Alcoholism vs. Addiction, by Kristen McGuiness 09/22/11
How much do alcoholics and drug addicts really have in common? Our experts explain the similarities as well as the differences.
“When I first got sober, I remember going to AA meetings and identifying as an alcoholic and an addict,” explains Douglas, a 37-year-old property manager from Dallas who’s seven years sober but has the graying temples and sun spots of an older man. “But then my sponsor told me that if I was going to identify as both, I better put two dollars in the basket: one for each. I got the feeling that I had to choose between them—that I was either an alcoholic or an addict, but I couldn’t be both.”
Patty, another member of Alcoholics Anonymous, says, “There’s almost an unspoken taboo in AA where you’re not supposed to talk about drugs or refer to yourself as an alcoholic and addict.” With only two years of sobriety, Patty, who has blonde model looks and an easy smile, admits that she’s just as judgmental as the next person. “I can tell there’s a resistance because I think the same way,” she admits. “I snicker when someone identifies as an alcoholic and addict, but the fact is that everyone in that room is an addict—they’re just addicted to alcohol.
Jan identifies solely as an alcoholic but she realizes that her addiction looks no different than the heroin user sitting next to her in a meeting.
And modern science agrees. As Dr. John Sharp, an addiction-focused psychiatrist who specializes in the integration of mood disorders and addictions, says, “Alcoholism is an addiction—it’s just one type of addiction. When you break out the specific things that someone who is suffering from alcoholism contends with—impaired control, preoccupation with a drug, using despite adverse consequences, distortions in thinking, most notably along the lines of denial—they are no different from any other type of addict.”