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Alcoholism-as-Disease: Idea Accepted but Not Sufferers

In 2010, the American Journal of Psychiatry found that despite more Americans now accepting the disease-model of alcohol dependency (one in which the origins are medical or genetic) than in the mid-1990s, they are still just as likely to retain a negative stigma or attitude toward those suffering with the illness of alcoholism.

Since the late 1990s, public advocates have promoted the view that substance abuse is rooted in neurobiology. Recently, researchers from Columbia University and Indiana University wanted to test if the public perception or attitude towards substance abuse, treatment and the people living with these disorders had also changed. They did so by comparing responses of American adults, questioned in 1996 and 2006, after listening to short vignettes describing individuals suffering from major depression, alcohol dependence, and more.

The survey revealed that there was a steady increase, across the board, between 1996 and 2006. It found more Americans to believe in a neurobiological root of alcohol dependence, to associate the disorder as a disease, and to support treatment. The percentage supporting treatment for major depression saw the largest increase.

However, despite the fact that these numbers increased, the negative stigmas surrounding alcohol dependency (one of the largest cited reasons for failure to receive treatment) failed to decrease. The research team recommended that addiction specialists, treatment providers, and advocates continue to find new ways to approach reducing stigma. One suggestion for future was to highlight a person’s abilities instead of just the disease.


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