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Understanding Alcoholism

Alcohol consumption is common in most parts of the world and most people consume alcohol sparingly or in moderation. In some people, however, alcohol consumption can become a chronic disease, or long-term illness, that has serious medical consequences. It is uncertain what causes this to happen in some people but not in others.

An estimated 17.6 million Americans have a problem with the overuse of alcohol. About half of them are alcoholics—or alcohol dependent in medical terms. Many people feel that not being able to stop drinking is a personal weakness. It isn’t; alcoholism is a chronic disease. Individuals with alcoholism suffer from an addiction, typically becoming preoccupied with drinking and not able to control how much or how often they indulge. Though they might be aware of the risks involved in consuming too much alcohol, they are often unable to resist, despite the known dangers.

Alcoholism becomes worse over time if drinking continues, and can lead to death or other serious medical problems. Like diabetes or depression, alcohol dependence can be treated.


Twelve Questions to Consider When Selecting Treatment Programs

If you or someone you care for is dependent on alcohol or drugs and needs treatment, it is important to know that no single treatment approach is appropriate for all individuals. Finding the right treatment program involves careful consideration of such things as the setting, length of care, philosophical approach and your or your loved one's needs.

Here are 12 questions to consider when selecting a treatment program:

  • Does the program accept your insurance? If not, will they work with you on a payment plan or find other means of support for you?
  • Is the program run by state-accredited, licensed and/or trained professionals?
  • Is the facility clean, organized and well-run?
  • Does the program encompass the full range of needs of the individual (medical: including infectious diseases; psychological: including co-occurring mental illness; social; vocational; legal; etc.)?
  • Does the treatment program also address sexual orientation and physical disabilities as well as provide age, gender and culturally appropriate treatment services?
  • Is long-term aftercare support and/or guidance encouraged, provided and maintained?
  • Is there ongoing assessment of an individual's treatment plan to ensure it meets changing needs?
  • Does the program employ strategies to engage and keep individuals in longer-term treatment, increasing the likelihood of success?
  • Does the program offer counseling (individual or group) and other behavioral therapies to enhance the individual's ability to function in the family/community?
  • Does the program offer medication as part of the treatment regimen, if appropriate?
  • Is there ongoing monitoring of possible relapse to help guide patients back to abstinence?
  • Are services or referrals offered to family members to ensure they understand addiction and the recovery process to help them support the recovering individual?

Drug Addiction and Alcoholism; A Treatable Illness

Drug addiction and alcohol addiction are comparable to chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, and should be treated as such,according to an article published in a year 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Authors Thomas McLellan, Ph.D., and Herbert D. Kleber, M.D., conducted a literature review of those illnesses, revealing that there are underlying similarities between drug addiction, alcohol addiction and chronic diseases. Yet, say the researchers, drug addiction is typically treated as if it is an acute condition. Altering perceptions to think of drug addiction as a chronic illness may change the way it is treated and insured.

The researchers found that drug addiction and alcoholism shares many of the characteristics of other chronic illnesses. In the area of genetic heritability, for example, studies of monozygotic and dizygotic twins have found heritability estimates of .25 to .50 for hypertension; .80 for type 2 and .30 for type 1 diabetes; and .36 to .70 for asthma. Heritability estimates for the drug addictions are similar, ranging from .34 for heroin dependence, .55 for alcoholism, .52 for marijuana dependence, and .61 for dependence on cigarettes.

Typically, both medical professionals and the general public view drug abuse as voluntary activities. That people choose to use drugs seems to set drug addiction and alcohol adidiction apart from other chronic illnesses. Yet, there are many chronic illnesses in which voluntary choice affects initiation and maintenance of disease. Salt sensitivity, obesity, stress level, and physical inactivity, all within voluntary control, are important factors in the development of hypertension.

Drug addiction and alcoholism also resembles other chronic illnesses in regard to treatment response. The course that an drug addiction takes if left untreated is an important issue in this regard. Studies comparing treated and untreated populations of addicts have typically shown that untreated, addictions do not remit.









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