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Alcoholism conflicting definitions

Apr 30, 2008
Alcoholism has many differing meanings. If often means continuing to drink heavily in the face of significant social and health issues. Some view alcoholism as a social problem, others as a medical disease. The term can refer to feeling compelled to drink alcohol, and also an inability to see the negative influence heavy drinking has. Most indicate that current alcohol consumption is necessary for alcoholism, and others mention the long-term issues of heavy drinking such as dependence on alcohol resulting in symptoms of withdrawal.

The behaviour regarding alcohol consumption which leads to alcoholism varies wildly. It is impossible to predict the probability of becoming an alcoholic based on drinking habits, though obviously some alcohol intake is required. The biological processes which cause alcohol dependence are not fully understood, though influences such as mental health, genetic predisposition and social surroundings have been researched.

The word 'alcoholism' was first used in Sweden by Dr. Huss in 1849, but it was not brought into common usage until the 1940s with the founding of the Alcoholics Anonymous. The AA didn't have a clear definition for the disease, so they likened it to a kind of allergy.

E. Morton Jellinek was a pioneer in perceiving alcoholism as a legitimate disease. His study in 1960 limited the definition of alcoholism to patients showing a genetic history of the disease. Modern medical definitions have been revised since then, but the majority of people in medicine still believe it is an illness, and not just a social choice. Dr. Peele and Dr. Fingarette are exceptions, stating that alcoholism is not a disease. They concede that the term 'alcoholism' refers to an illness, and refer instead to the term 'heavy drinking' when discussing excessive alcohol consumption.

Classifying someone as an alcoholic can be hard because the physiological features of an alcoholic and someone who drinks a lot can be the same. To identify an alcoholic, often it is necessary to judge the negative impact heavy drinking has on the person's quality of life compared with the perceived benefits the alcoholic is receiving. There are always instances where it is difficult to establish whether or not a person is an alcoholic.

The primary effect of alcoholism is to encourage the sufferer to drink at times and in amounts that are damaging. The secondary damage caused by an inability to control one's drinking manifests in many ways.

Alcoholics often drink even after the disease has a noticeable impact on their health. The disease often results in cirrhosis, increased risk of cancer, epilepsy, heart disease, pancreatitis and death in many instances.
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