What is Alcoholism and How Does Treatment Help?

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What is Alcoholism and How Does Treatment Help?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Alcoholism is a term that has been around for quite a long time, but over the generations it has been understood and treated in a variety of ways. Perhaps as the world and society evolves, so does the average alcoholic.

Either way you look at it, alcoholism is a very real threat. National surveys of recent years indicate:

  • Nearly 19 million people in the US abuse alcohol, or have an addiction to it.
  • In Europe, it’s estimated that 23 million people are dependent on alcohol
  • Estimates say more than two million deaths resulting from alcohol consumption a year internationally

History of Alcoholism

The term “alcoholism” was first used by a Swedish professor of medicine, Magnus Huss (1807-1890). Huss turned the phrase in 1849, to mean poisoning by alcohol. While today “alcohol poisoning” is a more direct classification, alcohol-ism is still a poison in the lives of those who is touches.

Huss distinguished between two types of alcoholism:

  1. Acute alcoholism

Huss’s definition says this is the result of the temporary effects of alcohol taken within a short period of time, such as intoxication. Basically, it is having too much to drink.

  1. Chronic alcoholism

This Huss calls a pathological condition through the habitual use of alcoholic beverages in poisonous amounts over a long period of time. A pretty innovative idea, and something that would be debated for over a century.

Since 1849, the definition has changed endlessly.

Alcoholism Defined

Establishing a definitive “alcoholism” definition is difficult as there is little unanimity on the subject. The reason for such a variety of definitions is the different opinions each authority holds, and the year the definition was formed. We have the strictest definition the dictionary provides:

  •  An addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol

We also have the concept presented by the book Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which gives stories of struggle and strength, experience and hope; the lives of many alcoholics who developed a manner of living through a plan of action rooted in 12 Steps. Here alcoholism is often described as a “physical compulsion coupled with a mental obsession”. The disease model of alcoholism has evolved overtime.

Early on 12 Step fellowships like AA were cautious about trying to label the medical nature of alcoholism. However, many members believe alcoholism is a disease. In 1960 Bill Wilson, one of the founders of AA, explained why they had refrained from using the term “disease,” stating:

“We AAs have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking, it is not a disease entity. For example, there is no such thing as heart disease. Instead there are many separate heart ailments or combinations of them. It is something like that with alcoholism. Therefore, we did not wish to get in wrong with the medical profession by pronouncing alcoholism a disease entity. Hence, we have always called it an illness or a malady—a far safer term for us to use.”

These days, the classification of disease is commonly applied to alcoholism or addiction. Some have called them brain disorders. While some dispute the disease label, many believe it is the truest portrayal of alcohol addiction in the most severe form. The idea of alcoholism being a disease has been around since as early as the 18th century.

Many of the more up-to-date medical definitions do describe it as a disease. These definitions say the alcohol problem is influenced by:

  • Genetic
  • Psychological
  • Social factors

Treatment of Alcoholism

When asking how treatment for alcoholism is important, there are a few specifically important elements to consider. When it comes to health risks of trying to quit cold turkey, it can be a lot more painful or dangerous than you think. Also, lasting recovery has a lot more to do with learning new coping skills and behaviors than just giving up the substance.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs when the central nervous system (CNS) becomes overly excited. Alcohol suppressing the activity in the CNS, so the abrupt absence of alcohol causes the CNS to jump into overdrive. In essence, your system starts overcompensating.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms include:

The severity of the alcohol withdrawal syndrome can range from mild to very severe and even life-threatening.

Most treatment programs understand the importance of therapy at different levels. Group therapy helps people fighting addiction receive peer support. Individual therapy lets you work more intimately on these issues with a professional.

Holistic programs such as Palm Partners Treatment Program help you develop a personalized recovery plan to guide you in your treatment, setting benchmarks and goals while you are in treatment.

Some groups are more educationally-structured in order to teach you very important aspects for understanding the nature alcoholism, as well as ways to make major lifestyle changes. Holistic recovery is about more than surviving your struggle, but actually outlining a way you can thrive and move forward with healthy life skills. Finding the right treatment option can make all the difference in how you define your alcoholism, versus how you let it define you.

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