People say, ‘You’re an alcoholic because your dad was an alcoholic’ or ‘You’re an alcoholic and always will be, that’s why you can’t drink, because you can’t control it’ or ‘You’re an alcoholic and you can’t do anything about it.’ Many articles related to alcoholism, as well as some organisations whose aim is to fight this problem, see ‘alcoholism’ virtually as an illness, and an incurable one at that!
An illness which, like cancer, can strike anyone regardless of who they are. In this article, however, I don’t look at alcohol dependency in this way.
Is someone with alcohol dependency an alcoholic?
Yes and no. Yes, because they’re experiencing addiction to alcohol, their drinking has an uncontrolled nature and it causes them many problems. No, because their dependency stems from internal personal reasons, not simply genetic factors. In other words, the person indeed has a problem, but alcohol is the response to this problem and not the problem itself!
So don’t start thinking that you need to cure some kind of abstract ‘alcoholism’! What’s needed is a change in your identity and its ways.
The concepts of ‘alcoholic’ and ‘alcoholism’ have acquired a stand-alone meaning, extraneous to the problems which in fact give rise to dependency. It’s for this very reason that I try to steer clear of these definitions (or put them in quotation marks).
Really, ‘alcoholism’ isn’t an independent, isolated phenomenon. It’s simply the outcome of other problems.
So, if a person has problems with alcohol dependency, does it mean that they’ll be an ‘alcoholic’ for the rest of their life?
Again, the answer to this is yes and no. Yes, because when someone has had alcohol problems in the past, it might be harder for them to restrict their alcohol use in future. No, because if they sort out the personal problems which instigated their drinking, they’ll no longer have any reason to drink. Consequently they’ll stop being an alcoholic; alcohol will be consigned to their past.
But this doesn’t mean that we should be complacent. Alcohol is a very insidious drug, so it’s always necessary to be on one’s guard and not fall into the notorious trap of overconfidence.
Alcohol and Alcoholics
Returning to the terms ‘alcoholic’ and ‘alcoholism’, I believe that the in my view incorrect use of them has arisen as a result of attempts to morally exonerate, firstly, people who drink but whose drinking doesn’t lead to serious problems (i.e. dividing everyone who likes to drink into ‘alcoholics’ and ‘normal drinkers’), and, secondly, those who are considered ‘alcoholics’ (by saying that people aren’t to blame for having alcoholism, in the same way that a person with diabetes isn’t responsible for their illness).
The problem with the first of these ideas is that the line between ‘normal’ alcohol use and alcoholism is very blurred. Concepts of the ‘norm’ vary from person to person, and there’s always a risk that this ‘norm’ will lead to disaster, leaving the person wondering how it happened. Many people who are now alcoholics were at some point just regular drinkers.
Therefore, rather than referring to the borderline between alcoholics and everyone else, it’s better to talk about the various stages of drug addiction, with one case being alcoholism. There are both mild and serious levels of addiction, and mild can lead to serious. This concept of ‘alcoholism’ helps us relate to alcohol with more care.
The issue with the second idea is that an alcoholic is responsible for the fact that they’re an alcoholic. This assertion can serve as the fourth theorem. They aren’t suffering from a disease – they drink because it’s a way of satisfying some or other of their desires. And this isn’t the fault of their parents, their environment or of ‘alcoholism’; the person with the problem is the one who’s answerable for it.
In fact, strange as it may sound, the implications of this theorem are the most optimistic. They show that everyone can free themselves from dependency through their own efforts, if they address the reasons behind it! I’m not going to echo the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous which say that alcohol dependency is a force greater than you. I don’t want to help you shake off any responsibility.
Because taking responsibility means standing facing freedom – freedom to be the kind of person you want to be and not allowing yourself to be manipulated by harmful habits and weaknesses. In order to achieve this freedom you need to lose your dependency, and I’ll go on to talk about this in the next section: Overcoming Alcohol Addiction: 7 Steps.