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Alcoholism is not a topic many of us want to think about, let alone deal with. In fact, if you ask anyone to define alcoholism, you’ll probably wind up with various answers. There are many definitions of alcoholism, and they’re all more or less true. Whichever definition you prefer, the simple truth is that alcoholism is a serious disease that threatens to completely undermine the affected individual’s health, family and social standing.
Here are some of the many definitions of alcoholism.
• Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
First published in 1992, this definition of alcoholism by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) had also been approved by the Boards of Directors of the National Council on Alcoholism and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (both in 1990):
According to JAMA, alcoholism is: “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.” The definition further adds that alcoholism is “often progressive and fatal” and is characterized by continuous or periodic symptoms such as “impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably, denial.”
• Medical definition of alcoholism
A medical terms site defines alcoholism as a physical dependence on alcohol such that stopping will cause withdrawal symptoms. More popular usage refers to ingrained drinking habits that cause both health and social problems.
• Mayo Clinic alcoholism definition
Alcoholism is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a chronic disease that makes your body dependent on alcohol.” Mayo further defines alcoholism as an obsession, one that makes you unable to control your drinking, even at the expense of serious relationship, health, work and financial problems. Alcoholism is a treatable disease, however, involving medication, counseling and self-help groups as some of its therapies.
• National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcoholism, also called alcohol dependence, as a disease involving four symptoms: craving (experiencing a compelling urge, desire or need to drink), loss of control (inability to stop once drinking has begun), physical dependence (nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety during withdrawal) and tolerance (needing to drink more to get “high”).
According to the NIAAA, alcoholism is a disease and, like many other diseases, is chronic, that is, it lasts a lifetime. The disease follows a course that is predictable and has recognizable symptoms. Genetic predisposition (family history of alcoholism) and lifestyle can contribute to a person’s becoming an alcoholic. Other contributing factors include increased stress and the availability of alcohol.
Alcoholism: The Bottom Line
What matters in the end is that alcoholism is a state of habitual intoxication, where an individual consumes alcohol in a progressive and excessive manner, and thus paves the way to an inevitable breakdown in health (physical and mental), family, social, job and financial situations, as well as an addiction to alcohol.
It’s also important to note that the risk for developing alcoholism based on family history does not mean a person is destined to become an alcoholic. While there is no cure for alcoholism, it can be treated with counseling and medications.