This man is proof that alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease

Is Alcoholism Considered a Progressive Disease?

Alcoholism is one of the most common forms of addiction in the United States. However, even though millions of people struggle with compulsive alcohol abuse, many don’t fully understand the true nature of this condition. For example, is alcoholism a progressive disease? Is alcoholism a chronic, progressive disease? And is there a difference between chronic and progressive?

Defining Alcoholism

Before we find out if alcoholism is a progressive disease, we should take a moment to review what, exactly, alcoholism is.

Alcoholism is an informal term for addiction to alcohol. Clinicians refer to this condition as alcohol use disorder.

Regardless of which term a person uses, alcoholism is characterized by the inability to limit how much or how frequently a person drinks.

As established in the fifth edition of the DSM-5, a person who meets at least two of the following criteria may be accurately diagnosed with alcohol use disorder:

  • Often consuming alcohol in larger amounts or for a longer time than intended
  • Having a persistent desire (or a history of unsuccessful attempts) to limit the amount and frequency of their alcohol use
  • Spending large amounts of time acquiring and using alcohol, as well as recovering from its effects
  • Experiencing powerful cravings for alcohol
  • Failing to meet their obligations at work, in school, or at home as a result of alcohol use
  • Continuing to use alcohol even after experiencing interpersonal or social problems due to prior use of the drug
  • Abandoning important social, recreational, or work-related activities due to their alcohol use
  • Using alcohol in a manner that is clearly hazardous (such as by using it in combination with prescription painkillers or other substances)
  • Continuing to use alcohol even though they know they have incurred physical or psychological harm as a result of prior use
  • Developing tolerance, which means that they are not affected as strongly by alcohol as they used to be, so they need to drink larger amounts to achieve the effects they are seeking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which can include physical and psychological distress, when they stop using alcohol, or when they are unable to acquire and use the drug

As defined by the DSM-5, a person who meets two or three of these criteria would be classified as having mild alcohol use disorder. Meeting four or five criteria would put a person in the moderate alcohol use category, while meeting six or more would qualify as severe alcohol use disorder. 

Is Alcoholism a Progressive Disease?

Most reputable addiction experts say yes, alcoholism is a progressive disease.

In this context, “progressive” means that if a person doesn’t get effective treatment, their alcoholism will worsen over time. Their urges and compulsions can become more intense, they may begin to drink more frequently, they may consume larger amounts of alcohol in each session, and the negative effects that this behavior causes can become increasingly more severe. 

The progressive nature of alcoholism is one of the many reasons why treatment can be so important. Without proper care, a person’s suffering is unlikely to lessen. With effective help, people can learn to manage their symptoms, reduce their distress, and improve their ability to establish an alcohol-free lifestyle.

Is There a Difference Between a Chronic Progressive vs Progressive Disease?

In addition to being a progressive disease, alcoholism is also a chronic disease. Defining alcoholism as “chronic” means that, as with diabetes, chronic pain, and certain other physical conditions, the goal of treatment isn’t to cure a person. Instead, the primary objective of treatment for alcohol addiction is to teach people how to manage their urges and compulsions so that they can protect their sobriety and remain in recovery.

Some progressive diseases can be cured. But for people who have chronic, progressive diseases such as alcoholism, the focus is reducing distress and increasing resilience to prevent continued harm.

What are the Long-Term Dangers of Alcoholism?

Alcoholism can be a source of considerable long-term harm, including damage to a person’s physical, psychological, and social well-being. The following are examples of the many negative outcomes that can result from untreated alcoholism:

  • Damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys
  • Elevated risk of certain cancers
  • Malnutrition
  • Injuries due to slips, falls, and other accidents while impaired by alcohol
  • Memory problems and other cognitive deficiencies
  • Development or worsening of anxiety, depression, or other co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Academic setbacks, including failure and expulsion
  • Difficulty finding and keeping a job
  • Inability to establish financial independence
  • Conflicts with friends and family members
  • Irrevocably damaged relationships
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Loss of hope for the future
  • Thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide
Man stopping the progressive disease of alcoholism by attending Sanctuary Treatment Center in Los Angeles, California

When to Seek Treatment for Alcoholism?

The best time to seek treatment for alcoholism is the moment you realize that you have a problem. The sooner you seek treatment, the more likely you will be to avoid some of the more extensive damage that alcoholism can cause.

Having said that, there is no bad time to seek treatment for alcoholism. Even if you have been drinking heavily for years, this doesn’t mean that it’s too late to get help. 

The moment you make the courageous decision to enter an alcohol addiction treatment program, you reduce your risk for continued harm. While you are in treatment, you can also begin to heal from the damage that alcoholism has inflicted on your life. 

Contact Our Treatment Center for Alcoholism in Los Angeles, CA at Sanctuary Treatment Center

If you think you need professional help to quit drinking, Sanctuary Treatment Center may be the ideal place for you. Our alcoholism treatment center in Los Angeles, California, offers multiple levels of customized care, including detoxification, inpatient rehab, and outpatient treatment. 

With the guidance and support of our skilled professionals, you can end your alcohol abuse and begin your journey toward improved health and successful, long-term recovery. When ready to get started, the Sanctuary team is here for you. 

To learn more or to schedule a free alcohol addiction assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call our center today.

Physical signs of alcoholism

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Untreated alcoholism can have a profound negative impact on how a person looks, feels, behaves, and interacts with others. When you are aware of the social, psychological, and physical signs of alcoholism, you will be better prepared to identify the problem and seek appropriate treatment. 

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that is characterized by an overwhelming compulsion to drink. The clinical term for alcoholism is alcohol use disorder. It is also often referred to as alcohol addiction. 

Alcoholism and other chronic conditions cannot be cured. However, with appropriate professional treatment, a person can learn to manage the urges, compulsions, and other symptoms of the disorder. When they get the type and level of care they need, they can end their use of this dangerous drug and achieve successful, long-term recovery from alcohol addiction.

Alcoholism is one of the most common forms of addiction. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than 14.5 million Americans ages 12 and over met the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol addiction. This includes 9 million boys and men (or 6.8% of people in that demographic group) and 5.5 girls and women (or 3.9% of the female population above age 11.)

It is important to understand that alcoholism is a legitimate mental health disorder. It is not simply evidence of low character or the result of poor self-discipline. A person who becomes addicted to alcohol loses the ability to control their thoughts and behaviors. This can include being unable to limit how much and how often they drink. 


As established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the criteria for an accurate diagnosis of alcohol use disorder include symptoms such as the following:

  • Experiencing powerful cravings to use alcohol
  • Devoting a considerable amount of time to drinking alcohol and recovering from its effects
  • Being unable to stop drinking once you begin
  • Failing to meet your responsibilities in school, at work, or in other important areas of your life because of your drinking
  • Continuing to drink even after being harmed physically, psychologically, or socially as a result of previous alcohol use
  • No longer participating in hobbies or other previously important activities because of your drinking
  • Abusing alcohol in ways that are clearly hazardous, such as combining alcohol with other drugs or drinking immediately before driving 
  • Wanting to quit drinking, but being unable to do so

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Untreated alcoholism can have a devastating impact on a person’s mind and body. Though different people can be affected in different ways, certain physical signs of alcoholism are common.

Two classic physical signs of alcoholism are tolerance and withdrawal:

  • Tolerance means that, over time, a person will not be affected as strongly by alcohol as they previously were. Thus, they will have to consume larger amounts of this drug to achieve the intoxicating effects that they used to experience after just a few drinks.
  • Withdrawal refers to the painful ways a person’s body may react when they abruptly try to stop drinking. In addition to being extremely uncomfortable, severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can even be life-threatening.

Here are a few other physical signs of alcoholism:

  • Significant unintentional weight gain or loss
  • Reddened skin near the nose and cheeks
  • Bloated appearance in the face
  • Yellow or grey skin
  • Yellowing of the sclera (the white part of the eye outside the pupil and iris)
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Impaired coordination
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Tics, tremors, or other signs of shakiness
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Frequent headaches
  • Numbness in the feet and hands

Additional Signs of Alcoholism

In addition to the physical signs of alcoholism that we listed in the previous section, this disease can also cause a person to exhibit a range of psychological and behavioral signs, such as these:

  • Needing alcohol to wake up in the morning or get to sleep at night
  • Being unable to feel joy or cope with disappointment without using alcohol
  • Lying or being otherwise deceptive about their whereabouts and activities
  • Neglecting their personal appearance
  • Acting with uncharacteristic anger, violence, or recklessness
  • Demonstrating dramatic changes in mood and energy level
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Struggling to perform to expectation at work or in school
  • Arguing with loved ones about the amount and frequency of their alcohol use

A person who exhibits any psychological, behavioral, or physical signs of alcoholism should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare provider. The path to improved health begins with a thorough assessment, an accurate diagnosis, and a recommendation for appropriate treatment.

Begin Treating Alcoholism at Sanctuary Treatment Center

If the compulsion to abuse alcohol has undermined your ability to live a healthy and satisfying lifestyle, please know this: You are not alone, help is available, and treatment works. 

Sanctuary Treatment Center offers comprehensive, personalized care to help adults end their alcohol use and build a foundation for a healthier, alcohol-free future. Alcohol treatment options at our center in Los Angeles, California, include detoxification, inpatient treatment, and outpatient rehab. At each level of care, compassionate professionals provide customized services in a respectful and supportive manner. 

To learn more about our services or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or contact us directly at your earliest convenience. 

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Sanctuary Treatment Center accepts most private PPO insurance plans, as well as some private HMO plans. Through private insurance plans, individuals and families can access high quality addiction treatment services. If you have questions regarding insurances, please give us a call.

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