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Copyright, 2015, JeffK

What does alcoholism mean?  Let's take a look at the standard English language definition of the word "alcoholism".


*Merriam Webster:  a medical condition in which someone frequently drinks too much alcohol and becomes unable to live a normal and healthy life
*Dictionary.com:  a chronic disorder characterized by dependence on alcohol, repeated excessive use of alcoholic beverages, the development of withdrawal symptoms on reducing or ceasing intake, morbidity that may include cirrhosis of the liver, and decreased ability to function socially and vocationally
*thefreedictionary.com:  alcoholism is characterized by:  a prolonged period of frequent, heavy alcohol use.  the inability to control drinking once it has begun.  physical dependence manifested by withdrawal symptoms when the individual stops using alcohol.  tolerance, or the need to use more and more alcohol to achieve the same effects.  a variety of social and/or legal problems arising from alcohol use.
*Oxford Dictionaries:  an addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol dependency
*Cambridge Dictionaries:  the condition of being unable to stop drinking too much alcohol, often causing you to be unable to live and work in society
*Yourdictionary.com:  a disease characterized by addiction to alcoholic beverages, often resulting in impaired social functioning and in damage to the liver, heart, and nervous system. Also called alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence
*Collins:  a condition in which dependence on alcohol harms a person's health, social functioning, or family life
*MacMillan:  a medical condition that makes it difficult for you to control the amount of alcohol you drink
*The Law Dictionary:  The pathological effect (as distinguished from physiological effect) of excessive indulgence in intoxicating liquors. It is acute when induced by excessive potations at one time or in the course of a single debauch. An attack of delirium tremens and alcoholic homicidal mania are examples of this form. It is chronic when resulting from the long- continued use of spirits in less quantities, as in the case of dipsomania.
*Encyclopedia.com:  an addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol dependency [from Oxford definition]


So.  The pattern is very clear, the English speaking world applies the word "alcoholic" to someone who actively drinks to the point of encountering significant negative consequences.  A non-drinker, by definition, cannot be an alcoholic.  She can be a former alcoholic, but a recovered abstinent non-drinker is not an alcoholic.  Period, that's not what the word means.


It's a bit like a yellow apple going to a meeting of yellow apples who all insist they are bananas.  "Wait, you're not a banana, you're a yellow apple just like me."  "No, we're not yellow apples, we've decided we are bananas, we all think so and we'll be offended if you don't call yourself a banana too.  You are now a banana, we've taken over that word for our own purposes."  It's crazy, like gaslighting.  


Why does the culture of AA insist that you label yourself as an alcoholic, no matter how long you've been sober?  I think it's a kind of enforced conformity, like proudly wearing a uniform with a scarlett A sewn to it.  It also helps firm up the notion of alcoholism as an incurable disease, like being a diabetic, which appeals to some people.  But it also reinforces a dangerous notion, that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic - you can never get better and you can never be a "normal" person.  That notion is absolutely wrong.  Billions of "normal" people worldwide happen to not drink alcohol for any of a variety of reasons, and after some sober time we former alcoholics can be just as "normal" as any of those billions.


So, for me, after nearly 5 years stone sober that have allowed me to achieve far more than I've ever achieved even as a "moderate" drinker before addiction took root, it's "Hi, my name is Jeff, I'm not an alcoholic but I used to be one".  We can get better.

Some addiction recovery support groups subtly insist that you self-identify as an addict whenever you speak to the group.  AA is famous for this, "Hi my name is Joe, I'm an alcoholic", everyone at every AA meeting I've ever attended says something like this before speaking up, to the point that it sounds like a kind of mantra.  Other groups have similar traditions.  This might be helpful for some people who are still drinking, to help them accept that they really do have a problem and to help push them out of denial, but beyond a point it stops making sense to me.