Alcoholism Myths and Misconceptions
Alcoholism was classified as an illness by the American Medical Association in 1956 and in 1991, it was classified under the psychiatric and medical sections of the International Classification of Diseases. Despite its recognition by major organizations as a disease, there are many myths and misconceptions about alcoholism that still circulate. In honor of National Alcohol Awareness Month, I hope to debunk some of the most common myths.
» Myth: Alcoholism is a moral dilemma
Fact: Alcoholism is a multi-faceted, chronic, progressive, and fatal disease if left untreated. Alcohol dependency has nothing to do with morals or values. Alcoholism is characterized by tolerance, physical dependence, withdrawal, craving, and a loss of control. Alcoholism is a disease that affects an individual’s physical, mental, and spiritual conditions. The risk of developing alcoholism does not lie in one’s morals or values; rather, alcoholism is a result of various genetic and environmental factors. Like many other diseases, alcoholism is chronic (it lasts a person’s entire lifetime), has symptoms, and usually follows a predictable course.
» Myth: Alcoholics lack willpower and could stop drinking if they tried harder
Fact: Alcoholism has very little to do with willpower — as mentioned in the last myth, alcoholism is a disease. People do not recover from illnesses by simply deciding that they will stop being sick. In actuality, alcoholics typically have a great deal of willpower. An alcoholic will go to many lengths to obtain their alcohol and will often hold down jobs way after they should due to their sheer willpower to convince themselves they do not have a problem. The craving that an alcoholic feels for alcoholic can be as strong as the need for food or water. We would never tell a diabetic or a cancer patient that they are suffering due to a lack of willpower, so why do we say this to alcoholics?
» Myth: Alcoholics are homeless people who sleep under a bridge and drink from a brown paper bag
Fact: Alcoholism knows no boundaries; rather, it affects people of all ages, sexes, genders, religions, socio-economic statuses, etc. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), young adults comprise the largest group of alcoholics in the United States, and almost 20% of alcoholics are highly functional and well-educated with good incomes. While there are alcoholics who fit this stereotypical description, many alcoholics have places to stay, material possessions, financial security, and a professional career.
»Myth: Alcoholics need to drink every single day and in the morning
Fact: Not all alcoholics drink every day and/or in the mornings. Alcoholism has little to do with how much one drinks, how long one has been drinking for, and what drinks one consumes. Rather, alcoholism is characterized by an uncontrollable need to consume alcohol. Some alcoholics may try to only drink certain times of day or even have “dry days” of the week, but this does not mean they are not struggling with an alcohol dependency. In fact, this may be a method of fooling themselves and their loved ones that they do not have a problem.
These are just a few of the many myths and misconceptions about alcoholism. The truth about alcoholism differs greatly from the public perception of it, and as a result, there is much stigma around alcohol dependency and drug addiction. By shedding light on these common misconceptions, we hope to spread awareness about the disease of alcoholism and end the stigma around addiction.