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Sober Living | Personal stories by locals who gave up drinking and why they did it

Addiction

Alcoholism is a brain disease, said Dr. Walter Thomas, an addiction specialist at Adventist Health Simi Valley.

There is a perception that alcoholism is a character flaw and something that people can turn on or turn off, “but it’s a biological illness,” he said. “Forty percent of it is environmental, and 60 percent is inheritance. The person who has this gene can never go back to controlled drinking.”

When you have this disease, it affects all aspects of your being — your relationships, your emotions, your ability to connect and overall quality of life, Thomas continued.

“So why would someone give it up? They realize they can’t drink safely or in a controlled way,” Thomas noted. “They always have great intentions of not drinking too much. But they don’t have the ability to turn the switch off. That’s the difference between someone who has addictive chemistry and someone who doesn’t.”

Not all people who drink alcohol are alcoholics, he added.

“It’s similar to diabetes and high blood pressure — a diabetic knows he can’t manage his sugar so he avoids sugar,” Thomas said. “That’s inherited just like alcoholism. But a lot of people that eat sugar have no problem with sugar. The alcoholic has problems with alcohol, but the nonalcoholic doesn’t have that problem.”

People who can give up alcohol because they feel their lives will be better are most likely not alcoholics.

“They can stop drinking because it’s creating problems with their health; they’re gaining weight, their mind is not as clear — that’s not an alcoholic,” he said. “A typical alcoholic doesn’t give it up when he has adverse consequences. They will continue despite the fact that they have adverse consequences. So when you have the disease, no matter how bad it gets, they don’t stop.

Read more at: Sober Living—Ventura County Star