0. Advocacy Graphic

PUBLIC POLICY STATEMENTS


The Definition of Alcoholism (NCADD/ASAM)

Adoption Date:
September 1, 1976; rev. February 1, 1990

Public Policy Statement on the Definition of Alcoholism

PDF

**Note: This historical policy statement is available as part of ASAM's Policy Archives, but it is no longer considered current ASAM policy. Please contact ASAM's advocacy staff at advocacy@asam.org for questions related to ASAM's position on this topic.

Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic: impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.

Primary refers to the nature of alcoholism as a disease entity in addition to and separate from other pathophysiologic states which may be associated with it. Primary suggests that alcoholism, as an addiction, is not a symptom of an underlying disease state.

Disease means an involuntary disability. It represents the sum of the abnormal phenomena displayed by a group of individuals. These phenomena are associated with a specified common set of characteristics by which these individuals differ from the norm, and which places them at a disadvantage.

Often progressive and fatal means that the disease persists over time and that physical, emotional, and social changes are often cumulative and may progress as drinking continues. Alcoholism causes premature death through overdose, organic complications involving the brain, liver, heart and many other organs, and by contributing to suicide, homicide, motor vehicle crashes, and other traumatic events.

Impaired control means the inability to limit alcohol use or to consistently limit on any drinking occasion the duration of the episode, the quantity consumed, and/or the behavioral consequences of drinking.

Preoccupation in association with alcohol use indicates excessive, focused attention given to the drug alcohol, its effects, and/or its use. The relative value thus assigned to alcohol by the individual often leads to a diversion of energies away from important life concerns.

Adverse consequences are alcohol-related problems or impairments in such areas as: physical health (e.g. alcohol withdrawal syndromes, liver disease, gastritis, anemia, neurological disorders); psychological functioning (e.g. impairments in cognition, changes in mood and behavior); interpersonal functioning (e.g. marital problems and child abuse, impaired social relationships); occupational functioning (e.g. scholastic or job problems); and legal, financial, or spiritual problems.

Denial is used here not only in the psychoanalytic sense of a single psychological defense mechanism disavowing the significance of events, but more broadly to include a range of psychological maneuvers designed to reduce awareness of the fact that alcohol use is the cause of an individual's problems rather than a solution to those problems. Denial becomes an integral part of the disease and a major obstacle to recovery.

3 comments

Leave a comment
  1. POTATO Apr 10, 2018 - 10:35 AM
    this helped me a lot in my school work thanks who ever did this !
  2. frank topper Mar 02, 2018 - 09:42 PM
    FYI: I made this song for my recovery, rehab, jail and "still doing research" friends. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvpHC8wYCZQ Maybe it's useful in some way to the people you serve. Thank you.
  3. Kelly Jun 12, 2014 - 11:00 PM
    I am a healthcare professional.  I am also an alcoholic and addict.  I find it a disgrace the way the medical community continues to treat those of us afflicted as though we are simply, 'dead-beats' and have a choice.  Additionally, I suffer from severe and chronic pain.  I am constantly undertreated for pain because of this horrible disease.  More public and professional education is needed.

    Leave a comment