Why I don’t use or like the term ‘alcoholic.’
And please note, I don't get upset when people use it. I understand it has been the common phrase for years. I get all of that.
I'm just stating my opinion, because it's my blog *shrug.*
I will start off by saying that I understand some people still use it. I understand some people are completely comfortable labelling themselves that way and it empowers them. If the term works for you, great, and I know it does work for some people and I fully support that! Let me be clear, I mean that so genuinely.
I recently had a conversation with someone who said that because of their alcoholism they aren’t pressured to drink. People understand that it is a problem for them and they recognize and support that. No questions asked. That makes total sense to me. I love that, it is a perfect example that everyone finds what feels right for them. (I know the day is coming when you won’t have to justify your choice, and I look forward to that day).
Recovery/sobriety/alcohol freedom is not one size fits all. We are each entitled to find our own way, discover what works for us, and simply let the rest go (can’t stress that part enough).
Hear me out: have you ever asked someone why they quit smoking? Why they quit doing heroin? Or hey, why aren’t you doing cocaine anymore? Nope. I refuse to explain why I no longer do a socially accepted drug. Yes, I know, unpopular opinion, but it is what it is. Alcohol is a drug. Bottom line. Will I admit that 1 drink was never enough and I was easily the worst version of myself when I drank? Yep. Will I admit it was a struggle to give it up? Yep. Will I admit it was terrifying and also the most liberating experience I have ever been through? Yep.
I talk about sobriety constantly. At first I was scared and ashamed, but now I am proud as hell. I introduce myself as a non drinker, if someone is curious, I’m beyond open to talking to them (given I feel it is a genuine conversation), but on what planet do I have to introduce myself and smack a label on my forehead for something that I struggled with years ago? Nope, it just does not make sense to me. Some might say that's ego, some might say it's shame, I think it's being free from a toxic substance and not acting like a prisoner of my past. My story, my choice.
By definition: It describes a strong, often uncontrollable, desire to drink. Although it isn't a term that is used anymore as part of medical care, some people who are recovering from dependence still use the term 'alcoholic' to describe themselves. Alcoholism is also known as alcohol addiction, alcohol misuse or alcohol dependence.
Or: continued excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drinks. : a chronic, progressive, potentially fatal disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction.
I am not saying those definitions don’t resonate with me, but I am saying they don’t resonate anymore. I haven’t thought about drinking in years. My friends drink, my boyfriend drinks, in no way shape or form do their choices reflect my choices, and vice versa. I believe there is this idea that it has to be something that people internally battle daily and that just isn’t true. I’m sorry, but it isn't. Ask me how I know?! With acceptance, understanding, personal growth and a whole shift in your mindset and beliefs, freedom is absolutely attainable. Again, ask me how I know?!
First I will quickly explain that I’ve seen people who say “I’m an alcoholic” with zero shame and it is empowering because they accept and understand that their brain will always respond the same way to alcohol, I am fully on board with that. The other side I’ve seen is that it can be a very disempowered mindset, as if the person is flawed or broken, and it is a life sentence. The person is almost always waiting for a relapse because “it’s who I am.” Or utilizing the label as a reason for not quitting, “I can’t because I’m an alcoholic.” (10% of people are physically dependent on alcohol and I am not saying it is easy for everyone to quit, in cases of extreme dependence, medical intervention and oversight is necessary and I do not take that lightly.)
Without shifting your mindset, I think it can be viewed as this chain around your ankle for the rest of your life. Like you’ll always be missing out because you’re “an alcoholic,” like it is something you can never escape. But what exactly are you missing out on? Because when you take a step back, observe, and learn about alcohol, you’ll quickly realize you aren’t missing a thing.
Like stated above, it is no longer a medically recognized term, but that isn’t really the point of what I am trying to say. Moving right along..
I post often on my social media that I think asking yourself if you are an alcoholic is the wrong question and instead we should be asking ourselves if our lives would be better without alcohol instead? Laura McKowen says the normal question is, “is this bad enough for me to have to change?” Instead of “is this good enough for me to stay the same?”
I personally think that the label alone keeps people from reaching out for help because it comes with so much stigma.
I think it keeps people from admitting there may be a problem with their drinking because of fear of judgement.
I believe it leads to comparison and if you aren’t as bad as (insert name here), I’m fine right?
I think the term alcoholic makes people think of 8am drinking and rock bottoms - and if that isn’t the category you fall into - you should be okay to booze on.
I don’t believe the only time to question your drinking is if/when you fall into that category.
I think focusing on whether or not you fall into that category actually causes you to miss the warning signs that are presenting themselves (if you are already worried about your alcohol consumption, there is a good chance the train has left the station, how bad that gets - no one knows).
I hear it constantly, “I don’t drink all of the time, but when I do, I can rarely control it and usually end up blacking out. But I can easily go without it, I’m not an alcoholic am I?” Why is being an alcoholic the metric by which you would then proceed to change your drinking habits? By the time you accept or admit the issue, it is going to be even harder to give up. I’m not saying it is easy, I’m just saying it is progressive and doesn’t usually get easier to quit.
I’ve also had people say “I haven’t hit a rock bottom yet, but I know I will eventually. Sooner or later I will make the decision to quit.” Okaaaaaay.. I hear that, but why do you have to wait for a rock bottom? Why is the idea of sobriety so uncomfortable, that people would rather continue to self destruct than live without a substance that isn’t good for them? (I’ll remind you it is a Group 1 cancer causing carcinogen, like tobacco and asbestos, but hey it’s legal and everyone does it, so let's have a drink!)
That scares me - the idea that sobriety is resisted at such a level that we know intuitively alcohol isn’t serving us, but we are willing to hit a bottom or face a negative consequence before we give up alcohol.
There is nothing weak about admitting there is a problem or asking for help, truth be told it is one of the strongest and bravest things you could ever do. In an alcohol encouraged world, it is scary going against the grain. Wouldn’t you rather ask for help than wait for the other shoe to drop?
Just to help you breathe easier: alcohol is an addictive substance and it can happen to ANYONE. You don’t have to be predisposed genetically, it can happen to anyone. Getting addicted to an addictive substance, who would have thunk it?!
Are you waking up with hangxiety? Is that same hangxiety actually causing you to keep drinking? Is it affecting your relationship or marriage? Is it affecting your friendships? Are you missing moments with your kids because you need to get to that drink? Are your nights a bit of a blur, but you are pretty sure you were fine? Maybe you are starting to think about it earlier in the day and realizing you are becoming fixated on it?
The thing is, the definition of an alcoholic makes people envision a stereotype. You see a guy on the corner with his drink in a paper bag, the person who got a DUI, someone who showed up drunk for work at 2pm on a Wednesday, etc. You don’t see the functioning alcoholic, because “they don’t have a problem.” That person being the mom or dad who needs their nightly drinks to “deal with” the stress of their job or parenting, the person who is always drunk at every function but “it is just how they are and they are so fun/funny,” or maybe the person who doesn’t necessarily overindulge but drinks enough to not feel 100% the next day.
The reason Alcohol Use Disorder is now the recognized term is because it is a spectrum, it isn’t just “you have a problem” or “you don’t have a problem.” It may start out innocent enough, a nightly glass of wine or beer, which has turned into 3 or 4. Or maybe you are realizing that you surround yourself with people who also always want to drink, it is what everyone does, it's normal right? But once you’ve had that first drink, you find yourself wanting another. Or you get home from your night out and feel the need to pour another, a night cap, if you will. It is progressive. People don’t typically have a drink one day and by day 2 they’ve spun out of control. You don’t typically go from the mountain top to rock bottom in 48 hours flat, nope that isn’t really the way. It is a gradual insidious little process that you normally don’t see coming. Or perhaps your intuition is waving red flags left, right and centre but you just keep shoving it down, because you can get it under control. You’ve repeatedly told yourself you are in control. So.. you are in control, right?
Like I said, my choice not to drink is my own and I don’t go around telling everyone they shouldn’t drink. But I do encourage people to get curious if they are worried their drinking may be problematic. I encourage them to pay attention when a little voice in their head is throwing red flags on the play. One of the main reasons I dislike the term alcoholic is because it is not the metric that should be used to decide whether or not you want to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.
I realize a few of my blogs may be singing a similar tune, so I do apologize if it sounds repetitive. I’ll bop to a new beat on the next one! I see and hear these things so often and I just want to encourage people to know you don’t have to throw a label on yourself to quit drinking. You SHOULD pay attention to your intuition if you are worried about your habits. You don’t have to feel any sense of shame. You most certainly aren’t alone.
Life can be difficult and we’ve been born and raised to believe alcohol is the answer to everything. It doesn’t have to be and it truly isn’t. Alcohol is like a little pocket knife making holes in your life raft. You just don’t want to admit that, because other people's boats are gliding on top of the water just fine (or so you think). That is their raft, pay attention to yours.
As always I would love to connect if you are questioning your drinking habits! It may feel completely out of your comfort zone to discuss sobriety or your relationship with alcohol, but fortunately for you, my comfort zone has plenty of space for two!