Alcoholics Anonymous describes alcoholism as a threefold disease. What they mean by this is that they are dealing with a disease that has three components: mental, physical, and spiritual. The alcoholic is viewed as dealing with a physical allergy to alcohol, a mental obsession to keep on drinking and an underlying spiritual malady that means willpower is not enough. Unless these three aspects of the condition are treated, the individual will not be able to escape their addiction.
Individuals who are dealing with alcoholism will have plenty of problems in their life. It is to describe how their addiction impacts their life by dividing it into three types of damage:
* Alcoholism will damage people physically. Their health will tend to be poor. Even those who have only been abusing alcohol or a short period of time may already be experiencing the early stages of alcohol liver disease. Alcohol is a dangerous toxin and can destroy almost every organ in the body.
*_Alcoholism will damage people mentally_. This type of substance abuse tends to have a devastating impact on mental health. It can cause people to develop mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Those individuals who turned to alcohol to self-medicate their existent mental health problems will find that their symptoms are exacerbated.
* Alcoholism will damage people spiritually. Talk of spirituality usually conjures up images of religion, but there is more to it than that. Even non-believers can be said to have spiritual needs in reference to those things that give life meaning. This could include belief in a god or just wonder at the miraculous universe. Addicts often describe how they feel as having a hole in their soul. This is because their spiritual needs are not being catered for because of their alcoholism.
Up until the early 20th century, it was commonly held that alcoholics were just bad people. They abused alcohol because of a moral failing. This view changed around 1940s partly due to success of Alcoholics Anonymous. They promoted the idea that the individual does not choose to become an alcoholic. Blaming an addict for their problem is the same as saying that the cancer patient is responsible for their condition. The medical model of disease is that it is an abnormal condition that causes suffering and distress. Alcoholism fits this criterion. It is a disease of the brain that is likely to have a genetic component. This disease theory of addiction has won a great deal of support in the medical community.
The disease of alcoholism is seen as both chronic and progressive.This means that it cannot really be cured and the individual’s condition will deteriorate over time. The only possible way to escape the downward spiral is complete abstinence from alcohol. When the alcoholic manages to stop drinking, they can be considered as being in remission rather than cured. This is because drinking again would place them back into the midst of their addiction. The disease of alcohol is a mental obsession and physical compulsion to keep drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous promotes a spiritual cure as the best cure for alcoholism.
Proponents of holistic medicine believe treating any condition requires treating the whole organism. This differs from Western medicine, where the approach focuses on treating symptoms. Holistic medicine recognizes that people have physical, mental, spiritual and social needs. If any of these needs are neglected, then the individual is not likely to be fully cured.
A holistic approach to addiction involves more than simply quitting substance abuse. This might be enough to improve physical health, but it is unlikely to be enough to build a good life away from alcohol and drugs. If the person’s mental and physical needs are not catered for, then they are likely to relapse back to their addiction.
The view that alcoholism is a threefold disease does not have unanimous support. Critics claim that it disempowers the individual by telling them they have an incurable condition. Groups such as Rational Recovery say that once people stop drinking they are cured, viewing themselves as being in remission reinforces the addict identity. There is still some support for the idea that alcoholism is a choice (although not due to moral failings). In this case, telling such people they have a disease turns them into victims with an excuse to continue the behavior. The belief that alcoholism requires a spiritual cure is also criticized. There are plenty of people who manage to escape their addiction without using a spiritual program such as the one offered by Alcoholics Anonymous.
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