As a society, we are very black and white about alcohol addiction. The accepted view is that people fall into one of two categories: 'normal drinker' or 'an alcoholic.'
The science doesn't support this. Alcohol addiction, like any other addiction, is progressive. It's a spectrum of shades of grey (or gray, if you're reading this from the USA).
Medical professionals have, for many years, been moving away from talking about 'alcoholism' to referring to 'alcohol use disorder' which is a sliding scale. And, finally, it looks as if society is starting to catch up.
I first came across the expression 'Grey Area Drinking' in the fabulous TEDx talk by Jolene Park, and yesterday I found an article which I posted on the SoberMummy Facebook page titled 'Am I an Almost Alcoholic?'
There is more and more talk on social media and in the press about those of us who fall somewhere in between the neat categories of 'normal' and 'rock bottom.'
This issue is way more important that just semantics about terminology.
Firstly, the black and white view stops many of us acknowledging that we have a problem.
In my TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful, I tell the story of the evenings I spent Googling 'Am I an Alcoholic' and answering the resulting questionnaires. It would ask things like 'do you drink alone?' (no, I'm with the dog), and 'do you have blackouts?'
Some of those questions I'd answer 'yes' to, but many of them I'd answer 'no'. At which point I'd think 'phew, I'm okay then,' and carry on drinking, despite knowing, in my heart, that I had an issue.
The fear of being branded 'an alcoholic' stopped me from addressing my addiction for many years.
This black and white thinking perpetuates the shame of addiction. It enables the vast majority of people to think 'I'm alright, Jack,' and to look pityingly at those of us who aren't.
The reality is, however, that many, many people lie somewhere on that spectrum of dependency, even those who are only drinking one small glass of wine a day, if that glass is one they absolutely can't do without.
If we started seeing alcohol addiction as a spectrum of shades of grey, then more people would realise that they had a problem, and be encouraged to quit before they slid further down the slippery slope.
Because it is progressive. As with any other drug, your tolerance increases over time and your mind and body start to crave more and more.
The traditional view that you have to 'hit rock bottom' before you can quit is wrong and dangerous. The closer towards rock bottom you slide, the harder it is to stop.
By rock bottom, you're physically more dependant, your habits are more ingrained, and you feel more hopeless.
Once you've lost your job, your family and your home it's difficult to see what you have left to live for. Despair keeps you trapped in the downward spiral of addiction.
Instead of asking ourselves 'am I an alcoholic?' we should be asking questions like 'am I becoming dependant on booze? Is it having a negative impact on my life? Is it gradually becoming more of a problem?'
If your answer to those questions is 'yes', then climb off that slippery slide while it's still relatively easy to do so.
If you'd like to read the story of my first year without booze, The Sober Diaries, then click here (UK). The Kindle version is now back online in USA and Canada! Click here (USA), here (Canada or here (Australia).
There are still places available on the October workshop in London that I'm hosting with World Without Wine. For more information click here.
Love to you all!