Is alcoholism a physical addiction?
Alcoholism is due to a physical defect in the mood centres of the brain. So in that sense it is a physical illness. This is important because it indicates that alcoholics are not responsible for having the illness of alcoholism, even though they are always responsible for their behaviour as it affects other people.
Alcoholism affects physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, marital and many other aspects of life. Making this observation is an accurate way of making the diagnosis of alcoholism. If someone has lost a job, a spouse and a driving licence, it is superfluous to ask about alcohol consumption. Those consequences do not occur in cancer, heart disease, diabetes or other ‘acceptable’ conditions. However addiction to nicotine or sugar often lies behind cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The boundary between ‘physical’ and other illnesses is therefore very debatable.
The important recognition is that almost all the damaging consequences of a high consumption of alcohol resolve when people stop drinking. Personal relationships may be irretrievably damaged but the liver can regrow to a remarkable degree and many other damaged organs can also return to healthy function.
In this respect alcoholism is only secondarily a physical illness.