have disease, I was able to move on and get sober.

      There is HOPE!!!
      Sending you many hugs!


  4. Great post 🙂

    Some will bristle at the “disease” model. Some prefer to call it an illness (I think the BB tends to use that word most), and then it goes into many different explanations – a behavioural issue, a learned thought – action response, a chemical condition, etc…whatever it is that others will use. And that’s fine. Many who don’t follow 12-step don’t often use illness or disease. Many feel that to call it that also means that it is used as a crutch, that there is no one to blame other than the illness, when all it takes is willpower or some other structured thought changing exercises. You get my drift. It’s all different to different people on different action plans. Or non-action plans.

    Me? I go with the 12-step model. I do check out the latest research now and then, and while there are some interesting takes on it (on social, biological, psychological, chemical, etc. fronts), not much has changed in my opinion.

    I consider myself recovered, but never, ever cured. No chance in hell!

    Love your informative posts, my friend…keep em up!

    Love and light,


    • Hi Paul! Thank you! I have to say I was quite surprised that Webster’s called it “a medical condition!” Wow! And yes, there are many views and when it comes to the alcoholic, it really doesn’t matter what we call it, what ever works and gets you to sobriety, right?
      I think the hard part here is the rest of the world, the world that still doesn’t understand alcoholism or addiction. The world that thinks that all we have to do is not drink and can’t possibly understand why we continue despite all the negative consequences. All those views based on stigma and lack of knowledge make it harder for people to admit that they have a problem or seek help, because they grow to have the same stigmas – like in my story.

      Yes, recovered but not cured! Love that! Thanks Paul!


  5. Hi Maggie, thanks for the great post! I do not take the time to read up on the latest research, etc. Once I accepted my alcoholism, I found that the terms were semantics to me, so I just stopped debating it (in my head, of course!). I also found it interesting that Webster’s calls it a condition; I have to say, that is my favorite of all the different descriptions I’ve heard.

    As always, you teach me something new every time I read! Hope you’re enjoying the mild weather!


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