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I Drink a Lot. Does That Make Me an Alcoholic?

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Updated May 04, 2009

Question: I Drink a Lot. Does That Make Me an Alcoholic?
Answer: If you drink a lot, you are not necessarily an alcoholic -- though you could be. The term “alcoholic” is highly stigmatized, and generally used to refer to people with severe alcohol dependence or addiction. Use of this term has been embraced by the AA movement, and those promoting the disease model of addiction. More recently, terms such as "heavy drinker" and "binge drinker" have become more common as it is being recognized that there is a broad range of drinking patterns, and that alcohol causes many more harms that addiction alone.

Some people find it useful to apply the label of “alcoholic” to themselves and others, particularly if they find AA helpful. Generally, however, there is a trend of moving away from labeling people with diseases and conditions, because of the stigma it causes to those affected. The terms “alcoholic” and “drug addict” have been relatively resistant to this trend, though.

Often when people ask whether they are an alcoholic, they are concerned about their drinking and see alcoholism as an all-or-nothing label. This is generally unhelpful. If you are concerned about your drinking, some of the issues you should consider include:

  • Am I harming myself, physically or psychologically, by drinking as much as I do?
  • Am I hurting my family because of my drinking?
  • Is drinking getting in the way of forming good relationships (beyond “drinking buddies”)?
  • Is drinking affecting my work? Could my career be doing better if I drank less?
  • Could I be putting others at risk through my drinking?
  • Could I cope with the stress of life without alcohol?

And of course, the key addiction question:

  • Could I cut down or stop drinking if I wanted to?

Please remember to seek medical help -- through your family doctor, for example -- before attempting to quit drinking. It is dangerous to quit cold turkey without medical management.

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