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Nathan Herrmann
Paul Roberts
Alcoholism and Disease

Feelings of shame and guilt coupled with lying to others about habits. Drinking in order
to relax and drinking more than intended. Having others express worry or concern about your
drinking. Even "black-outs" and not remembering what was done while drinking. These are all
signs that point to alcoholism. As a whole this problem can interfere with normal life by
interfering with work, school and family. Because alcohol is purchasable by anyone above the
age of twenty one it is one of the most commonly abused substances; how we react to this
substance abuse could make all the difference.
Over the past hundred years the view of alcoholism has changed dramatically. With the
publishing of the book "The Disease Concept of Alcoholism" by E. Morton Jellinek, the way we
began to think of alcoholics changed. Prior to this addicts were seen as socially and morally
wrong. They could be shunned and punished for their problem. Thinking of Alcoholism as a
disease, however, changed the way that physicians and society as a whole reacted to those with
this problem. In his book he lists the different stages in the drinking process that are commonly
passed through. Pre-alcoholic phase when social drinking begins to build up a tolerance,
prodromal phase when the drinker begins to drink alone, crucial phase when drinking begins to
spiral out of control and life problems begin to arise and finally chronic phase where daily
drinking occurs and is the main focus of life.

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Alcohol was beginning to be seen as something that altered the chemistry in the brain
initially changing the way the pleasure center of the brain functions. After time more and more
alcohol must be consumed in order to receive the same feeling. It is for this reason that
alcoholics feel the strong compulsion to drink.
The focus on the changes in the brain come down to two specific parts; the limbic system
and the cerebral cortex. The limbic system controls parts of our body like motivation, cravings
and emotions while the cerebral cortex functions for critical thinking and reasoning. What
happens with continues substance abuse is that the cortex of our brain can become damaged and
allow out limbic system to take control. Our urges and cravings can become so strong that it will
overpower the cortex and cause drinking despite the knowledge of negative consequences. The
continued use only progressively deteriorates the cortexs ability to resist the limbic.
This however does not come without some speculation. Over the years there have been
questions arising about the legitimacy of the research done by Jellinek and many consider his
model of alcoholism as a disease to be harmful to those who are trying to abstain from drinking.
One argument is that by labeling alcoholism as a disease take the power and responsibility away
from the individual and that disease cannot be overcome simply by will of mind. This could
bring some individuals no measure of comfort to know that they are essentially powerless in the
fight against alcoholism and that there is no way to be completely cured of it. It is believe that
this form of thought brings helplessness to the individual and ultimately makes the problem of
alcoholism worse.
Part of the argument stems from criticism of Jellinek himself. The research that he
conducted when creating his phases is brought into question and some think that he hand picked
the individuals of his study in order to view desired results. Others claim that he doctored his

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own research to show a specific pattern in drinking. Whether these reasons are true or not it can
be argued that over time his ideas and theories would be proven false. What we see today is that
his ideas still stand and inform on the problems involved with alcoholism.
Viewing alcoholism as a disease means it must fit into the disease model. This means it
must be a physical addiction that cannot be controlled, have specific symptoms to the ailment
itself and require specialized medical attention. Physical withdrawal such as shaking, sweating
and other physical manifestations of dependence classify this for a physical disease and
alcoholism is considered a disease of the brain due to the way that alcohol alters it.
While the disease model fits many it does not always explain the reasons behind
everyone's addiction. There could be many different reasons, such as genetics or environmental
influences, for why alcoholism is a problem for some and not others. There is continued studies
in this field to see why some individuals are more prone to addiction than others. Further
understanding of how and why addictions occur and how the brain responds could bring great
insight in how to fight against these addiction.
Countering the disease model some would argue that the symptoms of alcoholism as a
disease are only manifest after alcohol is ingested and not before. This means that there is no
way to physically measure the extent of the disease and you can in cancer or other physical
The debate about alcoholism being a disease continues on even into the way that
treatment is administered. There is argument that viewing alcoholism as a disease causes a
negative connotation and can potentially discourage some from seeking the required help that
they need. Accepting that one is an alcoholic is accepting that you have a disease and that in the

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end there is nothing that can be done to get rid of it. To some it may seem better to simply hide
that fact that they have an addiction and to continue on in their specific perception of normality.
This same argument however could be made for an alcoholic in the prodromal phase or
critical phase of drinking. Simply having the desire to reject that fact that a problem exists can
be contributed to either side of the argument. Other arguments criticize the effectiveness of such
organizations as Alcoholics Anonymous and the twelve step program that is used in overcoming
alcohol saying that these programs lead to failure and are not beneficial to those who suffer from
alcoholism; the main cause being that the idea that alcoholism is a disease brings about the
wrong perspective.
The reality with recovery and treatment of alcoholism is that most, sometimes up to
eighty or ninety percent, of individuals who are taking the steps to recovery will experience
relapse with their abuse. This idea goes along with alcoholism as being a disease by indicating
that alcoholism is without a cure and that the only way to treat it is with abstinence from
drinking. This relapse can be seen as the cause of a disease or the choice of the individual.
While drinking alcohol is a choice that is made it must be understood that within the brain the
desire and urge to drink can become overpowering and inevitably cannot be prevented when
confronted with the situation.
All of this debate does not change the fact that alcoholism is a very real problem that
many individuals will have to deal with in their lives; whether it is themselves or someone that
they know. Understanding the signs and causes is essential to finding help and getting on the
road to recovery. There are many different programs and way that can help strengthen and
fortify an individuals resistance to substance abuse. It is a battle that has more to do that with

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one persons struggle against alcohol; it is a group effort. Abstinence from alcohol is not easily
achieved and a strong support of friends or family is required to make it down the road.
Along with recognition comes knowing how to work with and treat someone who is
struggling with the problem. To me seeing alcoholism as a disease that someone is fighting gives
a new perspective to the problem.One positive aspect of viewing alcoholism as a disease is that
insurance companies and hospitals now view it as something that is treatable and can be
overcome. This can help provide the much needed support that an individual may reuqire during
the long journey to recovery.
When we hear the word "disease" alcoholism may not be the first thing that comes to our
minds. No matter what way you look at it there will always be negativity that follows any kind
of substance abuse. Viewing alcohol as a disease is necessary in understand the issue because
just like any other disease there is hope for recovery.

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Work Cited

"Alcoholism Is Not a Disease." Alcoholism Is Not a Disease. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.


"Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse." : Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drinking Problems.
Web. 5 Aug. 2015. <http://www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/alcoholism-and-alcoholabuse.htm>.

"Disease Theory of Alcoholism | Dual Diagnosis." Dual Diagnosis. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.

Rettner, Rachael. "Reframing Alcoholism: Researcher Argues Against 'Disease' Label."

LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.

"Why Is Alcohol/Drug Addiction Considered a Disease?" Why Is Alcohol/Drug Addiction

Considered a Disease? Web. 5 Aug. 2015. <http://www.enterhealth.com/faqs/why-alcohol-anddrug-a-brain-disease>.