Is Alcoholism a Disease?

shutterstock_219455038Is Alcoholism a Disorder?


And does it matter what handle we give it, as long as we know it’s not a choice?


A few years ago I went to a psychologist.  I was pretty much drunk the entire first year after my divorce and I was haphazard about my personal safety.  It seemed that every time I left the confines of my walk-in closet (where I hid bottles of wine behind the hems of my evening clothes), I got into BIG trouble.  I was afraid I might accidentally kill myself.  In one of the first sessions, the shrink said, “Tell me about your mother.”


I remember my reaction vividly.  I said, “No way.  You are not going to tell me all this stems from some slight my mother may have given me when I was a toddler are you?  I do not care what happened to me in the past.  I need relief now.”  He wrote something in his little book (“developmental methods ineffective with this subject” – I can read upside down…)  and instead of rehashing my upbringing, we talked about the fact I was not wearing a coat when it was 40 degrees outside.  We discussed the bruises on my wrists and forearms…  We talked about the things I could to do to safeguard myself on a daily basis.


I tell you this story, because I feel the same way about developing coping mechanisms for my alcoholism.  I don’t really care if my divorce was a trigger, or that someone pulled my hair in grade school, or whether I have a disease or a disorder.  It is cold comfort to know my D2 dopamine receptor is wonky.   I  don’t have a choice in the matter, and I need relief now.


Last week, there were a number of excellent comments on my post about “Curing Alcoholism“.    I used the word “disease” (for lack of a synonym to be perfectly honest) and it spurred a debate.  Is alcoholism a disease or a disorder?


There are many scholarly articles written about the subject.  The NIAAA and The Mayo Clinic define alcoholism as a disease.  But there are also a number of pedagogues who weigh in about the stigma attached to the word “disease”, calling alcoholism an AUD (alcohol use disorder) .  I went to my universal panacea: the dictionary.


DISEASE: is a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.

DISORDER:  is a state of confusion.  The disruption of peaceful and law abiding behavior.


Check and check…


In doing my research, I came upon some statistics I’d like to share with you.  Whether we call it a disease or a disorder, alcoholism is not something we suffer alone.  The NIAAA says that 1 in 12 adults in America suffer from alcoholism – 18 million of us.  The way my mind works, every time I’m in a group of 12 or more people, I look around for the alcoholic.  But wait, wouldn’t that be me?


From my perspective, let the debate rage on, let my developmental bygones be damned, but do not tell me alcoholism is a choice.  It is not.


And I am not alone.

Today I’m not drinking because 1 in 12 adults in America are alcoholics and I’m one of them…

How come you’re not drinking?