SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Many people may not view alcohol addiction as a disease, but the American Medical Association has recognized it as one for more than 50 years. It's also one of the most deadly.
Joan Swenson now works at TLC Tallgrass, an alcohol rehab and addiction treatment center. It's a job she loves because of the issue at the heart of the facility hits close to her heart.
"I was drinking vodka out of a water bottle," Swenson said.
"The last four to five years of my drinking I drank all the time, like every day all day long," Swenson said.
Swenson first started drinking on the weekends when she was 21. But around ten years ago, she started to notice she had a problem.
"When my mom got sick and died with cancer, it continued to get progressively worse," Swenson said.
Before getting help at Tallgrass, Swenson tried a couple of outpatient treatment centers and a different inpatient center. Her addiction dramatically impacted her family life, but Swenson says it was difficult to quit.
"For whatever reason it crossed a line. I didn't have a choice that I was going to become a daily drinker. I never wanted to wake up and say, 'look at what I've done to everybody'. This is great, no more than my mom did with colon cancer," Swenson said.
"It's critical because if we approached it like we approached abdominal pain, we would go get help right away," Avera McKennan Regional President Dr. Dave Kapaska said.
About 80 percent of the people who come to legitimate treatment centers for help have a genetic family history within two generations. That's just one of the reasons why alcohol addiction is viewed as a disease.
"Without a doubt there are changes to the neurotransmitters, the chemistry of the brain, when somebody is addicted. You can illustrate that. You can demonstrate that," Dr. Luther Hegland said.
Meanwhile Swenson has not had a drink in five years. She's thankful she got the help she needed but hopes the community realizes that alcohol addiction is a disease and that others get help before it's too late.
"If you had cancer, we wouldn't be debating this. You would not be telling yourself this is not that big of a deal because you're going to die from it one way or another," Swenson said.
On Monday night, people from all walks of life will share their stories of recovery with you during an hour-long prime time special. The KELOLAND News Special Report begins at 7 p.m. on KELOLAND TV. Join us as we "Face It Together."
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