The horror of labelling yourself an alcoholic

I participate on the on line parenting forum Mumsnet, and there is a long running thread for those of us who are trying to abstain completely from alcohol here which I’m sharing in case it’s of use to anyone reading.  Every now and then, somebody comes on to detail their relationship with drink and ask whether we think they have a problem.  The replies are excellent, and the point is often made that one doesn’t have to embrace the term ‘alcoholic’ to accept that life would be better without alcohol,  We know, don’t we, that the term alcoholic is off-putting to so many people that if you say it to them too early, you run the risk of scaring them off.  So we couch it.  Problem drinker; almost-alcoholic; overdoing it.

I completely understand the horror of calling yourself an alcoholic, one poster says.  And I do, too. I mean, I remember feeling that horror, and side stepping the issue, and spending far too long thinking of reasons why I couldn’t possibly be.

Some of that is, of course, that while you’re drinking, the addict voice is actively lying to you, and it’s easy to deny and minimise and obfuscate.  Giving up drinking is a very good way to see if you need to give up drinking, because you can’t see your life clearly through a liquid veil.

But quite apart from that, I no longer think that most of the reluctance to so label oneself is about stigma, really.  It’s about finality.  Because we all know that if you’re a proper alcoholic, you have to give up drinking alcohol completely and forever.  Whereas if you just have, you know, a bit of a problem, then you can probably just give up for a bit, see how you feel, and the future is a convenient series of ellipses.

When I was drinking, I was horrified at the possibility that I might be an alcoholic.  Because that admission represented a line in the sand.

Now I’m not drinking, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m an alcoholic.  And that’s fine, actually.  I’m also an expat, a writer, a mother and a pretty decent cook.  They’re just things that I am, and one of them means that I don’t ever pick up a glass of wine again.  Could be worse.


4 thoughts on “The horror of labelling yourself an alcoholic

  1. In my early days sobriety, (not that I have been sober that long), I found the word alcoholic abhorrent. I went to AA around 70+ days, and did not speak for another 2 months because I could not wrap my head around that word. In my mind I say it, on my blog I say it, but out loud, very difficult. It is what I am, I just don’t like the word, but I do say it now. Not proudly or loudly, but I am getting there.

  2. Certainly could be worse. I use ‘alcoholic’ freely in my writing here in the sober sphere but not so much face-to-face. Although I did drop it yesterday to a woman I’d just met…! Kind of always feels stupidly dramatic but at the same time I don’t really care because even though my drinking wasn’t outwardly dramatic.. getting sober certainly was earth-shatteringly dramatic .. and living in soberland (which is what I like to call the state-of-mind that I now have) is dramatic too (in a wonderful way).. so alcoholic is an ok word by me. I say lets redefine the stereotype of an alcoholic! We’re not all messy scratchy-in-the-gutter losers.. many of us are respectable, well-put-together alcoholics. Alcoholics can pluck eyebrows too! Great post xxxx

  3. I don’t use or like the term alcoholic, I think it is quite negative and has a derogotary meaning. It’s an unnecessary label, like if you had a diagnosis of schizophrenia would you call yourself a schizophrenic? (Well, I’m a mental health worker, and I don’t call people with that diagnosis that term). The alcohol treatment unit I go to also doesn’t use the term. It works with ‘problematic drinkers’,.and they reckon it’s down to AA that the term ‘alcoholic’ is so widely in use, most people would not have thought to use that term before AA for someone who had a problem with drink. Not that I’m dissing AA, it’s just the way that ‘alcoholic’ has become such an important label, like if we don’t apply it to ourselves then we are somehow in denial…I’m not in denial, I know I can’t have a drink again because I crosdsed the line into addiction to a very addictive substance, that changed my brain chemistry, and it can’t be changed back, apparently, so I’m not going to ever experiment to see if it can be any different, but I am not going to apply that term to myself, or to others that have the same affliction.
    Sorry, bit of a rant…

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