The word alcoholic


This question terrifies thousands of people every day and the mere thought of it can be incredibly frightening.

Throughout our lives we have heard that there are two types of people, alcoholics and normal drinkers - those who can handle alcohol and those who cannot.

But the fact is that the answer is not as simple as one might think. It's a question we'd like to be able to answer yes or no to, but it's something that's actually not possible. The reason is that there is no clear definition of what an alcoholic is, or what it means to be one.

What we can say with certainty, however, is that alcohol is an addictive substance that is harmful to all living beings. But addiction has very little to do with you and very much to do with alcohol. It is not "alcoholics" who become addicted to alcohol, but people.

Given this, it is not surprising that around 80-85% of all adults in our Western culture consume alcohol. Or that the average alcohol consumption in the world is the equivalent of 53 bottles of wine per adult person per year. Oops!

With this in mind, we can revisit the question: Am I an alcoholic?


The reason is that the term is no longer considered relevant. For example, the concepts of abuse and dependence have been completely removed from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is one of the main tools used to diagnose mental conditions in psychiatry.

This is simply too general a way of trying to group people together. Instead, they have started talking about something called substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder (AUD). It tries to identify the level of problems that someone experiences as a result of their alcohol consumption.

To make it even clearer, we can use a thought experiment. Say there was a strict definition of alcoholism in terms of the maximum number of units a person could drink per week to be called an alcoholic. Then say that a person drinks exactly one unit less than this every week for 20 years. Can we then say that this person by definition does not have an alcohol problem?

Of course not!

This is precisely why AUD is defined as a spectrum ranging from a slightly problematic relationship to a serious one. To know where you fall on this spectrum, answer the following questions honestly:

How many of the above questions would you answer yes to if you were honest?

If you answer yes to 2 or more questions, you are defined as having an alcohol use disorder. The degree of severity is defined as follows:

Easy: 2-3 symptoms

Moderate: 4-5 symptoms

Seriously: 6 or more symptoms

But if we think about it, aren't these exactly the kind of events that people tell stories and jokes about at an after-work party, or the day after? Like losing your memory or falling and hitting yourself while drunk. It seems that these events are not funny side effects of alcohol, but rather symptoms of alcohol use syndrome. Does this not suggest that most people you know would be classified somewhere on this spectrumthat it is actually quite common?


Indeed, many people who drink alcohol fall somewhere on the AUD scale. Therefore, it is not black or white, off or on and old stigmatized terms like alcoholic should really be thrown out once and for all.

But so what, what does it matter? And why is this approach better than using the term alcoholic?

The difference lies in what is opened up instead if we choose to see it this way. If it is not black or white, alcoholic or normal drinker, but something that applies to everyone who consumes alcohol. Then we can stop blaming the person and start blaming the substance. We can stop seeing it as "us and them" and realize that we are all in the same boat, which makes it easier to be more honest with ourselves. In the end, it might even become something you dare to talk about openly.

We can start asking ourselves better questions. Questions that can actually help us feel better, such as:

How can I make healthier choices in my life?

Is alcohol really necessary to have fun?

What do I want my life to look like in five years and is that where I am heading?


Click through to read more about me and my personal journey with alcohol. Hopefully it will inspire you!