People have had a problem with alcohol pretty much since time began, and this has commonly been referred to by many different terms over the centuries. Even in today’s world someone who has a problem with drink is either referred to as alcoholic or in other seemingly less threatening terms. These can include alcohol addiction, general addiction, alcohol dependence, problem drinking and many others.
The general acceptance of alcoholism as being the defining term for people who are seriously addicted to alcohol and cannot stop came with the advent of the organisation of Alcoholics Anonymous some 60 or 70 years ago. The growth of this organisation went hand-in-hand with a more general acceptance of alcoholism as being an illness, rather than being a moral weakness which in many ways has always been seen as before.
The medical profession and the approach of the majority of rehabs sees alcoholism as an illness, and treats addiction more generally as an illness as well. Whilst it is almost impossible to define alcoholism, the general approach of Alcoholics Anonymous is to see alcoholism is a threefold illness, mental physical and spiritual.
This is not a theoretical approach or a theory borne out of medical research. This is a lived experience approach, based on the recovery of many millions of people from alcoholism through the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is probably fair to say that if someone really wants to understand the nature of alcoholism as an illness, the best way is properly to attend open meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and listen to people talk about their experience of active alcoholism and active recovery.
Alcoholism and Rehab
For a number of people this is not possible, and perhaps the most important thing to grasp is the understanding that alcoholism is an illness. It may not be possible to define what that illness is, but it does become more evident if one looks out on those or understands an individual who is suffering from it.
It is probably worth saying also that there is a distinction between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker, a distinction made in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The general sense is that a heavy drinker whilst encountering many of the same problems that an alcoholic might have on the lives will be able to stop on their own willpower, albeit with a significant amount of difficulty.
The alcoholic, on the other hand. will at some point be completely unable to stop even if they need to or want to. Indeed the mindsets of most alcoholics is that alcohol is the only thing that is really holding them together, and the worse their life gets both internally and externally the more they turn to alcohol at one thing they can depend on in a life of seeming internal chaos.