What is alcoholism ?

The term alcoholism has been around for a long time and in many ways is less important than the behaviour and the actions and the devastation that it describes. In modern day language, people talk about a wide range of related associations such as alcohol abuse, substance abuse, alcohol addiction etc.

Alcoholism is widely accepted and understood to be a progressive illness that can affect many people, from any social background, from any age, any profession, any gender or sexuality in any country.

Given that as a general proposition, which is pretty widely accepted, beyond that there is much debate as to what constitutes the nature of alcoholism being an illness, who has it, what it means and what can be done to help people get better. The term alcoholism often puts people off because if someone has alcoholism then it follws they are effectively an alcoholic.

For loads of different reasons, the term alcoholic can seem to be a very difficult and problematic label for people to carry. This can be true for people who go to Alcoholics Anonymous and can get sober, as well as people who might be potential alcoholics and see they have a problem and need to stop.


Many years ago, a very famous rehab ran a series of ads focusing on a young smart professional wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, with a caption underneath to the effect that this individual was much more likely to be an alcoholic than someone who was what is commonly referred to as a street drinker.

The intent of the ad was in effect to challenge people’s misconceptions and stereotypes of what an alcoholic is. Having said that it is incredibly difficult to define an alcoholic in a theoretical sense. There are a number of almost slang type expressions and sayings that have arisen in Alcoholics Anonymous, one of them being that if alcohol is costing you more than money then you have a problem.

Obviously this is somewhat of a generalisation, but there is a truth that if alcohol is having an impact that is seriously detrimental to other aspects of your life, is affecting your work or your home or family life in any area then potentially you could be an alcoholic. It is important to stress that only the individual themselves cant make this judgement as to whether or not they are an alcoholic or simply a heavy drinker who needs to stop.

The important thing is that the individual realises they have a problem, and seeks appropriate help. What works, works.