There are many similarities between alcoholism and addiction, but what are the real differences? Outside of the name, either way both suffer from a hopeless state of body and mind. Even in AA or NA meetings, there is still an unspoken taboo about people who identify as both, especially when they are in ‘closed’ meetings. But when you break down the specific aspects that each of us suffer from, it is more or less the same.
What is Addiction?
Addiction, while typically pertaining to drugs and alcohol, can include all physical things we consume such as food and cigarettes. Addiction can also encompasses abstract behaviors such as gambling or purchasing seemingly harmless products such as collectible novelties. Typically it falls under two categories, substance dependence, or drug addiction, and behavioral addiction such as a gambling addiction. When a person is addicted to something, they cannot control how they use it to the point where they become dependent. Many people are able to be engaged in activities or consumption without any significant problems. Others, however, experience damaging psychological or physical effects when their habit has become an addiction.
Dr. John Sharp, a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction, has this to say on the definition of addiction:
Recently, the American Society of Addiction Medicine came out with an updated definition of addiction, which identified five other aspects: inability to abstain consistently, impairment of behavioral control, cravings, diminished recognition of significant problems, and dysfunctional emotion responses. I think it’s fair to say you can apply those aspects to both drug users and alcoholics.
Is Alcoholism an Addiction?
When an alcoholic takes a look at their problem from an objective point of view, they can see very similar issues they share with any drug addict. Inability to control their use, obsession, making choices despite known consequences, changes in their thinking—all of which is under a shroud of denial; they really are no different. Alcoholism is merely another form of addiction, but with a name.
Alcoholism has often been referred to as the most inappropriately named disease, as it has to do with so much more than alcohol. An alcoholic suffers even when alcohol is not consumed. Ask anyone who has been around Alcoholics Anonymous, almost universally they will admit that their problem with drinking was much more of a solution than the problem itself. They consumed it to the point of dependence, or in other words, addiction.
So What Are The Differences?
The differences lie in how each person chooses to deal with their disease. There are people who have found a solution to their drinking issue in Alcoholics Anonymous, and those with an addiction to heroin who have found theirs in the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous. That being said, there are also those who have found solutions in both. There are many alcoholics who have become addicted to other substances, and there are a lot of people who are addicted to drugs and when they stop the drugs, they become addicted to alcohol. Had Bill Wilson also identified as an addict, the minutia and taboo surrounding identifying as one or the other may have been non-existent.