We Want to Know: What Is Your Definition of An Alcoholic?

by Leah on February 25, 2013

In response to an article on The Huffington Post, “Rush People Who Have 1-2 Drinks to AA?” one person wrote: “I’ve been in recovery for seven years. Zero alcohol intake. I thought complete abstinence was the point. Have I been wrong all this time?”

The author, addiction expert Stanton Peele replied:

“You need to be a critical consumer of information for your own life. But, if your decision to abstain for life was based solely, or largely, on the idea that human beings with problems that qualify them as alcoholics never reduce their drinking – you probably should consider the scientific information that this idea is false.”

Peele was referring to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) detailed study of 43,000 drinkers nationally , which found that three-quarters of alcoholics recover without treatment, and more than half drink safely.

It seems there’s some discrepancy over the use of the word alcoholic.

I’ve always thought (and many of my friends have fought me on this) that if someone was diagnosed as an alcoholic, the only “cure” or solution was to never drink again. I also felt, based largely on my mother’s experience, that it would be nearly impossible for alcoholics to quit drinking on their own, and that they need some combination of therapy, detox, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

But I missed an important distinction. According to NIAAA, there are two forms of alcohol dependence: time-limited, and recurrent or chronic. As the writers at NIAAA put it, “In most persons affected, alcohol dependence (commonly known as alcoholism) looks less like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas than it does your party-hardy college roommate or that hard-driving colleague in the next cubicle.”

Your party-hardy college roommate? Most likely, her drinking will ebb and flow as she goes through different ages and stages. Just because someone has a heavy-drinking stage of life does not necessarily mean they are a candidate for AA.

In my opinion, it’s confusing to label time-limited alcohol dependence as alcoholism.  I think that there should be a distinction made between heavy drinkers and alcoholics.

What do you think, readers?

We Want to Know…What Is Your Definition of An Alcoholic? Do you think alcoholics can safely drink again and/or recover without treatment? Should there be a distinction between problem drinkers and alcoholics?