Is Alcoholism a Mental Illness or Chronic Disease?

Alcohol use disorder is a complex disorder that affects several brain systems, including the mesolimbic dopaminergic system of the brain, among other areas. Alcohol use disorder affects many people in the United States. In 2019, 5.6% of people ages 18 or older (14.1 million adults) were living with the condition, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol use disorder involves difficulty with stopping or managing alcohol use, even when it affects your daily life. Health, safety and socioeconomic problems attributable to alcohol can be reduced when governments formulate and implement appropriate policies.

  • Instead, doctors use the term AUD, relying on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to diagnose it.
  • Moderate to severe alcohol use disorder is sometimes called addiction.
  • Medical providers can diagnose when alcoholism becomes a disease using sets of criteria established by experts to describe the signs and symptoms of alcoholism.
  • To gain full recovery, you need to take steps to improve other areas of your life, such as learning to deal with work and family.
  • In general, alcohol consumption is considered too much—or unhealthy—when it causes health or social problems.

Disease management requires acceptance of a problem, follow-through with treatment, and an understanding that a person can have periods of symptom flare-ups or relapse (but this doesn’t mean hope is lost). You can recover from AUD, but it often takes time and commitment. Lean into your loved ones for support and ask them to help you through this difficult time. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually start within eight hours after the last drink, but they can still occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours, but may go on for weeks.

Find your own support

Poorer individuals experience greater health and social harms from alcohol consumption than more affluent individuals. Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a complex disease that affects millions of people in the United States every year. People with alcoholism often experience a worsening of symptoms over time, causing greater distress in their lives. There are many potential causes of AUD, including cultural and social factors, mental illness, and trauma. It is treatable with therapy, medication, and continued support from others. In this article, we will answer the question — Is alcohol misuse a mental illness or chronic disease?

Is alcoholism the same as alcohol use disorder?

When a person has uncontrolled and problematic drinking, he or she may have a health condition called alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly known as alcoholism. Health professionals use a list of symptoms to diagnose AUD. Depending on how many symptoms the person has, AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe.

To differentiate between at-risk drinking and alcohol use disorder, the DSM-5-TR criteria should be used. AUD is a chronic brain disorder resulting from compulsive alcohol consumption, loss of control over alcohol use, and negative emotions (e.g., stress and anger) when not drinking. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.5 million people ages 12 and older, including 9 million males and 5.5 million females, suffer from AUD. Read on to learn why AUD is considered a mental health condition, which mental health conditions commonly occur alongside it, and treatment options. Though at-risk and binge drinking can result in a range of adverse consequences, not all people who engage in these kinds of unhealthy alcohol use have alcohol use disorder.

Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment

You and your family may feel you have turned against each other. You may be angry at your family and friends, and they may be angry at you. Even if you are successful in other areas of your life, visit a doctor or go to a self-help group. The earlier you get help, the easier it will be to cut back or quit. Your doctor also may ask questions or do tests to look for health problems linked to alcohol, such as cirrhosis. Drinking alcohol while you are pregnant can lead to severe birth defects in your baby.

is alcoholism a disorder

Psychotherapies can help a person learn to cope with everyday stress without alcohol. AUD is usually treated with multiple methods, including behavioral therapies, medications, sober house and support groups. Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed based on criteria as outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Impact on your health

For many people, drinking alcohol is nothing more than a pleasant way to relax. People with alcohol use disorders, however, drink to excess, endangering both themselves and others. This question-and-answer fact sheet explains alcohol problems and how psychologists can help people recover. Too much alcohol affects your speech, muscle coordination and vital centers of your brain.

Psychologists who are trained and experienced in treating alcohol problems can be helpful in many ways. Before the drinker seeks assistance, a psychologist can guide the family or others in helping to increase the drinker’s motivation to change. Individuals often hide their drinking or deny they have a problem.

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