What Causes Alcoholism: Disease Or Choice?

Find Rehab Now

Anyone who has survived alcohol dependency or lived with someone who has, understands the enormous disruption an addiction causes within the family. A person’s health and mental state are affected, their livelihoods, and breakdowns in relationships are common when someone is dealing with alcohol abuse.


In the latter part of the 1930s, alcohol’s impact on these four factors of physical health, mental health, social contribution, and relationships, were carefully examined by American physician E.M. Jellinek. By the 1950s, Jellinek’s pioneering studies helped redefine alcohol, not as a choice, but as a disease recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). Jellinek said alcoholism required medical treatment to overcome it, and as he described it, alcoholism cannot be a choice because no one of sound mind would choose the self-destructive behaviors equated with alcoholism.

Of course, whether or not someone takes a drink in the first place is a choice, but the course thereafter is determined by a number of external forces combined with genetics. Similar to cancer, predisposition to the disease, as well as external factors like pollution or stress, can result in malignancies. Just as a person doesn’t choose to expose themselves knowingly to higher risk of cancer, those addicted to alcohol don’t drink to become dependent on the drug. In each case, the disease is the result of key underlying risk factors.

Alcohol Dependence Syndrome, Disorder, And Disease

Though the American Medical Association still classifies alcoholism as a disease, by the 1970s, the WHO reclassified alcoholism as a syndrome. Regardless of which term is used, the fundamental origins of alcoholism are still somewhat vague. Studies of identical twins in which one twin suffered from alcoholism showed a high likelihood the other twin had the potential to develop an addiction as well, suggesting a genetic component to addictive behaviors. Stress, preexisting anxiety disorders, depression, and low-self esteem also appear to play key roles in determining whether or not someone is likely to become addicted to alcohol.

Key Characteristics Of Alcohol Dependence Include:

  • Substance abuse resulting in failure to perform work or duties at home
  • Consumption of alcohol despite physical hazards (i.e. drinking while driving)
  • Legal issues related to substance abuse
  • Social and relationship issues resulting from use of alcohol

Risk Factors For Alcoholism In The Family

You might hear someone say, “I don’t drink because alcoholism runs in the family.” Numerous studies support this claim. In fact, a child of a parent who suffers from alcoholism is four times more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists four factors likely in increase risk of addiction in families. These include families with at least one parent suffering from some form of mental illness or depression who abuses alcohol, both parents abusing alcohol, a greater severity of alcohol abuse within the family, and a history of violence within the family.

Stop Alcohol Dependence Before It Starts

An awareness of risk of alcoholism in the family is one step toward prevention of perpetuation of the disease. If members of your immediate family suffer from addiction to alcohol, avoid underage drinking and drinking in excess.

Those who engage in underage drinking typically suffer significant impairments to the brain alcohol can deliver. A fully developed brain, especially the frontal-cortex, the decision-making and reasoning centers of the brain, appears to have some positive association with reduced likelihood of developing alcohol dependency.

A history of alcoholism in the family does not mean someone can’t enjoy a glass of wine at dinner, or champagne celebrating some great achievement, but it does mean a more proactive approach to self-regulation. Drinking only occasionally and not while under duress or stress will help reduce a person’s overall likelihood of alcohol dependence.

Ready To Make A Change?

Get cost-effective, quality addiction care that truly works.

Start Your Recovery

Alcoholism Not By Choice

The trouble with looking at alcohol as a choice is the resulting attitudes toward those addicted to alcohol. Brain function is altered by alcohol and the choice to drink or not to drink has been consumed by physical cravings for the drug. Reasoning centers of the brain are affected, meaning those addicted to alcohol no longer have the ability to connect their behaviors to the consequences. They have become dependent on drinking to feel normal. As tolerance to alcohol increases, the alcohol-dependent individual drinks more, often to the detriment of their physical health. They now require intervention and treatment to stop using alcohol.

Reassessing how alcohol alters the brain and bodily functions, the social implications of drinking in excess, and someone’s ability to function normally within society, helps to define some of the classic characteristics of the disease. It also helps replace blame with proactive support of the person in need of treatment for alcohol addiction.

Treat The Disease Of Alcohol Dependency

As with any disease, don’t let the illness define the person. Assess the symptoms and treat the disease. AlcoholTreatment.net is one resource to help those coping with alcoholism in the family find support and treatment options for themselves or a loved one. If you are uncertain as to whether you are suffering from a dependency on alcohol, don’t wait to get help.

Alcohol affects reasoning centers of the brain, sometimes making it difficult for someone facing dependency to recognize the signs and symptoms. If your loved ones or co-workers are commenting on your performance at home or at work, it may be a sign you need help. Don’t wait. Contact AlcoholTreatment.net in confidence today and connect with help available today to stop alcohol dependency before it claims your life.

Leave a Reply

Get 24/7 help now
All calls free and confidential.
Who Answers?

For Immediate Treatment Help Call:
(888) 645-0551