An alcoholic is someone addicted to alcohol. It’s a syndrome disorder that is viewed negatively in society. Used synonymously with the term alcoholic are “drunk” or “lush.” When we think of an alcoholic, we might conjure a mental image of a person who cannot hold down a job, is constantly trying to find the next bottle, and not in control of themselves. There is a huge stigma attached to the word “alcoholic,” although these ideas are not necessarily true in many cases. Not everyone fits neatly into the definition.
There is a whole spectrum of drinking behavior that may be problematic, but may not meet the definition of alcoholic. Many people who go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings find that the they are not, in their own way of seeing the behavior, “alcoholic enough” to merit participation in the program. Indeed, many might view themselves as what are often referred to as “heavy” or “problem” drinkers, but are “full blown” alcoholics. These people often reject the term “alcoholic” when applied to them.
People often do not seek help because they don’t measure up to their idea of what a problem drinker is.
Dr. Sara Jarvis, a consultant for Patient.co.uk, says “many doctors feel that it is quite difficult to engage a patient if you talk to them about alcoholism.”
Other experts disagree with not openly discussing alcohol.
“There’s a danger that avoiding the term “alcoholism” will only serve “to reassure people their drinking is OK when it isn’t”, says Moira Plant, emeritus professor of alcohol studies at the University of the West of England.
False stereotypes need to be corrected. The impression that a high-functioning person won’t have a drinking problem while a street person does is inaccurate. The fact is that drinking above a certain level is bad for our health regardless of who we are.
The terms “hazardous” and “harmful” drinker are interesting, but “alcohol dependence” is preferred by some. Not all drinking has the appearance of losing control, though in reality that is exactly what is happening.
“You can be an alcoholic without drinking too much – it is all about dependence, about losing control.”
This controversial idea of an “almost alcoholic” is a grey area for debate. No matter what terms we use, if people can understand that they have a problem, they may look for and find a solution, and that is what matters most.