What Are Alcohol Use Disorders?
You may have heard about a new term that is emerging in the conversation about alcohol and addiction. For years the only way to talk about problem drinking was by using the label “alcoholic.”
Now we are hearing less about alcoholism and a new term is emerging: “Alcohol Use Disorder.” You might be wondering what Alcohol Use Disorder is, how it is different from alcoholism, and even more importantly, how these labels apply to you.
I’ll make it easy for you right from the start. Alcohol Use Disorder is the term being used to describe the behavior of drinking in an “abnormal” way — drinking routinely, binge drinking, or drinking in response to emotions. But there’s a problem right from the start. The term suggests that there is a “normal” way to drink alcohol. In reality, however, there is no normal way to drink alcohol.
Anyone who drinks has a problem because there is nothing normal or healthy about consciously ingesting a highly toxic poison, no matter how attractively packaged or socially acceptable it is.
Don’t Accept The Label
If you’re like I was, you’ve looked for evidence to prove to yourself that you don’t have a problem with alcohol. You’ve probably taken the tests online. You’ve even compared yourself with others looking for someone who drinks more than you or more frequently than you do to convince yourself that you don’t have a problem.
- If you only drink on weekends, you couldn’t possibly have a problem.
- You don’t want a drink in the morning; therefore, you certainly aren’t an alcoholic.
And on and on it goes. But it’s not the quantity or frequency of your drinking that defines whether or not you have a problem. It’s about how it’s affecting your life. Is it making your life worse? If it is, then it’s a problem.
I once had a man in one of my Quit Drinking Bootcamps who told us that he drank one miniature bottle of vodka a day for 40 years. You might conclude that this man didn’t have a problem and wonder what he was doing at a Bootcamp to quit drinking.
He went on to explain that he hated the way it made him feel about himself. He hated that he felt as if he had no control and that he had to reach for that miniature every day. It was making him miserable. For him, that meant he had a problem. And that is really the only test you should be taking:
Is it making your life worse?
We can lose years of our lives in the pursuit of finding a label that fits, when the label really doesn’t matter. We pour our energy into trying to figure out what to call the behavior instead of using that energy to change the behavior.
There’s another reason to avoid the labels. Most of them suggest that the problem is out of your control, that somehow you developed or inherited an unfortunate disease. That there is something wrong with you. The labels only serve to keep us in victim mode rather than changing the behavior. They come with negative connotations attached, suggesting that somehow you are weak-willed or broken.
All of the labels try to lay the blame at the feet of the user rather than where the blame truly lies — squarely on the poison.
Put An End Alcohol Use Disorders
Consider another common addiction — smoking. No one stigmatizes the person addicted to cigarettes by labelling them a “smokeaholic” and telling them, “Even if you quit smoking, you’ll still only be a ‘recovering smokeaholic’ for the rest of your life.” We don’t use labels for people who smoke because we understand that nicotine is an addictive drug and that if you smoke it, you will become addicted.
There is nothing diseased about you. There is nothing weak-willed or broken about you. You repeatedly drank a highly addictive substance and got addicted — an entirely predictable outcome. It’s that simple.
For 10 years I’ve been helping people quit drinking without the use of demoralizing, stigmatizing labels. Instead of spending more time and energy trying to find a label, ask yourself the simple question, “Is it making my life worse?” If your answer is yes, then it’s time to take action.