Is Alcoholism a Disability? 

Is Alcoholism a Disability? A Look into the Legal and Medical Definitions

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is a chronic and disabling disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption, a preoccupation with alcohol, and the continuation of heavy drinking despite negative consequences. 

The condition can have a profound impact on an individual’s life, including their work, family, and social relationships. However, the question remains: is alcoholism considered a disability? In this article, we will explore the legal and medical definitions of disability, the causes and symptoms of alcoholism, and how it can affect one’s ability to perform daily activities. We will also delve into the social implications and ethical considerations of labeling alcoholism as a disability.

Legal and Medical Definitions of Disability

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability is defined as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, learning, and caring for oneself. The definition also includes individuals who have a history of addiction or are currently struggling with substance abuse.

In the medical field, the definition of disability is similar. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability as “an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.” An impairment is a problem in body function or structure, an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual when executing a task or action, and a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual when participating in life situations.

Causes and Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors. Individuals who have a family history of alcoholism, experience trauma or stress, have a mental health disorder, or live in a culture that values heavy drinking may be at an increased risk of developing alcoholism.

Symptoms of alcoholism include being unable to limit the amount of alcohol consumed, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is not available, drinking in the morning or throughout the day, and continuing to drink despite negative consequences such as legal or health problems. Alcoholism can affect one’s ability to maintain relationships, hold a job, and perform daily tasks. It can also lead to changes in behavior, such as aggression or mood swings.

Alcoholism as a Disability

The question of whether alcoholism is considered a disability is a complex and controversial one. While the ADA does include substance abuse disorders in its definition of disability, some argue that alcoholism is not truly a disability. Those who argue against labeling alcoholism as a disability point out that it is a self-inflicted condition and that the inability to control drinking is a personal choice, rather than a physical or mental impairment. They may also argue that labeling alcoholism as a disability could lead to a culture of victimhood and remove personal responsibility for the condition.

On the other hand, advocates for labeling alcoholism as a disability point out that it meets the legal and medical definitions of disability. They argue that alcoholism is a chronic disease that affects the brain and has physical, psychological, and social consequences. Treating alcoholism as a disability can help to remove stigma surrounding addiction and could also provide individuals with greater access to resources and support.

Social Implications and Ethical Considerations

Labeling alcoholism as a disability can have significant social implications and ethical considerations. It could lead to changes in the way that individuals with alcoholism are treated in the workplace, for example, providing them with greater accommodations and protections. However, some individuals may view disability status as a negative label and may not want to be identified as disabled.

Labeling alcoholism as a disability may also have ethical implications in terms of personal responsibility. There is an ongoing debate about whether individuals with alcoholism are fully responsible for their condition or whether genetics or other circumstances beyond their control play a larger role. Labeling alcoholism as a disability could remove some personal responsibility from the individual, which could be viewed by some as unfair.

Alcohol Addiction Can Be Overcome with Help

Whether or not alcoholism is considered a disability is a complex and controversial issue. While the legal and medical definitions of disability do include substance abuse disorders, there are arguments on both sides of the issue. What really matters most at the end of the day is that people who are dependent on alcohol feel comfortable asking for help and that they can access the help that’s out there. No one should suffer from alcohol addiction when they want a change and are willing to try recovery.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol, Southeast Addiction wants to help. Give us a call at: (888) 981-8263