Alcohol/Alcoholic/Alcoholism

Many people use of the terms alcohol, alcoholic and alcoholism almost interchangeably, and there is often a lot of confusion as to what these terms actually mean, and how they relate to each other.

In the context of a rehab/treatment center it is really important to understand at some level what these terms mean in order to make sure that the rehab is addressing relevant addiction terms accordingly.

Alcohol

Most people are aware of what alcohol is, and the different types of alcohol. For many people alcohol is not a problem at all in their lives. Many people do not drink at all, either for religious reasons or social ones.

Other people drink moderately and have a sense of control or normality over their drinking.

These types of people are often referred to in the context of alcoholism as social drinkers. Social drinkers represent a large proportion of society who are able to safely consume different types of alcohol as and when they choose, with no significant impact on themselves or others.

For other people, alcohol can represent a serious problem in their lives. This can manifest itself often at an early age when people are in their teens, through to people in later life.

People’s patterns of drinking may differ significantly, but there is often a common thread in that other people start to be concerned about their drinking, and the actual impact of their drinking has a detrimental effect on their lives at some level.

It is worth making a distinction that not everyone who has a problem with alcohol is necessarily an alcoholic. That may well be people who have a problem with alcohol at different points in their lives who are able to stop on their own and see the damage that they are doing to themselves and others.

Alcoholic

Making a distinction between an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic heavy drinker is an important distinction, not least because important considerations follow from both these patterns of drinking.

Someone who is a heavy drinker will most likely have become at some level addicted to alcohol as a consequence of continuous use. In the same way that someone becomes addicted to cigarettes, someone who is a heavy drinker will start drinking moderately and over time become more and more dependent on it.

This heavy drinking may well affect their lives, both their work lives and their family lives in some fairly obvious way. It is likely that once realised, the heavy drinker will be able to stop, although they will often need help and support from family, friends and possibly outside agencies.

Someone who is an alcoholic may outwardly displayed many of the same patterned behaviour and patterns of drinking as someone who is a heavy drinker. The real difference is likely to be an internal one, with the alcoholic having a significantly different mental and emotional attitude to alcohol and life.

There are many different patterns of alcoholics, and of alcoholism in general. It is probably safe to assume a few general pointers, although they should not be taken as a rigid definition.

Firstly, anyone of any age, status or background can become an alcoholic. There are no limits or prerequisites. Many people who are alcoholics grew up in alcoholic homes, and there is a widespread belief that there is some genetic component to people’s alcoholism.

Secondly, an alcoholic may well start off drinking at any age, and may start drinking as a social drinker as outlined above, and progress into active alcoholism at any point. Alternatively the alcoholic may start off drinking alcoholically, again at any age, and carry on drinking alcoholically for long as they are able to.

It is also safe to assume that someone who is an alcoholic reaches a point in their drinking when they are completely unable to stop on their own resources, and in most cases lose any will to try and stop as well. For a better understanding of the nature of alcoholism, it is suggested you read the book Alcoholics Anonymous, or attend open meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Alcoholism

In its simplest form, alcoholism refers to someone who is an alcoholic, in the same way that someone who is a diabetic is someone who has diabetes. This obviously is an oversimplification in one sense but does stress the point accordingly.

Whilst people have had drink problems for most of humanitys time on earth, it is only relatively recently that alcoholism has been recognised as an illness, and as such people who drink alcoholically have been recognised as people who suffer from this illness, as opposed to people who have a moral weakness or lacking character.

In some ways this is a fairly spurious distinction, but is an important context for many people once they get sober. Alcoholism was first recognised as an illness by certain members of the medical profession at the time that Alcoholics Anonymous was being formed, and the formation of this society gave significant growth to this belief, both within the medical profession and beyond.

Since then alcoholism is most often referred to as a disease, which has different implications to it being an illness, and has been generalised into a form of addiction in which alcohol and drug addiction and other forms of addiction are treated as the same issue.

This approach to treating alcoholism the same as other types of addiction has largely been formulated by rehabs and treatment centers, and is one that should be taken with much caution.

Alcoholism in its own right is probably best understood by people who are alcoholics themselves, and the relief in terms of understanding that it is a progressive illness gives many people a sense of context and reality that allows them to set in motion the process of recovery, and rebuild their lives both internally and externally.

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