There’s always been something off for me about the label of alcoholic that I’ve never really known how to articulate. Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t think AA is wrong, bad or whatever, but maybe there are more paths to recovery and the way we currently approach addiction and alcohol is not a route that works for everyone. If the main objective is to abstain, however someone goes about it, is it really wrong?
I usually don’t review a book before I’ve actually read the entire thing, but I’m making an exception. I am about half way through Holly Whitaker’s “How To Quit Like a Woman” and I’m completely blown away by her ability to put to words what I felt in my gut but was unable to express in a cohesive way. There are a couple of points Whitaker makes that deeply resonated with me (among about a thousand others so far):
“Alcohol is the only drug in the world where, when you stop taking it, you are seen as having a disease. Because alcohol is the only socially accepted drug, because most of us consume it, because we have come to believe that there are “normal” drinkers and there are “alcoholics,” and because alcoholism is self-diagnosed, it is literally the only drug in the world where you get a label and a lifetime disease once you admit you need to, want to, or do stop….When I drank (and clearly abused), I did not have alcoholism. When I said, ‘I can’t drink,’ I became an alcoholic. Because we believe everyone ‘should’ be able to drink ethanol, and those who can’t are somehow defective, we assign them a label and a lifetime disease.”
She continues on to assert that alcohol is not only addictive to a person labeled as an alcoholic, but to everyone.
“Alcohol addiction is progressive, that some people are wired a bit differently and are more vulnerable to alcohol addiction…science tells (us) these things…alcohol is addictive to everyone. Yet we’ve created a separate disease called alcoholism and forced it upon the minority of the population who are willing to admit they can’t control their drinking, and because of that, we’ve focused on what’s wrong with those few humans rather than on what’s wrong with our alcohol-centric culture or the substance itself.””What made sobriety so full of wonder is the fact that I didn’t have to negotiate a word that implies a life sentence or a chronic, relapsing disease… what made the label nondrinker downright magical was that it wasn’t synonymous with drunk, inebriate, junkie, addict, lush, wino, liar, or cheat.”
It’s sounds weird to my ear because I’m so used to the word alcoholic. Whitaker comments about the fact that we don’t call nonsmokers cigarette-aholics. They are non-smokers. The onus is on the substance, not the person – that’s the simple and huge difference. While it may seem like simple semantics, I am a firm believer in the power of words. Words carry weight, imply, infer and conjure images in our minds. It’s just the way language and culture works. The term non-drinker is empowering. It gives the user the choice, while alcoholic takes all choice away. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter in the long run. If sober, I don’t drink – regardless of a label. Working a program is valuable. Self reflection and conscious examination of one’s self and behaviors is crucial to growth. Maybe if there was less of a stigma associated with sobriety, less normalizing of imbibing ethanol, perhaps more would choose to embrace it?