Alcohol problems exist on a spectrum and there can be a good deal of disagreement about how the different stages should be labelled. The problem is that words like ‘alcoholic’ and ‘problem drinker’ are vague, making it hard for people to decide which word applies to them. The reality is that it is usually the person themselves who takes on the label of ‘alcoholic’ because, in the UK at least, the medical profession is more likely to diagnose something like ‘alcohol dependency syndrome’.
The word ‘alcoholic’ tends to trigger a certain image in people’s minds, usually of a homeless person who drinks whisky from a brown paper bag. The reality is that the vast majority of those who might fall into the category of alcoholic do not fit this description. These may be individuals who are doing outwardly well in their life with successful careers and nice houses, but they just struggle when it comes to alcohol. These individuals may be very reluctant to accept the label alcoholic because they do not feel they fit in with the stereotype.
The other problem with the word ‘alcoholic’ is that it is now so strongly associated with the group Alcoholics Anonymous. This self-help fellowship has helped many folk break free of alcohol abuse, but the disease theory of addiction the group advocates is not accepted by everyone. This means that the word ‘alcoholic’ has become associated with a certain type of approach to recovery and, if people are not comfortable with this approach, they may not want to use this word.
The term ‘problem drinker’ is also a bit wishy-washy because it now gets used to describe those who are and are not addicted to alcohol. It may be preferable for those who really do not want to use the ‘alcoholic’ label but the problem is that strictly speaking, there is an important difference between how these terms are used. The term problem drinker tends to be used more for those who are not yet addicted, and these individuals can benefit from being treated differently because they may be able to regain control over their drinking. Once people have become addicted to alcohol then there will usually no longer be the option for moderation.
If you are in need of an NHS funded rehab place, there will be certain criteria you need to meet in order to qualify. This is because these free rehab beds are in short supply and need to be ‘rationed’ carefully. If you do not qualify for one of these beds then this does not mean that your problem is not serious enough to warrant attention. It just means that, as far as the NHS assessment goes, your case is not a priority (there can be many reasons why this is the case).
When it comes to private rehab, the only real entry requirement is that you want to stop drinking. Some rehabs are based on the 12-steps so they do use the word ‘alcoholic’, but there are plenty of other programmes where this is not an issue. If drinking is making your life miserable and you need to stop but are finding it hard to do this on your own, you have as much business going to rehab as anyone else.
These days there are even those making the decision to go to rehab before developing an addiction. This is because they can see where their life is going so want to stop the slide towards further problems.