I should start off by saying I used to think it was. But I was wrong, and let me explain why.
Alcohol and addiction to any substance is an illness. People don’t choose to become dependent on the booze or the pills. Neither can they tell you when it happened. But at some point, it becomes a problem.
Addiction is a chronic disease
There are rules about what is and what is not a chronic disease. For a start, it has to be something you cannot vaccinate against. Put like that it seems so simple. It would be great if we could vaccinate against addiction like we do measles, but it’s not how it works.
A chronic disease lasts at least three months, and they don’t go away, ever. You don’t get ‘cured’, medicine doesn’t fix the problem, nor can it cure it. If it could, there would be a lot of the ills of the world reduced to nothing if we had a pill.
To sum up what we just learned, there’s nothing you can do to prevent addiction, (except perhaps, in the case of drugs and alcohol, never start, and as we will see that isn’t as simple as is seems). Once you have a chronic disease you can’t be cured of it. You have to learn to live with it and control it.
There’s one last feature of a chronic disease, as the Mayo Clinic points out, a chronic disease gets worse over time. The common chronic diseases are the ones you would expect; arthritis, cardiovascular disease and of course the big C. Cancer is right up there in the leading causes of death in the USA.
Why is an alcohol addiction considered a chronic disease?
Hopefully, by understanding what a chronic disease is you begin to see why addiction would be thought chronic. It ticks the boxes; no vaccine, no cure, and it gets worse over time.
There are other characteristics which apply as well. There is a genetic component, which means if it runs in my family it could run in yours too. A person can be genetically inclined to alcoholism in the same way they might be to diabetes.
Imagine then, growing up in a family where drink plays a part in your social rituals, there are now two contributing factors, and they are already active long before the first drop of alcohol has passed your lips.
Environment and genetics are two factors. A third is a potential for relapse. Think of cancer. We all know of people who fought it and then lost the fight. Now apply the thinking to alcohol. If it is not effectively managed, the chances of ‘falling off the wagon’ are high.
Let me say, I acknowledge there is a difference – you don’t choose for cancer to come back, it happens. But most recovered alcoholics would do lots not to fall off and not to succumb. We need to cut them some slack.