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Addiction & Treatment

Definition of Alcoholism and Alcoholic

As an aside, but vital to these discussions: Words matter, especially in science and medical communication! That said, all languages have words or sounds that mean something to a person who understands the language being spoken. This is the way communication among humans has taken place since the beginning. Language, however, can be confusing. For example, in the English Language the word "lie" means untruthful, but the word "lie" also means to be in a prone position. These are words that are spelled the same and sound the same and have different meanings. So how does one know when the word is used, which meaning it means? Quite simply really; one only has to observe how the word is being used. Consider, "What you just told me was a lie. " Obviously, in this sentence the word "lie" is referring to an untruth. But there are words in the drug and alcohol treatment industry that sound the same and that are spelled the same with different, sometimes radically different, meanings. More confusing still is that the meaning of these words cannot be determined by the use of these words in a sentence; e.g. addiction, alcoholic and alcoholism.

Alcoholism, for example, according to The Mayo Clinic, is currently defined as ". . . a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. If you have alcoholism, you can't consistently predict how much you'll drink, how long you'll drink, or what consequences will occur from your drinking. "  Now then, one would think that the Mayo Clinic knows what it is talking about, but let’s take a closer look.

The word "alcoholism" is made up of a noun, "alcohol" and a suffix "-ism. "  According to The Dictionary, alcohol is a noun meaning "a colorless volatile flammable liquid, C2H5OH, synthesized or obtained by fermentation of sugars and starches and widely used, either pure or denatured, as a solvent and in drugs, cleaning solutions, explosives, and intoxicating beverages. " The suffix "-ism" in some instances indicates action of the noun to which it is attached such as criticism, meaning the act of a critic. So if this was the meaning of alcoholism, it would exactly mean the act of an alcohol. This is probably not what the drug and alcohol treatment industry had in mind for the word "alcoholism. " Sometimes the suffix is used to denote a specific condition, such as barbarism which means the condition of behaving like a barbarian. With this understanding, the word "alcoholism" would mean behaving like an alcohol or maybe an alcoholic. (The suffix "ic" means pertaining to.) In this case, then, the definition of "alcoholism" is alcohol pertaining to alcohol. Of course, that makes no sense whatever, but then again, very little of this nonsense about "alcoholic" and "alcoholism" does make sense. Moving on, the suffix "-ism" also connotes a particular principle, position or policy, such as Freudianism, which means adhering to the theories of Sigmund Freud. In the case of alcoholism then, strictly speaking, alcoholism would mean adhering to the principle(s) of alcohol. This is another one of the definitions, which, again, makes no sense. But what about when the suffix "-ism" is used to connote "usage?" Now it begins to make some sense. In the word alcoholism, the "-ism" means usage. So, with this in mind we can reasonably assume that the word "alcoholism," quite literally, means alcohol usage.

Now that the terms "alcoholic" and "alcoholism" are understood for what they really mean, it should be much easier to discuss. Consider that "alcoholic" simply means something pertaining to alcohol, like an alcoholic mixture, e.g. ethanol and gasoline, or an alcoholic beverage, e.g. beer. And, in fact, someone could be an alcoholic person. That would mean that something about the person has to do with alcohol. For example, maybe that person drinks alcohol. Maybe that person drinks a lot of alcohol or only in moderation or sparingly. But it matters not in so far as the definition of "alcoholic" is concerned because if a person is involved in anything pertaining to alcohol, they are by definition an alcoholic person. In the strictest scientific meaning persons using hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol or a myriad of other commercially available products are, indeed, alcoholic persons. That is that everyone that uses alcohol, for any reason is alcoholic by definition.

As early as 1790 the accepted definition for the word "alcoholic" was "of or pertaining to alcohol. " It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the word alcoholic was connected to drunkenness, and by 1910 it came to mean "habitually drunk. "  But these meanings never gained any wide acceptance until the formation of the Alcoholic Squad (of the Oxford Group) in 1935, in Akron, Ohio. The alcoholic squad was a small subset of the Oxford Group. The Oxford Group was a fundamentalist Christian cult of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The alcoholic squad was the proper use of the word "alcoholic," in that it was identifying a collection of people that had in common the use of alcohol. But soon after the alcoholic squad was established, fellow members of the Oxford Group shortened their reference from "the alcoholic squad" to simply "the alcoholics. " This was possibly the first foray into using the word alcoholic to define a person and not an activity such as "habitually drunk. "

Alcoholic used as a noun to identify people was a very specific definition created about 75 years ago by an unscientific group of habitual drunkards who were members of a fundamentalist cult in which some, literally, received their guidance from Ouija Boards and sèances. So, if you should be one of the unfortunates that believe that you are an alcoholic, you will have to accept your chosen label, "alcoholic," on blind belief, because no scientific evidence exists that changed the word "alcoholic" from an adjective to a noun, meaning a person who overindulges in the use of alcohol.

In 1790 the accepted definition for the word "alcoholic" was "of or pertaining to alcohol. " This is the correct definition and is the appropriate definition today. Here’s the question: are you inclined to accept the science by etymologists and linguists that has been true nearly 225 years or the complete lack of science by a bunch of drunkards of 75 years ago. Alcoholics Anonymous, the professionals of the drug and alcohol treatment industry and the medical professionals adhere to the latter — what do you think that says about them, their judgment, and their treatment?

Again, keep in mind that "alcoholism" simply means alcohol usage. Specifically, it is not the name of a disease. From the early 1800s to c. 1890 the term alcoholism meant what is now considered to be alcohol poisoning. Before that it is thought to have meant habitual drunkenness or some variation thereof. By the late 1800s alcoholism’s accepted meaning was "drinking habit. " It is recorded that as recent as 1957 alcoholism meant "drinking problem. " So, for more than 200 years the definition for the word "alcoholism" has been fairly consistent, and one with which BRI researchers can agree, but BRI researchers do not agree with the notion that alcoholism is a disease or with Mayo Clinic’s contention that "If you have alcoholism, you can't consistently predict how much you'll drink, how long you'll drink, or what consequences will occur from your drinking. " Such ideas are refuted by dozens of critically acclaimed studies that confirm there is no "disease of alcoholism" or loss of control of one’s consumption of alcohol. For example, if persons that are said to have "alcoholism," are sufficiently self-motivated to control their consumption, in fact, they do.