The Encyclopedia Britannica defines a disease as
“A condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms” (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2008).
In looking into whether Alcoholism can be defined as a disease, we should first look more closely at the definition giving for disease. This is a simple and concise definition and can be easily broken down into two separate components. The first is a definite prerequisite for a disease and the second is conditional. The first portion states “a condition of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that impairs normal functioning”. As we are talking about a condition of humans and not plants and we are speaking of the entire of the human not individual parts, let us simplify the statement a bit. A condition of a human that impairs normal functioning. This is simply a shorter and easier to handle statement that still defines the parameters that apply to our question. Therefore, does alcoholism impair the normal functioning of a human?
Again, two definitions are needed, one for “normal functioning” and one for “alcoholism”. Encyclopedia Britannica defines alcoholism this way
“A chronic disorder marked by excessive and usu. compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction” (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2008).
Defining what is “normal functioning” for a human is going to be a lot more difficult. This would be an easy definition to make without much thought. Such things could be said such as according to the US Census Bureau in the year 1999, sixty-four percent of Americans were employed (US Census Bureau n.d.). So how would one determine if alcoholism caused the loss of a job or no job in the first place? The economy is at a low point to begin with, so is it fair to use this fact as a yardstick here? Is a person over the age of sixteen without a job “abnormal”?
It may be more accurate to look at two distinct portions of an “alcoholic’s” life, prior to and after the emergence of alcohol. Also, to assure that a true “alcoholic” is being observed, let us look at a person whom has entered a rehabilitation center, a self-proclaimed alcoholic, if you will. We have gone to Tri-County Detoxification Unit in Central Florida and spoken with the staff and a patient whom we will call “John”. John was married with three children, and worked for an undisclosed company with an annual income of approximately $69,000 per year. He was 23 years old and had recently graduated from a well-known university with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. His wife chose not to work and to care for the children while “John” worked outside the home.
Once settling into the above-mentioned lifestyle, “John” began to drink socially in the home and outside the home with friends. We spoke with “John” approximately two years later at the rehabilitation center. Seven months earlier, he had lost his employment. Two month prior to the job loss, his wife had left him and taken the three children. “John” had lost his driving privileges’ and was unsure as to whether he had an open arrest warrant in the state of Florida.
Does “John’s” experience qualify his alcoholism as a disease? There can be no doubt that his consumption and increased consumption of alcohol impaired what “John” had put together as a “normal functioning” life. His case may or may not be extreme, not unlike a cancer patient may or may not be outwardly showing signs of decay.
In conclusion, alcoholism does not impair the normal functioning of every single person it encounters in contact with, and it does not have to meet that criterion to be considered a disease. It only must impair the normal functioning of some of the people it afflicts, and this is a criterion it meets repeatedly. Therefore, alcoholism is a disease, by the very definition of the word.