I’m Leah Odze Epstein, and I am a blogger. Actually, I’m co-editor of Drinking Diaries, and this is my first official off-the-cuff blog post, spurred on by a reader who threw down the gauntlet and said, “Why don’t these bloggers just BLOG?” Hmmm. Good question.
Last night, when I couldn’t sleep (probably because of an overloaded back-to-school schedule, as the mother of three kids), I was thinking about how my mom, a recovered alcoholic who has been sober for over 30 years, explained to me that alcoholism was a disease, and alcohol was not the only cause. It is a disease of the emotions as well as a chemical disease (involving blood sugar issues, the body’s ability to metabolize alcoholic, etc.). She always said to me, “You don’t have the personality for it,” which somehow made me feel better.
Over the years, I’ve debated many people on the disease front–people who don’t believe alcoholism is as much a disease, but a failure of will or a lifestyle choice. It’s confusing, because so-called high functioning alcoholics throw a wrench in the works–can’t everyone just cut down? Isn’t it just a question of moderation and self-control?
For alcoholics, it’s not that easy. My mother had to go through detox–and after that, she was told she should never drink again because she is allergic to alcohol, and she hasn’t.
I would argue that my mother’s definition is true: an alcoholic is someone who is allergic to alcohol, and should never drink again. Just as my husband and daughter have celiac disease, and their bodies cannot tolerate wheat or gluten-containing products, some people have an allergy to alcohol. I think a distinction needs to be made between alcoholics and heavy drinkers, and that the label high-functioning alcoholic can be misleading. Most alcoholics eventually hit rock bottom. Many people can benefit from moderation management, I am sure, but they are probably not alcoholics.
I’m not saying that alcoholics should not make amends to the people they hurt, using their “disease” as an excuse. I’m just arguing for increased understanding of the distinction between heavy drinking, a drinking problem and the disease of alcoholism.
What do you think, readers? What is your definition of an alcoholic?