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Alcoholism

Memory

Death and Dying

Family History

Dialogue

Conclusion


Copyright © 2000 Trish Williams

Alcoholism — A Disease

 


Alcoholism cannot be cured, only arrested. Treatment is not always successful, and relies on the alcoholic’s ability to control their addiction.

Despite the common acceptance of drinking in our culture, the destructiveness of alcohol cannot be ignored. “In 1944, the U.S. Public Health Service labeled alcoholism the nation’s fourth largest public health problem, although little governmental action was immediately forthcoming to deal with this area.” (Lender 189) In 1952, E.M. Jellinek supported the view of alcoholism as a disease with “a symptomatic progression of phases leading eventually from psychological to physical addiction.” (Lender 186) In 1956 the American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a disease. These acknowledgements began the breakdown of some of the stigmas associated with alcoholism. The condition was not a result of immorality or lack of discipline but was a disease.

Alcoholism cannot be cured, only arrested. Treatment is not always successful, and relies on the alcoholic’s ability to control their addiction. It has recently been viewed as a disease that affects the whole family. The family becomes co-dependent, allowing the alcoholic to underfunction and contributing to the unhealthy pattern of enabling. Co-dependency is accepted as a disease separate from alcoholism, but with similar characteristics.

Support groups for alcoholics and their families developed. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was formed in 1935. Al-Anon, for families of alcoholics, formed in 1951 and Ala-Teen, for teenagers of alcoholic families, followed in 1957. Children of Alcoholics groups started in the early 1980s. These groups are recommended by professionals today.


Because of the social stigma, embarrassment and denial, families tend to keep the alcoholic’s drinking a secret.


Alcoholism is a deceptive disease and can be a long term progressive disorder. Although there are no exact patterns to the illness, it varies for the individual in patterns of psychological and social dysfunction, and medical complications. The ultimate untreated prognosis can be death. The National Council on Alcoholism defines alcoholism as:

 

“A chronic, progressive and potentially fatal disease characterized by tolerance and physical dependency or organ changes, or both. Generally, alcoholism is repeated drinking that causes trouble in the drinker’s personal, professional, or family life. When they drink, alcoholics can’t always predict when they’ll stop, how much they’ll drink, or what the consequences of their drinking will be. Denial of the negative effects alcohol has in their lives is common in alcoholics and those close to them.” (Monroe 33)

There is a subtle progressive aspect that makes it difficult to judge the onset of addiction. When does acceptable drinking change to uncontrolled drinking? Denial, a significant symptom of the disease makes diagnosis more difficult.

The understanding of alcoholism had begun to change over the last half of the 20th century and more treatment options became available. “Currently, there are 10 million alcoholics in the United States.” (Monroe 17) The Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act of 1970 is a U.S. law that recognizes alcoholism as a disease requiring treatment, and protected alcoholics from discrimination in their jobs (Monroe 38) The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) was created in 1971 for research, training, education and treatment. There was an increase in alcohol treatment, counseling and education programs in the 1970s. However, it wasn’t until 1971 that the transition from punishment through the criminal justice system was replaced with medical treatment. (Lender 189) We now have alcohol detoxification units, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) support groups, and in-patient and out-patient alcohol rehabilitation centers for recovery.

Through our understanding of the disease and it’s widespread nature, we now know that alcoholism affects people of all ages, genders, ethnic and social backgrounds. Lender states some statistics regarding the demographics of drinking.

“Drinking behavior fluctuates according to too many variables to define any real mean. More men than women, for example, are drinkers—roughly 71 percent to 59 percent (measured in drinkers over eighteen years old); at the same time, this gap apparently has narrowed over time. Data for the mid--1970s indicated that considerably more middle-class and wealthy Americans drank than did the poor (who perhaps could not afford as much liquor) and that people over fifty more often tended to be abstainers than did younger Americans. Researchers have found that other socioeconomic variables play important roles as well: Family stability, level of education, and even occupation may influenced how and what people drink.” (Lender 178)

Because of the social stigma, embarrassment and denial, families tend to keep the alcoholic’s drinking a secret. Alcoholism is a disease that is never cured, hence the term“recovering alcoholic.” The addictive personality remains after the drinking stops. The potential for relapse is always just a drink away. Relapses are intense, since it brings the alcoholic back to their last stage of active drinking, not the beginning stage. Other addictions like drugs, smoking, overeating, or gambling can easily replace the previous addiction

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