Thursday, 30 March 2017

Am I an Alcoholic?



Whenever I tell people that I don't drink (which I do quite happily now), one of the first questions I'm asked is "are you an alcoholic?"

This question is usually accompanied by a hard, concerned stare, and is whispered. It's the same tone in which someone might ask "do you have genital herpes?" or "is it cancer?"

(I know this, because I did actually have cancer. And, I tell you what, admitting to cancer is an awful lot easier than admitting to not drinking. I would merrily tell my hairdresser, a traffic warden, pretty much anyone about my cancer, but it took at least six months of not drinking to be able to confess to that!)

And the problem with being asked are you an alcoholic? is that I never know what to say.

I hate the word. It comes loaded with such negative imagery. People assume that alcoholics are diseased, weak, doomed, bad mothers, untrustworthy and unstable - or at least that's what I think they're thinking.

I think the word is damaging, because we try so hard to deny being an alcoholic that we carry on drinking for way longer than we should. Only rock bottom feels worse than admitting to that lifelong curse.

This isn't a case of me being in denial. I am happy to confess that I AM AN ADDICT. And, as a result, I CAN NEVER DRINK AGAIN. But, confess to being an alcoholic? No thank you.

This is a bit of an issue, as when I start having to do the publicity for my book it's a question I'm bound to be asked publically.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm ashamed of my addiction. I'm not. Or that I think I'm different from self-proclaimed alcoholics - I'm not. Nor do I want to run down AA, which is an incredible institution. It's just not a label that I agree with, like or find helpful.

So, here are my questions to all of you (answers in the comments below, please!)

Do you describe yourself an alcoholic? Do you find the terminology helpful? If not, what do you prefer to say? And, when I'm asked 'are you an alcoholic?' what do you think I should say?

Really looking forward to hearing your views!

Love SM x

55 comments:

  1. I don't like the term Alcoholic but it gets to the point quickly. Saying I drink too much, can't stop at one, am an addict all sound a bit better but still leave unaswered questions. The shock factor alone usually leaves people in stunned silence. Which leaves me to dissapear before they can say much more.

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  2. I don't. I say I feel better, sleep better and I am happier when I don't drink. Some people agree with me, and say "oh I know I can't drink much anymore either" or others look at me oddly and move on. C'est la vie

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  3. It's rather easy, I think. You just say 'I WAS addicted to alcohol, just like a smoker is addicted to nicotine. I broke the addiction, but I know that I could easily pick it up again, so I just stay away. Feel free to call that whatever you want.'
    That should do it. The comparison with smoking is quite apt and something most people understand - they all know smokers who thought they could have just a few and went right back to smoking a pack a day.

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    1. Ulla! You're still here! Please can you e-mail me on sobermummy@gmail.com? You're in my book and I want to check if you're happy with what I've written! Thank you!

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  4. I do call myself an alcoholic, but that's just because it's shorthand. There really is something wrong with that term, because it's loaded with the whole 'you were born this way, and you have a character flaw'.

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  5. I don't identify as an alcoholic, but I will say that I became addicted to alcohol. People don't describe themselves as nicoholics (nicotine) or herionolics, so why the special label for alcohol? Once again, I don't like the negative connotations either.

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  6. I so hate the term 'alcoholic' and don't identify with it at all. In fact I think the stigma around the term probably prevented me from going AF for a few years. I like the term Alcohol Free better. If people ask me why I don't drink anymore I say it's for health reasons (completely true) and that I feel much better without.

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  7. Further thoughts on this. I think as a community we should reject the term alcoholic it is negative and simplistic. On reflection I also think AF may not be right either. Both terms are too all-defining. Why should we defined by drink.
    I think when you are interviewed about your (eagerly awaited book) and asked the question - this is the opportunity to address all the negativity around the term alcoholic. Simply, we no longer drink. I am defined by what I DO not by what I don't do. X

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    1. I agree. I love the word sober. I love that my life has changed so much for the better, and so unexpectedly.

      I love to share my story. I get so many people who share theirs back. This is a way to both be of service, and to celebrate my life.

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    2. Thanks Annie. I am into year two and have never felt better. At first I didn't say much as I was worried what people would think. I am more inclined to share now and I think it has encouraged a few friends to re-think their drinking

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    3. "I don't drink anymore. I'm a Lot happier without it." Done.

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    4. how many people asking about other's drinking habits -which would include all the are you an alcoholic questions-are actually thinking about their own drinking ?

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  8. I'm happy to call myself an alcoholic when I go to AA as it is an accepted and simple recognition that we are. All there for the same reason.

    With the world I don't use the word because it carries ideas that I don't feel embody my truth-which is I was drinking too much, it became a huge mental health issue and I have found freedom. I am not deprived. I am happy, joyous and free.

    The problem with alcoholic is it seems to imply I'm still drinking. I'm sober. It's awesome. I don't plan to ever drink again. I have no interest.

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  9. I am still processing the question, and likely will have another thought or two. But if the subject does come up - how rude! - it will be a good opportunity to open a dialogue abt the whole use/definition of the word...which seems to have an instant mind picture of a gutter-reclining, lost-it-all soul. But as we,ve learned from meeting one another in this blog-world, 'alcoholic' can be anyone, no tattered rags required. I know I don,t fit the 'classic' definition....i can have a drink (A drink) and I can stop.....but the stop switch goes out of commission after several drinks. So....better to keep the quantity and the circumstance in a very controlled place.

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  10. I say I am doing the 100 day challenge!! Actually over 200 days, but do find it difficult to explain and can't bear the 'sympathetic' looks ... I never got them when giving up smoking, just praise and commendation!!
    Another of my phrases is that I have an excellent on off switch, but the volume is not so steady when on ... So I prefer off!! My choice, my life in my control :-)))))

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  11. I too dislike the word alcoholic. As with others, I find it full of negativity, extremely limiting. In my mind, the word was coined to promote a way of thinking and yes, overcoming alcohol.. But it seems to have so much shame attached to it. The word "alcoholic" seems to denote a character flaw in a person. It covers the spectrum from homeless vagrant, to wife beater to the life of the party. There is also the philosohy of "once an alcoholic,always an alcholic". That doesn't work for me.I like to say that I no longer drink. If someone asks if I'm an alcoholic, I say that I'm me and that I had a problem with alcohol at one time and decided that it no longer has any positive aspects in my life. I gave it up as I would a dysfunctional friend or a no longer satisfying job. I also like to stress, without soundy preachy, that I feel great, I'm happy and I don't miss it.

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  12. Don't like the term myself, for the same reasons as many others, simplistic and negative. When asked why I don't drink, I tell people that since the menopause I just can't cope with alcohol in my system. It happens to be true - also mentioning the words "menopause" or "hormones" makes sure the subject is changed sharpish.

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    1. That is very similar to my response but much simpler sof I am going to use that from now on. Am almost 2 years sober and it's really not an issue any more. Although I still haven't told me new work colleagues.....

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  13. I'm not an alcoholic by the rules of AA. I haven't got to the point where I have to admit that I am powerless over alcohol, I can still take control, but for me that means abstinence. So as long as I recognise that I think I am ok.

    What do I tell others? If they ask I just say I'm not drinking any more. I tell them I was drinking too much, and just decided I was better off without it. Most people accept this, but a few will take it as a challenge to their own choices ( I'm guessing ). One couple stopped responding to calls, emails, Xmas cards etc. But, I made my choice and they made theirs. Still sad though.

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  14. I've been saying sober, I like that its in the present

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  15. I just say I don't drink alcohol, it doesn't agree with my menopause and I feel so much better without it...a few close to me know how much of a battle I had...if pushed will explain further....I don't like the term/label alcoholic,,,agree that like smoking I was addicted, but now I don't drink I am not,,,,but one would lead me back to where I was, same as it did with smoking when after a two years nonsmoking I decided to smoke at parties within days I was back to 30 a day, took me seven hard months to quit again...would be the same for me with alcohol, not going to try....it's a shame there is such a stigma, I am sure more people would try to stop and would get help earlier if they didn't fear the labelling....

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  16. I have struggled with this so much. Funny how the word Alcoholic slips off the tongue when I talk about it in general terms, but try saying it when I'm describing my drinking habits, then it gets lodged in the back of my throat and can I spit it out,can I hell. However two years down the line and it's beginning to get easier.. I actually think we should use the word, we should face our very last demon and I hope one day I can stand up and say "yes I was an alcoholic, I was addicted to alcohol and I guess that made me an alcoholic" We need to make it respectable...we need to show others that it actually isn't something to be ashamed of, we need to educate and we need celebrate our successes and share our stories.

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  17. I like the expression 'non-drinker' as it is a vague term that could mean you are an ex-drinker in recovery or you may have never drunk alcohol in the first place

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  18. Well I happily claimed this term through many years of sobriety although I did not go around calling myself this every five minutes. Now after slipping I'm not so sure. You see I have had a few drinks the last couple of months and I sometimes can drink socially. But I could slip back to the 12-14 months of heavy drinking I indulged in......So what am I? My drinking is not worse than before. I like alcohol but the hangovers are horrible and its toxic. I guess because I feel the call of the wine witch I am an addict but alcoholic may be too strong a term....and if I focus on that rather than living sober or teetotaller which a rather cool person I know uses I think that works better for me. Cause in the end does it really matter. It is a toxic substance that probably no one should touch and it is a continuum of use thing. I want to live sober just like I want to live without cigarettes altogether. At the end of the day it is irrelevant how many cigarettes I smoked, Im better off with no cigarettes.

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  19. If a person isn't drinking, by the definition in my dictionary, they aren't an alcoholic (yep, I know - that wouldn't agree with the AA definition, but they're not sat in my office drawer):

    > Alcoholic: person addicted to drinking alcohol
    > Addicted: physically dependent on a substance

    If you no longer drink, that would suggest you're no longer physically dependent upon it; if you were to drink again, then that might be a different matter…

    To me, the term 'alcoholic' suggests someone who's constantly fighting against that 'physical dependency'; if you're now fortunate enough to no longer be going through that battle, I don't see how 'alcoholic' can be the correct label.

    In answer to the question "Are you an alcoholic?', my response would be "No, I no longer drink; if I did, maybe I would be".

    The worst thing is that the stigma around the term alcoholic prevents people trying to stop drinking from talking openly (and proudly) about what they're going through, which in turn limits the support that you can get from those around you. My wife still worries about people knowing she doesn't drink after more than a year of stopping, when really she should just be so proud of herself.

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  20. Gosh this has made me really think!!

    I would never think of myself or describe the old me as an alcoholic, although I think i secretly knew I was on the way to becoming one. I am 131 days today and I am only just starting to tell people that I've stopped drinking, hopefully forever, I will never get bored of the look of surprise on their faces! And how proud I feel to say it! When they ask why I just say that it was making me feel very ill, and I feel so much better now, which are both true. My close friends and family know that I couldn't stop at one drink, who wants just one?!?! It's so much easier just having none. And luckily I've discovered I'm outgoing and confident even without the booze so I've still been going out lots socially, it's made me realise your life is what u make it, you don't need booze to be full of life, if anything drinking drains the life out of you!!! Took me a long time to realise this though. Happy sober weekend everyone, sunny up here in Lancashire so hope you've all got some too :-) xxxx

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  22. I'd prefer to say tea-total as it sounds healthier and more positive.

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  23. Amazing how man comments this post has generated! I think that speaks to difficulty that we all have in trying to find a way to say we don't drink. Of course, isn't it strange that people expect you to justify why you don't drink? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

    In any case, I quit drinking nearly two years ago and I must say that "fessing up" gets much easier over time. Nowadys, if I feel I must explain, I just say that I decided to take a break from drinking for a while and then I felt so good that I just kept going.

    I don't like the term alcoholic -- it sounds like a disease and I'm not even sure I have it!

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  24. I have done a complete about face on the whole term alcoholic, I used to think I was one and used the word privately to myself but now I wouldn't use it. I am rapidly approaching one year, day 314, and these days I am far more likely to use the term tee total which to me signifies I have made a choice to not consume alcohol but doesn't carry the same negative connotations as alcoholic.
    To me alcoholic seems to imply a dry drunk who constantly mourns their drinking days and has to suffer through each day of sobriety. Tee Total (to me) implies freedom, choice and total contentment with not drinking.
    Having said all that I have barely been asked why I don't drink, bit disappointing to be honest.

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  25. I don't like it, and would never use it to describe myself. I think it is a label which for a lot of people brings to mind unhelpful stereotypes of the end stages of alcohol dependence, e.g. drinking neat spirits out of a bottle in a brown paper bag. This is what a lot of people I know would imagine I had been doing if I said I was one, and the loaded nature of the term can also lead to under-recognition/denial of problems as in I'm not an alcoholic as I don't do X (insert end-stage alcohol dependence behaviour).
    So until the term is reclaimed by us non-drinkers across the whole spectrum and rebuilt without the many layers of connotations it has grown over the years, I'd rather just say 'I don't drink'. I tend to say I can't handle it any more, it doesn't agree with me, and I found it difficult to know when to stop...

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  26. Hate the word alcoholic. Its loaded with so much stigma and disdain. 'Proudly sober person that used to be addicted to alcohol' is quite a long winded way of explaining where I am. I would also rather call myself an addict or rather ex-addict thatn alcoholic. I quite like 'Alcohol Free'sorta says it all...

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  27. Hi SM - so excited for the book. Well done lovely lady. Tricky tricky. So interesting to read all the comments above. Gosh we're all pretty much in agreement. I would never call myself an alcoholic - and the concept of the term and whether I was or wasn't also stopped me quitting for quite some time. I am still tell very few people that I don't drink for fear they will a) think I'm boring, b) think I'm a diseased paper bag swilling problem. This doesn't sit right with me as I feel I should be sober and proud and that somehow I'm letting the rest of you guys down by not being more open. Then in the next breath I think - nah - we all have to do what works best for ourselves in this sober journey and almost 18 mths sober this is working for me. The few closest people in my life know I've given up forever and are very supportive of this decision. And the close friends I see regularly know I just never seem to drink anymore and when they offer me a drink I just decline not proffering any excuses and they don't push it - but they still always offer - and I guess it would be so much easier if I just came out and said - I don't drink any more. A friend recently gave me a bottle of champagne as a pressie - which I have put away and probably give to my mum who will enjoy it - and it doesn't tempt me - it just makes me think - why don't I just tell the friend I don't drink. Anyhoo I've rambled on a bit here - My advice to you SM is say what sits and feels right for you - you've helped so many of us already - I would love you to put your own feelings before all your readers for once. Has anyone got any advice for me and whether or how I should be more open that I have given up alcohol for good? Hope you come to a comfortable decision lovely SM - and hope the publicising goes well. Do we get to see our heroines identity soon ???? Xxxx

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    1. Hi SFM! The book is being publicised by the publishers already. The working title is The Sober Diaries and I'm publishing under my maiden name: Clare Pooley. You can Google it, and you can even pre-order on Amazon, although it's not out until Jan 11th!

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    2. P.s. If you Google me, I'm not the Clare Pooley who is a blonde cave diving instructor! I'm the dark haired writer!

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    3. Bravo!! And 'the dark-haired writer' is every bit as lovely as I always pictured.

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    4. She is, beautiful profile, I can't wait to see a full smile soon.

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  28. Here is what I have learned over the humble few months in:

    Some people have tried everything and they NEED to label themselves and alcoholic and an addict & to surrender to the fact that they are powerless over their addiction. This is how AA has been successful

    Others believe that labeling is deflating and find taking control of your addition with cognitive behaviour therapy - that is how SMART recovery works

    Some, like me just take a bit of everything included white-knuckling. I have called myself an addict, I have called myself an alcoholic. It did help me realise the extent of the problem and stop glossing over it as "just a wee bit of a bad habit".

    I would chose what suit you and explain that your journey is not to label - whilst understanding that it helps others to do so.

    Can't wait for the book - go you !!!
    M xxxx

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  29. Thanks so much to all of you for your thoughts on this one - please keep them coming!

    My feeling is that this is an opportunity to confront the prejudice about non-drinkers and to make the point that alcohol is the only drug that when you stop taking it YOU are seen as having a problem.

    This doesn't just make life difficult for us, it also means that thousands of people who are finding alcohol problematic are too scared and ashamed to quit.

    Going alcohol free is never going to be as aspirational as, say, clean eating so long as we fear the 'alcoholic' label.

    Having said all that, I'm terrified of upsetting the AA brigade. I don't want to diss what they do, which is awesome, just to make the point that some of the terminology may be outdated and unhelpful for many of us....

    It's a minefield :-)

    Xxxx

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  30. I regularly tell people that I don't drink. I'm very proud of myself. Whilst most have expressed surprise, I have to say nobody has asked me outright if I'm an alcoholic.
    I'll be really honest, I think they would have crossed a line/boundary if they did ask that. I think it's bloody downright rude actually and I'd be really quite shocked. Not because I'm ashamed but because I wouldnt dream of asking anyone a question like that. It's an incredibly personal question and none of their business!!!! I mean, anyone close enough to you to actually ask that question would surely already know wouldn't they? Everyone else is just asking out of sheer nosiness/gossip, not with your best interests at heart.
    That's what I think anyway X

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  31. I don't like the word alcoholic. It implies a problem with the person, when I think the problem is with the product itself. I tell people 'I rarely rink anymore ' or 'I don't really drink much these days'. I like it because it tells them I can drink, I just chose not to at this event. It tells them that I don't like drinking as opposed I don't drink because I liked it too much and had to stop.

    Lastly I think I also like that wording just incase in the future someone sees me with a drink, keeping my options open. I don't like the fact that this has something to do with it, but there it is.

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  32. If I'm ever asked why I don't drink, I tend to respond with reasons relating to the adverse heath effects of alcohol. As a Dietitian I also want to walk the talk. I feel so much more 'aligned' to my core values both personally and professionally since quitting the booze. People usually glaze over when I start talking about the exponential rise in liver-related illnesses afflicting our nation (UK) of daily quaffers. Before I'm hit with the 'are you an alcoholic' question I've usually frightened the poor soul off or converted them to milk thistle and my liver cleanse programme 😊 I don't claim to sit in an ivory tower but equally I don't want to be labelled with a socially conditioned term that connotes being in the gutter. Not when I'm the one making the healthy choices and the person asking the 'alcoholic' question is usually cradling a glass of wine!

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    1. your point about being align to your values is a very important one

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  33. I absolutely hate the word alcoholic, HATE IT, but the reality is, an alcoholic cannot control their alochol intake, one drink is never enough, so...it's a valid title, one I still choose to fight with because of the negative conotations. But I have the choice to label myself the way I want to, and so do all others. Those who call themselves alcoholics and feel no shame, well, they are strong indivisuals. They are.

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  34. Yay - I will pre order - will receive just about on my 2 yr soberversary xxx

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  35. Loving the comments so far!
    In my experience, people who ask if I am an alcoholic aren't interested in me, my life and my journey to being Alcohol Free. They just want to hear what I refer to as "Alcohol porn". They want to hear gory stories about waking up in the gutter/being caught driving over the limit/losing jobs/marriages/families etc .....
    I haven't ever done any of these anyway which makes my journey quite a boring one(!) but you can always pick out those people who just want to hear horror stories. I just tell them I am going AF for a year (I'm six months today yay!!) to see if I can do it.
    I know and the people who love me and matter know why I want so badly to be a non-drinker, and they love and support me all the way. They would never dream of using the A Word to me, so I don't use it about myself.
    I'm also really looking forward to the book coming out! January is a great time to publish (see if we can lure any Dry Januaries over to our side!)

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  36. I think it's an actively unhelpful term- the hearer is likely to assume that alcoholism = hiding booze, drinking in the morning, losing your job etc. As well as being inaccurate it reinforces the idea that, if you AREN'T doing those things, you have nothing to be gained from stopping drinking. In your shoes, I'd do the old politician's trick- responding to the question doesn't necessarily mean answering it. A perfectly good response would be to explain your issues with the word

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  37. Good Morning ... This thread gave me the courage and inspiration to announce yesterday to the group we were lunching with for himselfs birthday that I was not drinking as I had given up for 7 months .... The response was one of quiet acceptance and conversation carried on .. Phew. Then during the meal one of the party quietly said 'You don't need alcohol do you.' I felt and still feel so warm and proud to be me. No I don't need alcohol :-)
    Thank you all and especially SM for support, courage and encouragement ...

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  38. Hi SM - this is a hot topic - and there has been much discussion on it. Alcoholism means many things to many people - including an evolving medical term which suggest one would go through withdrawal if the substance was removed. That term is somewhat in flux however.

    A compromise term which I think is really good is: PROBLEM DRINKER. You can have that mean whatever your like. For me it was that alcohol was causing less joy and more pain in my life than before. It could also be that it's starting to cause problems in your life (which you can define - even things like missing out). This term I think is encompassing and non-polarizing - vague enough yet specific enough to take the next step - if there's a problem we should fix it - either through cutting back (moderation - won't go into that now) or more than likely abstinence.

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  39. Bloody hell SM, there's another book in this one thread!!

    Justonemore

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  40. Great debate everyone - thank you!

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  41. To me an alcoholic who has given up drinking still craves a drink but I don't. It's a word with negative connotations which I don't think reflect how good it feels to have quit. If I label myself an alcoholic then others will assume I was at rock bottom and not like them. The truth is I don't think I used to drink more than a lot of my friends, family or others that I hear bragging about their drinking antics. I try to avoid telling people I don't drink incase they think I'm a bit odd, which is exactly what I'd have thought of a non drinker when I was drinking. In my experience people who drink don't want to hear about how good it feels not to drink. They simply don't believe you. I wish I could be more outwardly proud of being sober but I find it hard.

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  42. Good question. I hope your dog is now fully recovered and the editing is going well or the waiting isn't too long.

    I think a lot we convey to other people is in the delivery. People hear something they don't expect and 'study you' for clues. I think it is a brave person who asks 'are you an alcoholic ' and personally I wouldn't in the same way as I would never ask people if they are planning a family or when are they having children etc. It's a personal decision and should remain so. This doesn't always work!

    Getting to the stage of being genuinely comfortable not drinking shows anyway....

    I think it's a question of putting on a mental hard hat and getting on with it people will think what they think and its you who goes home with yourself at the end of each day finding peace of mind (and a four legged friend ). :0)

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