Dependency on alcohol and other drugs was once thought of as a moral problem. The addict was looked upon as a weak-willed individual who did not care about other people or even himself or herself. Today, of course, medical doctors, the clergy, and other professionals realize that chemical dependency is a disease which responds to treatment.
Addiction is a pathological relationship with a mood or mind-altering substance or behavior which renders one powerless and produces harmful consequences. The addicted person is often the last to accept the disease concept. But parents, spouses, and other people close to the addict are slow in identifying the disorder as an illness. This is because they, too, are simply too involved emotionally with the disease process. Addictions do not exist in a vacuum.
The American Medical Association has given formal recognition to the disease concept since 1956. Their recognizing alcoholism and other drug addiction as an illness implies several things:
- The illness can be described.
- The course of the illness is predictable and progressive
- The disease is primary – that is, it is not just a symptom of some other underlying disorder.
- It is permanent.
- It is terminal. If left untreated, it results in insanity or premature death.