EP 194: Reader Question – How do you define alcohol and alcoholism?

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This topic….’what makes someone an alcoholic’….is a hot spot for many. One person may label themselves an ‘alcoholic’ while another might be completely offended by this term, despite having no control over their own drinking. So when is it okay to use this the word ‘alcoholic’? And is there such a thing as a disease called alcoholism? Annie Grace dives into the murky water, perhaps giving you a new perspective on these labels.

Are you ready for a deep dive into truly lasting change? If so, you might consider my Intensive Program. It’s a 9-week, self-led program that you can do in the complete comfort of your own home. It will truly transform your relationship with alcohol. If you want to learn more about this, go to thisnakedmind.com/intensive.

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Defining Alcoholism

The definition for alcoholism and alcoholic is varied. You ask different people, you will get different answers. Most people say things like you actually have to decide for yourself if you have a problem. Medical and scientific and diagnostic experts prefer the term alcohol use disorder, so, instead of that being a black-and-white definition, it’s a continuum of use and abuse which includes measurement of specific symptoms including drinking despite problems, health problems, relational problems, work problems, tolerance, how severe is cravings, how can you overcome the cravings or not, and physical dependence, and so, on this continuum, you’re actually… You come up with a specific where-you-are with alcohol addiction, and there’s interestingly really good neuroscience to support this idea of not necessarily labeling yourself. Defining alcoholism doesn’t provide that spectrum.

Not Defined By Alcoholism

I have a lot of readers, and some of them write me, and some people who read my book have been sober for a number of years, haven’t touched alcohol, and I’ve actually gotten letters from people saying that,

“While I recognize that I was fully dependent and had a pretty severe problem with alcohol and was definitely addicted, I’m divorcing the term alcoholic,”

and so they tell me that they are no longer using that term to apply to themselves because they feel that identifying themselves as that, especially after it’s been years since they’ve touched a drink, can be problematic in how they view the world, how much importance they continued to put on alcohol, and it can actually keep them stuck. There’s a lot of science to support this, that what you call yourself, what you label yourself actually has an impact on how you feel and how quickly you heal. Defining alcoholism in a way defines you as a person so removing that label promotes healing.

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Outlook Matters

There’s a study that shows that depending on how a doctor tells the patient they have cancer, whether it’s a very optimistic outcome or a very pessimistic outcome, it can actually impact how quickly the person heals. So much of healing and overcoming any illness, any addiction, any disease is what we believe ourselves capable to do. How strong we think we are and how much we believe we have reserves to do so. So, in not necessarily taking on a very scary label, some people are finding that they’re able to overcome it easier than were they to take on the label.


I’ve actually received messages from people who are not heavy drinkers who’ve made this decision. Despite them never having considered themselves to have a problem, they realize that just by turning down a drink in a social situation or telling someone they don’t drink anymore, they’re inviting judgment. So to simply stop drinking means that people assume that they did have a problem. That black-and-white idea of alcoholic or nonalcoholic lends itself to this misconception.

It’s an unfortunate deterrent for people because we assume anyone who stops must have had a problem.

We look at them. We judge them, and that’s not a nice feeling. You come into it a bit innocently especially when you stop without a problem. You just say, “Yeah, I don’t drink anymore,” and people, “Oh, really? What happened? I mean, are you okay? Did you have a problem?” You start to get all these pretty invasive questions, and that can be a bit of a deterrent for somebody who just made the choice for health reasons and actually never really suffered any problems from alcohol.

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Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


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