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Is Addiction Really a Disease?

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According to a 2022 statistic on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s website, “29.5 million people ages 12 and older had AUD in the past year.” Alcoholism is undoubtedly a major problem—but does it qualify as a disease? Below, we’ll dive in.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction (including alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and process addictions) is a complex condition—a brain disorder that is manifested by compulsive use despite harmful consequences. People with addiction or severe substance use disorder have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life.

The Disease of Alcohol Addiction

How Addiction Changes the Brain

Drug and alcohol addiction affects the brain on a fundamental level. It alters the brain’s natural balance of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals responsible for transmitting signals in the brain and body. These changes affect and control the brain’s reward system, leading to the compulsive behavior seen in addiction. Over time, substance use becomes more important than the individual’s health, relationships, or responsibilities.

The Disease Model of Addiction

The disease model of addiction views it as a chronic disease similar to cardiovascular disease or diabetes. This model argues that addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental, and biological factors. Genetics play a significant role, contributing to about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop an addiction. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the most effective treatments for alcoholism, also follow the disease model of addiction.

Is Alcoholism a Mental Illness?

Yes, alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is considered a mental illness. Alcohol use disorder is characterized by an inability to manage or stop alcohol use despite the negative consequences on one’s health, relationships, and responsibilities. It encompasses a range of behaviors from mild to severe alcohol problems and includes physical dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is reduced or stopped. In fact, the American Medical Association even classifies alcoholism as a disabling condition

Alcohol use disorder affects the brain and behavior through its impact on the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory functions. Treatment often requires a comprehensive approach, including behavioral therapies, support groups, and sometimes medications to help manage detox symptoms and prevent relapse. Recognizing alcoholism as a mental illness helps in reducing stigma and encourages individuals affected by it to seek appropriate treatment and support.

Emotional Symptoms

What Increases the Risk for Addiction?

Several risk factors can increase the odds of developing an addiction, including genetics, the type of substance used, the age of first use, and the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders. Environmental factors, such as exposure to trauma or stress and the influence of family and peers, also play a critical role.

Addiction Relapses Are a Reality, But Not Failure

Relapse is a common part of the recovery process in both chronic medical disease and alcoholism. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully, but it may involve multiple attempts at treatment to achieve and maintain abstinence. Relapse does not mean failure but indicates the need for revised management of the person or condition.

Getting Treatment for Addiction

Substance abuse treatment for addiction is personalized and can include various approaches, with treatments such as medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapies, and support groups. At SCRC, an all-male outpatient treatment center in San Diego, our health care providers focus on offering a supportive environment for recovery while allowing clients to maintain their daily responsibilities.

Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Outpatient treatment allows individuals to receive therapy, medication, and support while living at home or in a sober living. This type of treatment is ideal for those who have commitments such as work or family and prefer a less restrictive environment than inpatient treatment.

Find Hope and Help for Drug Addiction

Recovery from addiction is a journey of healing and transformation. Finding the right support and treatment is crucial to overcoming addiction. At SCRC, we are committed to providing hope and help for those struggling with drug addiction through our comprehensive outpatient treatment programs. Our admissions team will help verify your health insurance to make the admissions process easy and simple. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Reach out to us for support and guidance on the path to a healthier, substance abuse-free life.

Southern California Recovery Centers

Southern California’s Premier Outpatient Addiction Recovery Center


Yes, alcoholism is considered a mental health disorder due to its significant impact on mood, behavior, and mental functioning.

Alcoholism is distinct from personality disorders, but can be associated with personality disorders like borderline personality disorder.

Alcoholism is widely recognized as a disease due to its chronic nature, identifiable signs and symptoms, and its ability to be treated and managed.


Depression and anxiety disorders are frequently associated with alcoholism.

Yes, alcoholism is a complex disorder influenced by a variety of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.

Alcoholism is considered a disease because it meets the criteria for disease, including a predictable progression and response to treatment.

People may rely on alcohol for various reasons, including coping with stress, escaping from problems, or due to genetic and environmental influences.

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