Yes. Most experts in the medical and scientific community agree that alcoholism is a disease. The American Medical Association identified alcohol as a physical disease and condition in 1956. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism is like any other disease. It is chronic, symptomatic and has a predictable pattern or course. The chances for developing alcoholism can be influenced by both genetics and lifestyle.

Alcoholics experience an obsession and craving for alcohol. They will continue to drink regardless of its negative consequences (e.g. issues within the family system, health concerns and legal problems).

The primary distinctions between the alcoholic and non alcoholic are physiological differences in their bodies and although psychological factors can play a role in an alcoholic’s drinking patterns and/or behaviors, psychological issues are not the underlying cause of alcoholism. If there are psychological or social issues that are influencing how the alcoholic drinks, it certainly has nothing to do with the fact that they are alcoholic. Alcoholism is a physical condition. With it, comes a physiological addiction and dependence on alcohol.

Alcoholics and Non-alcoholics differ because they do not process alcohol in the same way. When alcohol is consumed into the body it is converted to acetaldehyde in the liver. Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance that can be harmful to the body. For the normal drinker, the liver quickly coverts acetaldehyde into a substance called acetic acid. Acetic acid does not have the same toxic or harmful qualities as acetaldehyde. The body then converts acetic acid into carbon dioxide and water which is released through the body’s urinary and respiratory systems.

Alcoholics, on the other hand, do not process alcohol as effectively as non-alcoholics. The alcoholic’s liver converts alcohol into acetaldehyde at twice the normal rate. At the same time, their ability to convert acetaldehyde into acetic acid is much slower than non-alcoholics. Consequently, the higher concentrations of acetaldehyde can damage liver cells, cause inflammation and exhaust the body’s immune system. The liver’s ability to absorb nutrients is compromised.

Unfortunately, the damage is not restricted to the liver. An abundance of acetaldehyde will eventually enter the bloodstream which can affect other organs in the body such as the heart or pancreas. It can also affect the brain. The brain, like most body organs, is vulnerable to injury from alcohol consumption. Acetaldehyde can block proper brain fucntion such as the firing of neurotransmitters which affect one’s mood, memory, and behavior.

Research does show that heredity does play a role in the development of alcoholism and alcoholism has been shown to run in families. However, lifestyle influences and choices can also influence the onset of alcoholism. One’s environment can have direct implications on one’s drinking behaviors. Social influences, stress and alcohol availability, for example, can certainly influence the risk for alcoholism.

It’s important to note, however, that many people will develop alcoholism even when there is no family history of the disease. Both alcoholism and alcohol abuse can affect different genders, cultures, nationalities and races. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,

“Alcohol abuse and alcoholism cut across gender, race, and nationality. In the United States, 17.6 million people--about l in every 12 adults abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. In general, more men than women are alcohol dependent or have alcohol problems. And alcohol problems are highest among young adults ages 18-29 and lowest among adults ages 65 and older. We also know that people who start drinking at an early age--for example, at age 14 or younger--are at much higher risk of developing alcohol problems at some point in their lives compared to someone who starts drinking at age 21 or after.” (

Alcoholism does not discriminate. It can affect anyone.

Author's Bio: 

Carolyn Naiman has a Masters in Psychology and is a contributing editor to For more on how to help an alcoholic and alcoholism facts, please visit her website