Specific Situations > Suicide/Addiction/Mental Illness/Abuse

Alcoholism and Addiction As A Disease?

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Bluebird:
I wanted to bring this topic to our new home, since I know it's an important topic for many of us to grapple with.

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Hi everyone,

I've been thinking a lot lately about whether alcoholism is a disease or not. It comes up here frequently and some of us believe it's a disease, others that it's a choice, and still others that it might be an issue of choice that becomes so bad, it then becomes a disease.

I did a quick google search and found a reasonably balanced article describing both sides of the argument here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disease_theory_of_alcoholism

I don't want to try and convince anyone one way or the other, but I wanted to share my experience with my husband, and what eventually convinced me he had a disease. In his case, one which was very resistant to treatment.

Before I realized my husband had a disease, I was a very angry wife. I was living in fear of what I would come home to. When I got home from work, I often found my husband hopelessly drunk, passed out or wounded in some way. I'd get really angry, yell, scream, be bitter, sarcastic or dismissive. Although he was definitely not doing the right thing, I was also a very horrible person. I think I was that way because I believed he had a choice not to do what he did, and he must not care for me too much if he chose to hurt me and our son like this.

But my beliefs changed and my anger turned to compassion after a very tragic event. In 2008, my husband suffered a major brain hemorrhage that led to a stroke. Thank goodness I was home at the time because I was able to get him help quickly and he was airlifted to a major brain injury unit in our state. He was comatose for a week, and when he came out of the coma, he had lost a lot of function on his right side as well as impaired memory, speech and ability to understand how to do things like turn on a tv, or operate a computer or oven etc.

He was taken to a stroke rehab facility and I visited him daily. While there, he once whispered to me "Don't worry, I won't do the bad thing anymore." So he recognized that his drinking had led to this stroke.

I used to take him on "walks" around the facility in his wheelchair and he would asked me to take him by the little shop that was there. He wanted to buy chocolate. Now he liked chocolate, but he bought 6-8 candy bars! I figured the food was horrible and he wanted something sweet at the end of the day. I also assumed these candy bars would last several weeks. The next day, I visited him and he asked me to take him to the store again. I asked why and he said he wanted to buy chocolate. I looked in his bedside drawer and he had eaten every candy bar! In fact he went every day and bought half a dozen or so each day! I spoke to the nurses about whether he was being fed well enough, and he was, but they let me know that addicts have such a huge urge to "feed the craving" if they can't get access to their drug of choice, they will go for sugar. This was happening 6 weeks or so after the stroke.

This is when I realized that he had an illness that led to cravings so intense, they had to be satisfied with something. For me it clicked that he wasn't choosing to hurt me or our son and that this was going to be a tough battle if the cravings are this strong, I also developed compassion for what he was going through.

I do believe my husband had choices much earlier in the disease. Like adult onset diabetes, perhaps he could have avoided such a severe life threatening disease if he had modified his choices much earlier. But later in the progression, I knew the strength of the illness was enormous and that he was unlikely to survive it.

I wonder if others here also had an aha! moment like mine?

Anyway, wanted to share it in case it's helpful and sorry it's so....long :-)

Take care, Bluebird

OSAAT:
Alcoholism is an illness. The manifested symptoms are different from cancer or diabetes and that's where the confusion comes in for many people. The alcoholic obsesses about alcohol, drinks the alcohol, then craves more alcohol. They react very differently to alcohol than non alcoholics. I have found the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to be a great source of information on alcoholism, the best I have found, actually. There is a chapter titled to the wives that is full of great information. It is hard to see it as an illness when it causes so much pain and destruction in relationships, but it definitely is an illness.

Sugarbell:
I am a recovering prescription drug addict...my first 2 years of recovery I worked as a prevention specialist in 8 counties. When I would go into the schools I always used cigarette smoking as an example of addiction. Every kid knew someone who smoked. And they all said that the smoker knew it was bad for them and wanted to quit.

So why don't they quit if they know it could kill them?
That's called addiction ( Not dogging on my smoker friends-I used to smoke)

When I put addiction in that category-it made perfect sense to them.

It's a disease....we have lost all control. We can't control it...just like a smoker has a hard time not smoking.

I am 3 years clean now....but I make a conscious effort to work my recovery and manage my disease daily. If I don't...I will relapse and will die.

I also use the Russian Roulette to get kids attention (no offense to SOSers-I myself am one)....I tell them some of you can binge drink in college or experiment with drugs when your young and never become addicted...others will have a life long addiction...Someone will get the bullet from the chamber...And it doesn't matter how smart, athletic, popular, who your parents are, or how much money you make.

Addiction doesn't discriminate-it's an equal opportunity destroyer.

nonesuch:
I was frustrated that my husband refused to seek treatment or his alcoholism.

And yes, if he's had diabetes, refused to watch his diet or take insulin, I'd have felt the same way.

It made me angry that he never even tried.

Skitwin:
He couldn't. Someone once told me that when an alcoholic chooses to drink, it it only during the first time. Every drink after that is compulsion.

Only 4% of "problem drinkers" are true alcoholics...these are the people who react differently to alcohol and whose brains rewire rapidly to exposure to alcohol (source: CDC). There is psychological dependence, and then there is physical dependence.

My doctor told me that we all want so much to think that we have a choice over addiction, and get confused when we see some people "overcome" it. But those aren't the genetic, physical addicts. Those are the problem drinkers who have a shot at change and the ability to do it. For true (genetic) addicts, death or physical restraint are the only ways it stops. Our husbands died of a disease that is no less a disease than cancer.

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