Is Alcoholism a Disease?

The Mayo Clinic describes alcohol use disorder, which includes alcoholism, as a pattern of alcohol use that takes over a person’s life. Problems controlling drinking, being preoccupied with getting the next drink, and continuing to use alcohol even though it is adversely affecting you or a loved one’s life are all signs of alcoholism.1

This chronic, progressive condition fits both the definitions of a disease and a mental illness. Understanding how the disease progresses as well as symptoms and treatment options can help you or a loved one get the help needed to recover.

The Disease of Addiction

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse compares alcohol addiction to other diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease because, like these conditions, it results from a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors.

Genetic risk factors alone account for more than half of the reasons a person may or may not develop alcoholism.2 Like other diseases of the body, alcoholism is a progressive disorder.

A progression to alcoholism might look like this:

  • The person drinks
  • The person finds drink more pleasurable than another person might
  • The person drinks more than others do
  • The person craves more alcohol
  • The person is unable to stop with one drink
  • The person becomes preoccupied with getting the next drink and alcoholism takes over

Those who live with an alcoholic find that these familiar steps down the road of addiction. It’s a story recounted in movies, books and television shows and is instantly recognizable.

>>> READ THIS NEXT: Start with Alcohol Detox


Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse also describes a disease as a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured.2 Alcoholism fits this definition. Those who struggle with the disorder learn and use coping strategies to deal with relapse triggers and attend support group meetings throughout their lifetimes to stay on the road to recovery.

Along with the progression of alcoholism, the Mayo Clinic lists these additional symptoms of alcohol use disorder:

    illustration of whiskey bottle and tumbler

  • Being unable to control the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Making unsuccessful attempts to cut down on alcohol consumption
  • Spending the majority of your time drinking or recovering from alcohol use
  • Strong alcohol cravings
  • Difficulties at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink even though it’s causing physical, social and personal problems
  • Giving up social activities and hobbies
  • Using alcohol in unsafe situations, such as driving or swimming
  • Needing more and more alcohol to feel its effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink3

In the beginning stages of alcohol use, the choice whether or not to drink is there. As the disease progresses, the brain is no longer able to tell the person struggling when enough is enough. Addiction, no matter the substance of abuse, changes the brain. Once those changes happen, the ability to use willpower to make a better choice is gone, and treatment is necessary to live a life of recovery.

The Road to Recovery

recovery with an arrow underneathNo matter where you are in your struggle with alcohol, recovery is possible through proper treatment. Whether you believe that alcoholism is a disease or something that develops through conscious choices, there is hope for anyone with an alcohol use disorder.

So how do people recover from alcoholism? Some use a social model, like Alcoholics Anonymous. They attend meetings and learn more about how others have recovered from the disease. They also read the organization’s publications, so they can learn more about the theories that govern alcoholism. There are no professionals involved in treatment with programs like this, as it’s all about support from peers, but for some, that can be the right approach.

Others pair social support with professional support. In a professional alcohol recovery program, medications combined with therapy help build an individual’s resolve to stop drinking for good.

People who participate in programs like this often use social support models like Alcoholics Anonymous, both while they’re in treatment and when treatment is complete, so they can get both professional advice and peer input.


Finding Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

La Paloma inpatient buildingYou are an individual with personal reasons for drinking. So the help you need should address your specific needs in a targeted way. That’s the kind of help we offer at The Oaks at La Paloma.

Our comprehensive techniques help you understand your motivations for drinking while giving you the coping skills you need to help you to stop drinking. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about available treatment options. Call us now at 901-350-4575.


1 “Alcohol use disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 July 2015. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017.

2 “Addiction as a Disease.” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 14 Apr. 2017. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017.

3 “Alcohol use disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 July 2015. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017.