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Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Learn if alcoholism is a disease in this Howcast video featuring addictions specialist Paul J. Rinaldi, Ph.D.


There's been an age old question about whether alcohol problems are a disease. We don't use the term alcoholism anymore. We use the term alcohol use disorder and there's been controversy and questions for a long time about whether it's actually disease or whether it's just a behavioral issue and perhaps some people view it as a moral issue. This has been a question that's been posed for years and years. The AA, the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step communities, have always viewed alcoholism as a disease. In the medical community, we generally also adhere to what's called a disease model of alcohol, of alcohol abuse and disorder. Disease model meaning that it is a brain disorder. It changes the brain and we do know now that there are genetic predispositions to alcohol abuse or dependence. We see often that alcoholism runs in families and there has been controversy over this and some people believes it runs in families because of social issues, that it's actually if there's one person in a family or two people who drink a lot that it means there's more permission for people to drink a lot and over drink. However, again, we do know now that there are genetic predispositions. We are working hard to identify genes for all kinds of addictions so we do regard alcoholism in the field as a disease and part of that is like other diseases that we know alcohol problems can be progressive and as people continue to drink over the course of their life, their alcohol issues get worse. You see people, we see people all the time who have very severe consequences of alcohol use: medical issues, problems with their liver, problems with their kidneys but they still continue to drink and that happens a lot. We often make references to similarities between alcohol and other drug use and diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic illness that it can be progressive if it's not taken care of. Again, we often see people who they continue to eat the wrong foods when they're diabetic so it's very similar with alcohol in spite of the evidence, whether that's social or medical evidence, people are still compelled to drink, which seems quite irrational but and it may be irrational but it's not just a cognitive and a moral issue. There's something that happens in people's brains that compels them to really want and need to continue drinking in spite of all of the negative evidence.

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