Until the day comes when we finally find ourselves gracing the seats of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, it can be easy to call other people an alcoholic or to joke about being one without actually understanding what it means.
I used to joke all the time that my friends and I were alcoholics, that we were drunks, etc., the only catch was that I didn’t know the real definition of an alcoholic. We used to think it was just when someone couldn’t handle their liquor and got really drunk on accident. Then I also had the friends who, while I know I can never pronounce anyone else as an alcoholic, definitely showed signs of the “isms” and habits that define a true alcoholic.
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For those of you out there who may be unfamiliar with the real Alcoholics Anonymous definition of what it means to be a real, true, alcoholic of the hopeless variety, allow me to explain.
According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are generally 3 different types of drinkers.
The first type, and which I assume is a large majority of the human population, is what we like to call moderate drinkers. These are the people who can go entire stretches of time without needing, wanting, or even thinking about having a drink. These are the people that we consider “normies” in the rooms. These normal drinkers are the ones who can order a glass of wine or beer with dinner, and not finish it, and be totally comfortable with that fact. They are also the people that know that when they start to feel buzzed, they should probably stop drinking, and they do!
To those of us in Alcoholics Anonymous, these people are fascinating and are usually the reason why so many of us struggle with step one. These are the people that we try to compare and emulate in our drinking careers. AKA, my mother is one of these people. She can comfortably pour herself a glass of wine, and feel buzzed halfway through and not finish the rest. This is not how I drink. Let’s continue with the categories and I will explain the difference between her and myself.
Alcoholic or a Heavy Drinker
Alas, here is where the line can sometimes get a little blurred. These people show definite signs of having a possible drinking problem, they can probably be considered to be alcoholics by the “normies” but there is one major difference. A heavy drinker, if given a good and substantial reason to do so, will be able to stop drinking indefinitely or for considerable lengths of time if necessary.
For example, I’m sure we all have that one friend that we used to party with, who would drink anyone under the table, but today, possibly due to a relationship or the birth of a child or a new job, hardly drinks at all. AKA, my sister. Let me explain, my older sister was my old drinking partner. She would, when she drank, easily put down an 18 pack of beer and a 750 of blueberry Stolichnaya vodka (gross, right?) Then one night, one infamous night that changed her life, she was in a car accident. She slid out on a patch of black ice and hit a tree going 60. She was sentenced to two years in federal prison for a DUI, many people considered her to be an alcoholic. During the time before her sentencing, as it took almost a year to reach the verdict, she had her first daughter, my niece. Since the time that she has had my niece and gone to jail, she has made an entire 180 with her life. She is now happily married and has another daughter, and she lives a beautiful life, without ever really drinking or partying at all. Even at the end of the day while they relax, she doesn’t feel the need to drink.
This is not the case with the real and true alcoholic.
The Real Deal Alcoholic
Now, this is where we reach the real meat and potatoes of this topic. What qualifies someone as an actual, genuine, doomed hopeless, drunk? Well, according to the Big Book, a real alcoholic will always drink following to simple guidelines.
- Once they start to drink, they cannot control how much they have, despite a potential overwhelming desire to control it.
- They can never Stay Stopped, in other words, they HAVE to drink.
By this last rule I mean, an alcoholic feels more normal and at peace when they are completely intoxicated than they do when they are stone cold sober. For an alcoholic, the state of complete obliteration IS the normal state. Even if they don’t want to drink, they mentally and physically MUST in order to feel as though they can function.
Here in lies the idea behind alcoholism being an allergy or a disease. Firstly, the fact that when we put the alcohol into our bodies, we have an abnormal reaction to the substance. This is by definition, what an allergy is. Only with alcoholism, rather than peanuts, we don’t break out into hives or get itchy eyes, we develop, the phenomenon of craving. This craving is what forces us to continue drinking on and on, despite every negative consequence that our own drinking throws at us.
I realize that for those who don’t suffer from alcoholism, it makes no sense. Why don’t you just stop? Or moderate? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard those questions. But for me, and the rest of the alcoholics out there, it isn’t so simple. We have a maladjustment to life, always by our own actions and thought processes, that only two things can cure.
- Alcohol and drugs
- A Spiritual approach to life
However, most of us don’t realize that our drinking can actually be cured by a spiritual way of life UNTIL we have already hit the bottom of the barrel and are brought to AA. So if you or a loved one thinks you might have a drinking or drug problem, it is possible that you do. If you find that you keep trying to convince yourself that you are the first type of drinker, only to end up finding more relation to the third type, you can always try to sit in on an AA meeting and see how it feels. What’s the worst that could happen?
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