Alcoholism is a primary, chronic, progressive and sometimes fatal disease recognized by professional medical organizations. In fact, alcoholism shares many of the same characteristics as other diseases. For example, alcoholism has strong genetic and behavioral components, much like asthma or diabetes. Using a variety of diagnostic measures, alcoholism can be detected and diagnosed. Alcoholism can even be managed using behavioral therapy and medications, especially when learning about the underlying causes of the addiction. Finally, alcoholism shows patterns of control and relapse.

Even though alcoholism is regarded as a disease by the medical community, the general public tends to disagree on the issue. Many people believe that alcohol addiction is a social problem instead of a health issue. This stigma affects the way people view those addicted to alcohol and makes people less likely to fund alcohol treatment programs. This personal problem is often viewed by the public as a lack of self-control, and it creates a wedge for those who are combating addiction while trying to lead a sober life.

When the general public fails to see that alcoholism is a disease, many negative things start to happen. Fewer addicts get the help they need, driving up alcohol-related healthcare costs, disrupting families, slashing productivity in the workplace and threatening society as a whole. Fortunately, when people do get the medical treatment they need, society is safer as a whole.

Imagine a person who has long struggled with alcoholism. Instead of being a threat to his family, his workplace and society, he joins an inpatient facility and is able to overcome his addiction. This stops family abuse as well as operating machinery and driving while intoxicated. There are also long-term costs to think about. When people are not treated for their ongoing disease, the effects spiral out of control. Those suffering from alcoholism are in poorer health, and this drives up healthcare costs. When alcoholism is treated early on, recovering addicts have better overall health and require less medical intervention.

One of the difficult aspects of diagnosing alcoholism is that everyone has a different definition of what it means to be an alcoholic. Someone with alcohol dependence has strong cravings, an inability to control the number of drinks, a physical dependency and a high tolerance. With this in mind, there is no formula for what makes a person an alcoholic. It does not have to do with what, how much or how often an individual drinks but how it controls their life.

This is a complicated concept since many people can claim that they are not addicted to alcohol but never actually take the initiative to cut back on their habit. Also, addiction does not happen to every person who drinks, which means one person could drink less than another yet have an addiction. The ongoing research allows the medical community to understand the disease better, which will, in turn, lead to improved treatment techniques. Alcoholism is a widespread problem and should be treated like any other diagnosable disease; after all, this approach benefits society as a whole.