Sober living

Recognizing Alcoholism as a Disease

Since the 1700s, physicians and researchers have sounded the alarm of alcohol addiction, but it wasn’t until 1954 that alcoholism was classified as a disease by the New York City Medical Society on Alcohol. Before the 1950s, many saw alcoholism as a weakness or flaw in character rather than a diagnosable and treatable disease. By Sarah Bence, OTR/L

Sarah Bence, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and freelance writer. She specializes in a variety of health topics including mental health, dementia, celiac disease, and endometriosis. If you have depression and drink too much alcohol, then you may be wondering if there are any treatments or lifestyle changes for someone in your situation. Substance-induced depression is different from major depressive disorder and, by definition, should improve once a person stops consuming substances (such as alcohol).

  • Alcoholism is often misused by people struggling with mental health disorders.
  • Because heavy alcohol use can cause psychological disturbances, patients who present with co-occurring psychiatric and alcohol problems often do not suffer from two independent disorders (i.e., do not require two independent diagnoses).
  • His denial of his alcoholism waned with persistent gentle confrontation by his counselors, and he began attending the hospital’s 12-step program.

As a result, the rates of diagnosed AOD-use disorders in mental health settings have continued to rise. In addition, clinicians have become more aware of the high prevalence of AOD-use disorders and more skilled at identifying them (Cuffel 1996). Severe mental disorders frequently are complicated by comorbid disorders, such as medical illnesses, mental retardation, and is alcoholism a mental illness AOD abuse. Co-occurring AOD-use disorders represent the most frequent and clinically most significant comorbidity among mentally ill patients, and alcohol is the most commonly abused drug (Cuffel 1996). Undoubtedly, the fact that alcohol is readily available and that its purchase and consumption are legal for anyone age 21 and older contributes to its widespread abuse.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

People with AUD and co-occurring psychiatric disorders bring unique clinical challenges tied to the severity of each disorder, the recency and severity of alcohol use, and the patient’s pressing psychosocial stressors. An overall emphasis on the AUD component may come first, or an emphasis on the co-occurring psychiatric disorder may take precedence, or both conditions can be treated simultaneously. The treatment priorities depend on factors such as each patient’s needs and the clinical resources available. As with anxiety and mood disorders, it can help for a healthcare professional to create a timeline with the patient to clarify the sequence of the traumatic event(s), the onset of PTSD symptoms, and heavy alcohol use. One way to differentiate PTSD from autonomic hyperactivity caused by alcohol withdrawal is to ask whether the patient has distinct physiological reactions to things that resemble the traumatic event. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) often co-occurs with other mental health disorders, either simultaneously or sequentially.1 The prevalence of anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders is much higher among persons with AUD compared to the general population.

is alcoholism a mental illness

The condition is likely the result of a combination of genetic, social, psychological, and environmental factors. Other early signs of alcoholism include blackout drinking or a drastic change in demeanor while drinking, such as consistently becoming angry or violent. You can search for an empathetic mental health professional using our Healthline FindCare tool to get more information and help finding the right treatment for you.

Alcohol-Related Psychiatric Symptoms and Signs

A number of lifestyle and integrative therapies have been evaluated for effectiveness as adjunctive therapies for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and some show promise (see Table 2). These therapies have the potential to improve both mental and physical health, and therefore may improve health outcomes for people with mental and physical co-morbidities. In particular, there is a strong evidence base for the use of physical activity as a treatment for SMI, common mental disorders, ADHD and PTSD, as demonstrated within a recent meta-review of meta-analyses of RCTs; showing comparable efficacy across all of these conditions [69]. Whereas the evidence for dietary interventions is more nascent, there are now meta-analyses of RCTs showing small but statistically significant reductions in depressive symptoms from dietary interventions [70].

is alcoholism a mental illness