Is Alcoholism a Disease?Posted: April 25, 2011
First let’s define disease: deviation from or interruption of the normal structure or function of any body part, organ, or system that is manifested by a characteristic set of symptoms and signs and whose etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown. Also: A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms. A condition or tendency, as of society, regarded as abnormal and harmful. Obsolete Lack of ease; trouble. It is very clear to see how alcoholism fits into these definitions. Still, the debate is heated and the jury is still out.
Here’s some facts that support the disease model of Alcoholism:
1. There is a gene that seems to be linked with one’s sensitivity to alcohol. It’s called CYP2E1. The manipulation of this gene may be very helpful in the field of alcohol treatment. You can read about it here.
2. The role of alcohol on brain neurotransmitters is well known and proven. Neurotransmitters are crucial to brain processes and for our purposes here, our mood and behavior patterns. One of them in particular seems to be directly related to happiness: Serotonin. Neurotransmitters are closely linked to mental health and should be considered in addiction treatment and alcohol treatment. You can read more about the effects of alcohol on Serotonin here.
3. Researchers have been focusing on a particular area of the brain that seems to be involved in alcohol relapse. This area is called the nucleus accumbens (NAcb) core which drives motivated, goal-directed behaviors. Researchers studying a new drug that could help in preventing alcohol relapse, Chlorzoxazone, found that decreased calcium-activated potassium channels (SK) and increased excitability in the NAcb core represents a critical mechanism that facilitates motivation to seek alcohol after abstinence. Read more about it here.
There is overwhelming evidence from neuroscience that supports the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol on the brain.
Yet, we are skeptical. We tend to say things like “why can’t you just put it down?!” “why can’t you just quit?” “what’s wrong with you?”
The disease model of addiction and alcoholism does not imply that we are powerless robots incapable of recovery. Information is out there to help us outsmart the disease, help us understand it and inform treatment alternatives. Information should be able to make us less judgmental and more accepting. Somehow it doesn’t. This is another blog topic all together. Also the disease model implies that there are biological, psychological and social factors that determine the course of the disease and recovery. Just like other well-known diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Our biological predisposition, our psychological make-up and our societal influences COMBINED lead to alcoholism.
Which means, if you are a family member, a friend, a primary care doctor, you too affect the course of the disease of addiction as much as the person’s choice to pick up a drink and a drug. The disease model does not intend to strip the individual from any power or responsibility over the disease, it is meant to create a SHARED responsibility and power between the individual and his/her environment.
Ultimately, it is not as important to determine who’s fault it is that one drinks, as it is to collectively help each other live healthier, happier lives.