Here’s something that I get asked about often but don’t talk about much: why I don’t use the term “alcoholic” to describe myself or anyone else.
It’s funny because as a sober coach, the host of a popular sobriety podcast and a person who has been immersed in the world of addiction and recovery for the last 10 years, I should be the poster girl for being comfortable using the terms alcoholic and alcoholism.
I have spent hundreds of hours talking about women and drinking, alcohol and our society, addiction and different paths to recovery.
I’ve attended sober retreats, recovery conferences, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and have participated in all kinds of online groups and in person gatherings of people going alcohol-free.
I also have many friends in the recovery space who use the term alcoholic to describe themselves proudly.
I support my friends and people in the recovery space who choose to identify as alcoholics and I also cringe when I hear the term being used by people outside of the recovery space to categorize or qualify or judge how problematic your drinking is (or is not) often based on nothing more than the way an “alcoholic” has been portrayed in popular culture.
I also think it’s an unnecessary and undefinable category that’s no longer used by clinicians or the medical community as a diagnosis.
It’s an arbitrary label that’s been shaped and defined over the years by a variety of different influences and mostly by a single recovery program.
As early as 1790 the accepted definition for the word “alcoholic” was “of or pertaining to alcohol.” It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the word alcoholic was connected to drunkenness, and by 1910 it came to mean “habitually drunk”. But these meanings never gained any wide acceptance until the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.
There are lots of online quizzes that will try to tell you if you “are” or “are not” an alcoholic based on some random definition or based on what someone thinks because of whatever information they’ve read or been taught.
And it’s problematic when a person who chooses to stop drinking tells a group of people that they’re alcohol-free and someone says, “Why? Did you have a problem with alcohol? You’re not an alcoholic, right?”
Or for someone to finally get up the courage to talk to their doctor or therapist about being worried about their drinking and being dismissed with the statement “Don’t worry. You’re not an alcoholic”.
On the flip side I also think it’s presumptuous for people who do identify as an alcoholic to assume that another person on the sobriety path also identifies with that term because many do not.
So, in this episode I’m going to share why I don’t use the word alcoholic to describe myself or anyone else.
But, before I talk about any of that, I want to acknowledge that alcohol use, alcohol use disorder, addiction, mental health, drinking more than you want to, your relationship with alcohol, your identity, what helps you understand and seek help for any habit or problematic behavior that is negatively impacting your life is personal and complicated.
I am not a doctor, therapist or addiction counselor. Addiction is a complex issue that is influenced by a range of factors, including genetics, environment, and personal choices and alcohol itself is an addictive substance.
I want to encourage anyone who wants to stop drinking to do so, through any means, program, path or words that help them.
While language and terminology can play a role in shaping our understanding of addiction, the most important thing is to prioritize self-care, seek support, and access resources that can help with addiction recovery, regardless of the specific language you choose to use.
So, today I’m offering my opinion, my perspective, my personal experience and the research and information I’ve gained from hundreds of conversations with experts in the addiction field and years of experience working with hundreds of women struggling with their relationship with alcohol.
In this episode, I share:
Why I don’t use the word alcoholic to describe myself
- The language I do use to talk about myself as a person who struggled to moderate drinking and eventually quit drinking alcohol completely
- Why I feel the use of the term ‘alcoholic’ in popular culture allows the alcohol industry to divert attention away from the fact that their product (alcohol) is addictive to everyone (and not only problematic for a specific category of people)
- Why the use of the term “alcoholic” to describe individuals encourages us to view alcohol addiction as a “they” problem rather than a growing public health crisis
- How the labels we assign to others can encourage or unintentionally discourage people from stopping drinking or seeking support
- The fact that the terms “alcoholic” and “alcoholism” are not actually medical diagnoses recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
- Why the medical community uses the term “alcohol use disorder” (AUD) and recognizes that AUD exists on a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe
- How shifting the language we use can normalize sobriety and make it easier for people to stop drinking without having to assume a label
- And why I was nervous to record this episode
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
3 Ways I Can Support You In Drinking Less + Living More
Join The Sobriety Starter Kit, the only sober coaching course designed specifically for busy women.
My proven, step-by-step sober coaching program will teach you exactly how to stop drinking — and how to make it the best decision of your life.
Save your seat in my FREE MASTERCLASS, 5 Secrets To Successfully Take a Break From Drinking
Grab the Free 30-Day Guide To Quitting Drinking, 30 Tips For Your First Month Alcohol-Free.
Connect with Casey
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ABOUT THE HELLO SOMEDAY PODCAST
The Hello Someday Podcast helps busy and successful women build a life they love without alcohol. Host Casey McGuire Davidson, a certified life coach and creator of The 30-Day Guide to Quitting Drinking, brings together her experience of quitting drinking while navigating work and motherhood, along with the voices of experts in personal development, self-care, addiction and recovery and self-improvement.
Whether you know you want to stop drinking and live an alcohol free life, are sober curious, or are in recovery this podcast is for you.
In each episode Casey will share the tried and true secrets of how to drink less and live more.
Learn how to let go of alcohol as a coping mechanism, how to shift your mindset about sobriety and change your drinking habits, how to create healthy routines to cope with anxiety, people pleasing and perfectionism, the importance of self-care in early sobriety, and why you don’t need to be an alcoholic to live an alcohol free life.
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READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THIS PODCAST INTERVIEW
Why I Don’t Use The Word “Alcoholic” To Describe Myself (Or Anyone Else)
stop drinking, live happily, alcohol-free, 1-on-1, accountability, Online Programs, Being healthy, Mental Health, self-identify, sobriety podcast for women, women, drinking, alcohol, addiction, different paths to sobriety, relationship with alcohol, identity, habit, behavior, personal choice, perspective, personal experience, research, information, conversations, experts, Therapists, addictive, substance, self-care, seek support, access resources, sober curious, early sobriety, 12 step meetings, circles, source of positive identifier, recovery, Gray Area Drinker, people, term, podcast, Alcoholic, Sober Coach, alcoholism, quitting drinking, quit drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
SPEAKERS: Casey McGuire Davidson
Welcome to the Hello Someday Podcast, the podcast for busy women who are ready to drink less and live more. I’m Casey McGuire Davidson, ex-red wine girl turned life coach helping women create lives they love without alcohol. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was anxious, overwhelmed, and drinking a bottle of wine and night to unwind. I thought that wine was the glue, holding my life together, helping me cope with my kids, my stressful job and my busy life. I didn’t realize that my love affair with drinking was making me more anxious and less able to manage my responsibilities.
In this podcast, my goal is to teach you the tried and true secrets of creating and living a life you don’t want to escape from.
Each week, I’ll bring you tools, lessons and conversations to help you drink less and live more. I’ll teach you how to navigate our drinking obsessed culture without a buzz, how to sit with your emotions, when you’re lonely or angry, frustrated or overwhelmed, how to self soothe without a drink, and how to turn the decision to stop drinking from your worst case scenario to the best decision of your life.
I am so glad you’re here. Now let’s get started.
Hi there. In this episode, I’m going to talk about
why I don’t use the word “alcoholic” to describe myself or anyone else.
And it’s something that I’ve been hesitating to talk about. Because when I have talked about Sober Coaching as a path to quit alcohol, or describe myself as a Sober Coach, but someone who doesn’t identify as an alcoholic, I’ve had a lot of strangers have negative responses to that, whether on social media, or some other places kind of implying that I must be in “denial” about my alcoholism, or that it’s my ego as to why I won’t call myself an “alcoholic”. And now, to be fair, that hasn’t happened with almost anyone I know personally. So, most people I know personally understand that there are many, many paths to quitting drinking. But when I put my Free Guide out on Facebook, or on other channels, I’ve certainly gotten a lot of comments like, yeah, there’s a way to quit drinking, and it’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Or you are putting some random comments like, I’m taking money out of a vase pocket, which was super funny to me. I’ve gotten comments like, I am preying on vulnerable people trying to make a profit. And if I really cared about helping people stop drinking, I would do this for free. And there’s a whole bunch of stuff behind that, you know, my initial response to them is, if you love Alcoholics Anonymous, that is incredible. And I am so happy for you. It is a path that many, many of my friends have taken, and they absolutely love it. It was not a path that I chose. It wasn’t for me.
And I also think that calling yourself an alcoholic to decide to stop drinking and to live happily, alcohol-free is great. I mean, it’s not required, you don’t have to call yourself an alcoholic. And I’ll tell you all about that and exactly why I also, in terms of people who kind of attack me for, if I really cared about people, I do this for free.
In my mind, I see hiring a Sober Coach is the same as deciding to hire a Personal Trainer or a Therapist or a Nutritionist, or a million other kinds of 1-on-1 or group programs. So essentially, you could find all of the information online. On YouTube, on Google, on anywhere else about, for example, how to eat more protein and to eat, to energize and fuel your body or to how to create a great free weights routine. But some people want to work with someone 1-on-1. They want that accountability. They want that program, or maybe they just want to do an online program, but they want it laid out for them. They don’t want to hunt and peck between all the different pieces of advice out there. So, I don’t hear anyone suggesting that a personal trainer or a therapist or a nutritionist work for free if they really cared about people being healthy or mental health working.
There are tons of people who quit drinking with AA or with a million other ways and they never anything and they never do any programs, and they never work with a Coach, which is awesome and incredible. Me, personally, over the years, I’ve definitely gone to Therapy, and I’ve definitely hired a personal trainer and really enjoyed it. And I’ve also worked with a Sober Coach that I paid for him. I also did Online Programs like Hip Sobriety, so I am a little sensitive about it because I don’t like being attacked.
But this episode, I’m just going to explain how I feel about the term alcoholic. Why I don’t use it to describe either myself or anyone else. If they self-identify as an alcoholic, I think that is wonderful. I certainly have a lot of friends who do, but it’s not for me. And I honestly, I kind of cringe when people assume that I am an alcoholic or I identify as an alcoholic or refer to my listeners of my podcast as alcoholics. I don’t like it when people throw around that term casually. And I, especially don’t like it when someone who doesn’t even self-identify as an alcoholic throws that around. I feel like, they are very uninformed and have no idea what it is. If they’ve never struggled with alcohol. I definitely cringe when they are like, Oh, well she’s an alcoholic. I’m just like, you know, internal cringe. Sometimes I say something, sometimes I don’t. It depends on the moment. Often, I say something these days, I’m like, you guys, actually, let me tell you about the history of that word and why it’s not an actual medical term, yada, yada, yada, yada. Okay, that was a long intro.
But basically, it’s a little bit funny. Because I’m a Sober Coach. I quit drinking 7 and a half years ago, after drinking a bottle of wine a night for many, many years. As the host of a really popular sobriety podcast for women, I’ve spent hundreds of hours talking about women and drinking alcohol in our society, addiction, and different paths to recovery. I should be the poster girl for being comfortable using the term alcoholic and alcoholism. But I’m not. And I want you to know why.
So, before I start talking about any of this, I want to acknowledge that alcohol use. Alcohol Use Disorder, drinking more than you want to your relationship with alcohol your identity. What helps you understand and seek help for any habit, or problematic behavior that is negatively impacting your life is a personal choice and is complicated. And so today, I’m offering my opinion, my perspective, my personal experience, and the research and information I’ve gathered from hundreds of conversations with experts in the addiction field. Years of experience working with hundreds of women struggling with their relationship with alcohol.
I am not a Doctor or a Therapist or an Addiction Expert. Addiction is a complex issue that’s influenced by so many factors including genetics, environment, consumption of an addictive substance, personal choices, and a million other things. And I want to encourage anyone who wants to stop drinking to do so, through any means any programs, any words that help them. Language and terminology can play a role in shaping our understanding of addiction. And the most important thing is to prioritize self-care. Seek support and access resources that can help you walk away from an addictive substance regardless of any specific language that you use. I have friends who happily and proudly call themselves alcoholics and find it useful. I love them and celebrate them and have absolutely no issue when they use the term to describe themselves or other people who have clearly stated that, that is the label they use to describe themselves.
And I really dislike it when someone who hasn’t struggled with alcohol or isn’t sober, uses the term to describe anyone else. I think it’s uninformed. I think it’s presumptuous. I also really cringe when it’s used in the news in the media, and I’ll go into that, but at the highest level, calling someone an alcoholic or talking about alcoholism, it’s actually not a medical term. I definitely dislike the word alcoholic or alcoholism when it’s used casually in conversation, especially about anyone else. And I’m taken aback when you, even people who self-identify as alcoholics, who are sober, who’ve quit drinking or in recovery, casually use the term to describe other people who stopped drinking or want to stop drinking or have trouble moderating and are reevaluating their relationship with alcohol.
Yes, on my podcast, sometimes use that term to describe me, or my listeners or others. I often don’t say anything in the moment because I totally respect my guests. And I appreciate their perspective. And I know they have something important to share, I would not be inviting them on the show. But I do kind of cringe when they do that. And I even now I tell my guests before we start our podcast, I talk about my show, I talk about it as a coaching show where I want my audience, women who are sober curious or want to stop drinking, or in early sobriety or who are living alcohol-free, where we can give them tools and conversations and information to better understand how to navigate our boozy world without alcohol. But I very specifically tell them that I do not use the word alcoholic, to describe myself or my listeners or my clients. That they’re welcome to use the term to describe themselves, if that’s how that they identify. But it’s not a word I generally throw around on my show.
And I also mentioned that most of all, I dislike it when people in the mainstream media use the term alcoholic, and I get it. Often, the mainstream media uses the term alcoholic instead of alcohol use disorder. Because alcoholic is a more commonly recognized term by the general public. Many people may not be familiar with the clinical term alcohol use disorder or may not understand what it means. The term alcoholic has been used for a very long time, in popular culture and in the media to refer to someone who struggles with alcohol addiction, which may make it more accessible and familiar to audiences. It’s really rare.
And honestly, I can’t in the moment, think of any depictions in TV shows or movies where people have stopped drinking, because they’ve had an issue with addiction, who aren’t shown going to 12 step meetings, or are not referred to as an alcoholic in some way or another, whether it’s on Grey’s Anatomy, I actually did an entire episode dedicated to best TV shows and movies about addiction and recovery. And it’s a fantastic show, we talk about all those shows, and all the ways that shifting in terms of how addiction and recovery are portrayed. But I struggled to find a single TV show or movie within the 100 that we talked about, where the depiction of someone who struggled with alcohol or is now sober was not a 12 step depiction using the term alcoholic. So most often, and honestly, a lot of time the term alcoholic can perpetuate negative stereotypes and stigmatize people who are struggling with alcohol addiction. Using the clinical term alcohol use disorder, it can help reduce the stigma, and emphasize the spectrum of addiction, which ranges from mild to moderate to severe.
Frankly, anyone who drinks more than a couple of times a year is probably on the spectrum of alcohol use disorder, and also the medical nature of the condition. I’m going to dive into all the reasons I don’t use the term alcoholic, and there are a lot of them. I hope that if you personally use the term, you can respect my perspective. In the words of AAA, which I did attend for about 4 months, take what you need, and leave the rest. Or you’re welcome to skip this episode and dive into one of the other 170 that I’ve recorded. I promise. I am truly not trying to offend you. But if you’ll listen, you’ll also hear that I feel kind of strongly about this one. And I’ve hesitated to record this because when I put myself out there before even just promoting my Free 30-Day Guide To Quitting Drinking, which is a Coaching Approach based on a behavior change principle. I’ve definitely gotten some strong negative reactions for people. And I talked about them at the beginning of this show. A lot of people in the Alcoholics Anonymous community, including people telling me that what I’m sharing is dangerous and will kill people. And then I’m preying on vulnerable people who are struggling and all the rest. So, if you want to message me and tell me how much I suck, please don’t. I’m a person and it actually hurts me when people attack me. So, let’s dive into it.
Why do I not use the term alcoholic to describe myself or anyone else?
Number one, I want to normalize sobriety, right? I see deciding to not consume alcohol as being right in line with deciding not to smoke cigarettes or deciding to be a vegetarian or a vegan, or something else. It is a health and lifestyle choice of what you want to consume. There is no question that, based on the scientific data, alcohol is bad for you. And it is addictive. It is literally designed once you consume it, to send you into withdrawal to make you want to consume more of it. And to consume it more often. There is no part of alcohol that is healthy for you, right? Every study that has ever said it’s good for your heart, or moderate drinking is healthier than not drinking at all. They are complete bullshit. I’ve gotten numerous episodes on this.
The American Cancer Society, the American Heart society, a million other things say it causes 7 kinds of cancer. Women who drink three alcoholic drinks a week have a 15% higher chance of developing breast cancer. It is bad for your brain, it is bad for your heart, it is bad for inflammation in the body. It’s terrible for your skin, yada, yada, yada, yada. Now, you can choose to drink. I choose to do lots of shit, that is not good for me. You know, everybody has personal choice. But I think in using the term alcoholic, it allows lots and lots of people to say, the substance itself that we all consume in our boozy culture is fine for all of us. And those people way over there. Those people who are “alcoholics”, they can’t drink it, because they have a disease. Because they have basically been grounded and lost their principles. They can’t handle it. Right. I actually personally think big alcohol must love the term alcoholic, because it implies that there are a few people who cannot consume alcohol. And if you, you’re in that category, yeah, don’t drink. But everyone else there’s nothing to see here. Let’s drink a completely takes the fault, the blame for becoming addicted off the addictive substance, right? Basically, if you consume heroin, your odds are, you’re going to get addicted to heroin, or meth or something, because the substance itself is addictive. Right? But if you choose not to consume it, that’s good. Everybody thinks it’s good.
Nobody says, like, if someone decides to stop smoking, like you need to go through the rest of your life, as a nicotine-holic, even if you were addicted to nicotine, right? Because guess what? Nicotine is addictive. You’re an ex-smoker, you used to smoke and now you don’t you don’t go through the rest of your life, struggling one day at a time with a disease that you’re fighting against. That is drawing you back to smoke cigarettes, right? It’s just not a thing. So, I don’t use the term because I think it normalizes the idea that the substance is not at fault. There’s nothing to see here with the substance of alcohol. It’s only certain people who struggle with drinking and they need to go over there. It also implies that you’re going to struggle forever with alcohol.
I love Craig Ferguson. He did a stand up monologue that I’ll try to find in length. And what I loved about it is he talked about, you know, someone saying like, Do you have a problem with alcohol? And he essentially says, I haven’t had a drink in X number of years. I don’t have a problem with alcohol, and that… but I can get one real quick, right? And that’s how I feel about it. Someone said to me, like, oh, even at work, I went to work one day and a friend of mine, we were on the same team, somehow talking about me quitting drinking, and she said, Oh, yeah, but you chose not to drink right? You’re not an alcoholic. And I looked at her and I was like, I chose not to drink, and alcohol is addictive. Again, I don’t identify as an alcoholic, but I also really didn’t like that someone who was not sober and didn’t identify struggling with it. If alcohol was sort of using that term to describe some “category”, or people that I was or was not in.
It also seemed really interesting to me that she would she really cared about not putting me, someone she knew well, someone who had kids that played with her, someone who had the same job in that, “category”.
Anyway, it just struck me as weird. And in my mind, I’m like, No, I don’t have a problem with alcohol. Like, I don’t have a drinking problem. I haven’t had a drink in X number of years. You were hungover on Monday. So, it just I hate it when people throw that shit around. I think that you can argue yes or no on this. But the way that the term alcoholic has been put forth in popular culture and TVs and movies and descriptions. It’s put out there is it a stigma and a label and it feels negative, and it feels punitive.
Now, I have definitely been in 12 Step programs, where in the circles, it’s been a source of bonding, a source of laughter, a source of a positive identifier that brings people together. And also in those circles, I feel like it’s been thrown around sort of as a weapon to bring people down or, or put people in their place, any way you want to look at it. I think, from personal experience, and from talking to just hundreds and 1000s of women, that the term itself keeps many people deciding to keep drinking or to not talk about their struggle with alcohol, because they don’t want to be put into that category. Right?
They take the quizzes, Am I An Alcoholic? They get the answers you are you aren’t. Again, alcoholic is not a medical term, it is not a diagnosis. So, that’s not even a thing. But then lots of people say, Oh, well, I’m not an alcoholic. So, there’s nothing to see here, it’s all fine. Or Holy shit, I don’t want to be an alcoholic. So, I just need to struggle with trying to moderate more. Or if I stopped drinking, everyone will think I’m an alcoholic. I just, I just don’t like using that term. Also, when using that term, it presents things about very black and white. And the idea that only quote unquote alcoholics would need, “need to stop drinking”. And everything I’ve learned from talking with addiction specialists and doctors is that the term is alcohol use disorder. It is mild, moderate, and severe. That is how it’s classified in the DSM five. And we need to start looking at it in the same way we look at diabetes, or high blood pressure or breast cancer stage one, stage two, stage three, early intervention. Early treatment options are really talking about this thing, this substance that is addictive, and everywhere in our society.
And I feel like using the term alcoholic stops that conversation in its tracks for a million different reasons. I also think the term is outdated. It’s seen as overly simplistic, it’s seen as stigmatizing, it implies that the individual is defined solely by their addiction to alcohol, and also consumed to reduce a really complex issue to a single label. I feel, in my opinion that the term alcoholic is also associated with like a moralistic view of addiction in which the individual is seen as responsible for their addiction and therefore can be judged and can be blamed. And now, addiction is recognized as a complex situation that’s influenced by a range of factors genetics, environment, social, psychological, and exposure. Exposure to the substance.
So, nowadays, in more modern terms, other terms are used by people talking about a person in recovery or a person with a substance use disorder. For me, I just say I quit drinking, and I feel better without it and alcohol is addictive. I am a nondrinker. That’s what I say. I don’t drink alcohol. I live in alcohol-free life.
Holly Whitaker first wrote in a blog, in Hip Sobriety, and I read it. I think before I stopped drinking, but I joined her Hip Sobriety program when I was 60 days sober, so it was definitely in my early days, she wrote up blog that said, Why? I’m not an alcoholic, and neither are you. And then she got just a ton of hate mail for this one. She also wrote about this in her book, Quit Like A Woman and an article in Time Magazine, that was very, very controversial. And just seeing the amount of shit she got for writing this, and just hate, really sucked. And I think it stopped me and a whole bunch of other people for talking about this.
For the longest time, I was actually, on another podcast with a woman who was sober through a 12 step program. And I, you know, she asked me about my experience in AAA and I, you know, almost turned myself in knots. Tiptoeing around, I was like, the people were amazing, which by the way, they were,. It was super interesting. I learned a lot, but it wasn’t my jam. You know. That sort of what I said. And she was like, Can I stop you right there? And I’m like, Sure.
And she was like, We need to stop apologizing for a 12 Step program for Alcoholics Anonymous not being on our path for it’s not resonating with us. It’s so seen as the mainstay of how you quit drinking. And it’s so central. And a lot of people who’ve gone through the program, I mean, I think anyone who quits drinking in a certain way, is very, very attached to that thing that got them out of the drinking cycle, that thing that brought them out of that low place, that they are very sensitive if anyone chooses another path.
But I did like it when she said that we need to stop apologizing for it because I spend a lot of energy trying not to offend anyone in a 12 step program. And that’s partially because I totally respect them, and partially because I don’t want to be attacked. And so, both are clear.
But what Holly wrote is, she said,
To be clear, I believe that alcohol is addictive. That alcohol addiction is progressive, that some people are wired a bit differently and are more vulnerable to alcohol addiction.
Holly wrote, In fact, I don’t just believe these things. Science tells me these things.
I’m not refuting that alcohol addiction is an actual thing, because it is an actual thing. A thing I had.
But then, she wrote,
…but the term alcoholic and the disease of alcoholism, create fear. A fear that you will always crave alcohol forever, have to use willpower to resist it. Spend the rest of your life just trying not to drink because our idea of an alcoholic is someone who attends Alcoholics Anonymous for the rest of their life assumes a lifetime label and is stuck in perpetual craving. One drink away from Breann a drunk one day at a time, because our concept of alcoholics are different. They’re outcasts, and social pariahs, and weak willed and a whole host of other things. This is what Holly Whitaker wrote.
And then she also wrote this, which cracked me up, she wrote about talking on the phone with a guy she’d met on the internet who also didn’t drink. And she said, she mentioned casually that she was stressed out about not accomplishing enough in her day. And he quickly replied, that’s your alcoholism talking? No, just now. And I thought that was funny, too. Because I know that when I went to 12 Step programs, people would be stressed out or feel insecure, or be upset about a very real frustration or something that happens. That’s unfair. And then they’ll say, that’s just my alcoholic brain talking. And my reaction is like, no, that’s your, that’s just you being a human being with emotions. That’s not your alcoholic brain, like our brains are. Not everything in our lives has to be attributed to the fact that we became addicted to an addictive substance. You can both have stopped drinking an addictive substance and be living life alcohol-free, and struggle with resentments and defensiveness and hurt and anything else. And not have to be related. It’s not because it’s your alcoholism talking or your alcoholic brain talking or whatever else. It’s just, you’re upset, and you need an actual solution to resolve those feelings and there are many ways to do it.
So, there are a few reasons why people choose not to use the term “alcoholic” to describe themselves. The term “alcoholic” can carry a negative stigma. It implies a lack of control or a lack of willpower over alcohol use. And that stigma can’t be harmful. It can stop people from seeking help or getting support. That is one of the many reasons I don’t use it.
Another one is, labeling. Right, the term alcoholic can be limiting. It may not capture your complex relationship with alcohol. And it may create a sense that your identity is solely focused on addiction rather than the person. You are a whole.
I think that the alcohol industry for years has really pushed and enjoyed the idea of alcohol use disorder being a personal failing and not a public health problem. Right? the alcohol industry has a huge influence on public perception and policy around alcohol use. They have a vested interest in promoting the idea that alcohol use is a matter of personal responsibility and choice, not a public health issue. People may avoid seeking treatment, out of fear of being labeled an alcoholic or being judged by others. It can contribute to our entire society accepting problem drinking and inadvertently, like support the alcohol industry by perpetuating the myth that alcohol addiction is a personal weakness, AKA you’re a “alcoholic”, then a medical condition caused by the addictive substance that requires support and treatment. Right.
So, why is there a stigma around the word alcoholic? I mean, moral judgment. Historically, addiction was seen as a moral failing or is a weakness, not a medical condition. This attitude, which is not right, persists today, right and can lead to feelings of shame or guilt or blame towards those people struggling with addiction. Negative stereotypes. I mean, if you look at any TV or movie or popular culture, there are tons of negative stereotypes associated with alcoholism, as people being irresponsible, or having poor self-control, or just being selfish or not caring, and then a lack of understanding, right, there’s stigma around the word alcoholic because people don’t understand addiction. And they view it as a personal moral failing, and it can lead to lack of empathy and lack of support. So, a term I liked better is, Gray Area Drinker. And that’s a term that is being used more and more in popular culture along with the sober curious movement to describe individuals whose drinking habits fall somewhere between moderate and problematic drinking patterns. It sort of, I think, helps to shift back on the idea that problematic drinking exists on a spectrum, rather than a binary of you’re a “normal” drinker or you’re a, “alcoholic”.
Gray Area drinking acknowledges that many people drink in patterns that are not harmless, but also do not necessarily meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Now I want to be clear, gray area drinking, also not a medical term, in the same way that alcoholic or alcoholism is not also a medical term. So, you can pick how you want to identify yourself, right? You get to pick how you want to self-identify, the term alcoholic has existed for a very long time, right, it predates the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, AA, and was in use prior to a been started in 1935. But AAA played a huge role in popularizing and shaping public perception of the term. So, Alcoholics Anonymous mutual support group does a ton of good has been instrumental in raising awareness about struggling with an alcohol addiction. It is the most common program that is sort of prescribed as a solution for alcohol addiction, both through the courts and through the medical establishments. And in the promotion of the concept just as part of the Alcoholics Anonymous program, their 12 STEP program. These steps include admitting you’re powerless over alcohol and identifying as an alcoholic. So, that’s been widely adopted, and it’s influenced how alcohol addiction is understood and discussed. So, AAA has contributed to the acceptance and the recognition of the term alcoholic, as a self-identifier for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction, its approach to recovery is based on acknowledging one’s, “alcoholism”, and maintaining sobriety. So, it shaped the language and the discourse that’s out there around alcohol use disorders, they popularized the term alcoholic, but also other organizations, healthcare professionals, researchers have also contributed to the understanding and treatment of alcohol use disorder. So ,out there in the world, the term alcoholic is widely used in both clinical and public context to describe individuals who experienced difficulties and consequences related to their alcohol consumption. And so, people who use the term alcoholic to describe someone with alcohol use disorder, they’re not necessarily ignorant, right. It’s a term that’s been widely used for many, many years, and is part of the common vocabulary surrounding alcohol related issues. But it’s not required.
And I think it’s going out of favor. I personally think it’s outdated. I think it’s a popular word or phrase that’s used based on outdated science, right? That is my opinion. And it’s not a medical diagnosis. So, it’s not required, I think the term alcoholic is also very much associated with a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, or someone who is part of a 12 step program. And you can decide that you have an addiction to alcohol, that you struggle with moderating alcohol, or that you’re just making a healthy choice to no longer consume alcohol and to live alcohol free without identifying as an alcoholic.
So, gosh, I feel like I’ve gone back and forth talking about the same things. But there is a lot there. I think Alcoholics Anonymous is a completely valid path, a completely valid program, and a wonderful way to get support and guidance in seeking sobriety. And it’s also one approach to quitting drinking, and to sobriety and to recovery. And a lot of times, I think it is portrayed as the approach, not on approach, but the approach, whether it’s through the legal system, a lot of the medical community, the media, or the public in general. And I’ve also gotten feedback from people who are within the program, again, not people that I personally know. I have a lot of friends who are in 12 Step programs, but people who are sort of strangers on the internet that believe that AAA or a 12 step approach is the one right approach, that if you’re not doing AAA, if you don’t identify as an alcoholic, then you’re in denial, or you’re not serious, or you’ll inevitably drink, or do drugs or not maintain an alcohol free life. And the idea of come back when you’re ready, or maybe you haven’t had enough consequences yet, or maybe you’re in denial in interactions.
I’ve had as a Sober Coach, I’ve gotten a lot of comments that from people in 12 Step programs that other approaches to quitting drinking, are somehow not valid or won’t work. And that’s just not true. And that does bother me. AAA, calling yourself an alcoholic is one approach of many other approaches include therapy and sober coaching online groups, listening to podcast education, other non 12 step based recovery programs, medication, yoga, breathwork, meditation, running, simply melt making a health and lifestyle choice like deciding not to smoke or deciding to be a vegetarian or vegan or so many more.
So, that is why I don’t refer to myself as an alcoholic. That is why I don’t refer to my clients as an alcoholic. That is why I don’t refer to my podcast listeners as alcoholics. That is why I don’t refer to frankly anyone unless they self-identify as being an alpha Holic, they like that term, and they are part of the 12 step program that uses that term, even then I will probably not refer to them as that. But I am perfectly happy if they refer to themselves as that. I just, I don’t think it’s required. And I think that, believing that you have to either have zero problem with alcohol, nothing to see here, or you’re a quote unquote alcoholic, keeps a lot of people in a very painful place of struggling to moderate an addictive substance, and struggling to keep that addictive substance in their lives, so that they don’t get placed in some category of being an alcoholic that they don’t want to be in.
So, identify however you want to call yourself anything you want.
But I personally say, I quit drinking. I used to be a big drinker. I love drinking, and I quit. And I feel better. I live alcohol free. I don’t drink anymore. I haven’t had a drink in seven and a half years. And by the way, alcohol was addictive. And yes, I was addicted to it. But I don’t have a problem with alcohol right now because I don’t fucking drink. Okay, maybe I need to cut that last line. You know what I’m saying? Lots of hugs. Please don’t send me hate mail. All right, love you lots. Bye..
Thank you for listening to this episode of The Hello Someday Podcast. If you’re interested in learning more about me or the work I do or accessing free resources and guides to help you build a life you love without alcohol, please visit hellosomedaycoaching.com. And I would be so grateful if you would take a few minutes to rate and review this podcast so that more women can find it and join the conversation about drinking less and living more.