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Alcoholism - what is it?

The AMA and World Health Organization define alcoholism as a physical disease. A Federal Verdict in 1982 ruled, "Alcoholism is a physical disease and not a mental disorder ...This court is unaware of any disease that so directly and persistently results in death." (3rd leading cause of death in the US).  

Alcoholism results in loss of control. Once a drink is taken after sobriety, the alcoholic cannot control nor predict whether the drinking will be "normal" or "abnormal." The alcohol controls the alcoholic -- not vice versa.

It is a physical disease and not a lifestyle choice.  It is an actual impairment of the body's health that prevents the person from functioning normally. Alcohol is a powerful chemical. It disrupts and alters brain chemistry and body systems. (This is affirmed by hundreds of research papers.) This damage requires specific biochemical repair, as well as therapy.

It causes not only pain to the alcoholic but also to family and friends. It is characterised by a  pattern of alcohol use that causes a serious impairment in 


social or 


occupational functioning. 

(with recognition to and )

Alcoholism is also known as "alcohol dependence." It is a disease that includes alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law. Alcoholism includes four symptoms:

bulletCraving--A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
bulletImpaired control--The inability to limit one's drinking on any given occasion.
bulletPhysical dependence--Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
bulletTolerance--The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel its effects.

(with recognition to )

Am I an alcoholic?

Last update: 16 December 2003


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Back to index.    Disclaimer: Although reasonable effort has been applied to maintain the integrity of the data and advice on this site, no responsibility can be accepted for the use thereof. It is a resource guide for understanding and managing alcoholism. The information on this site is provided "as is" for general information and is not intended as a substitute for the diagnosis or treatment recommendation of a qualified health care professional.    Enquiries regarding this web site should be directed to