The difference between an alcoholic and an addict

What is Alcoholism?

Excerpts from a lecture by Dr Silkworth in 1937


the notice on the front of Towns Hospital where Bill W was treated in 1934, showing distinctly that addiction and alcoholism were two different conditions

The notice on the front of Towns Hospital where Bill W was treated in 1934, showing distinctly that addiction and alcoholism were two different conditions.


…The inevitable conclusion is that true alcoholism is an allergic state, the result of gradually increasing sensitization by alcohol over a more or less extended period of time. The constancy of the symptoms and progress is too fixed to permit any other explanation. Some are allergic from birth, but the condition usually develops later in life. It is noteworthy also, that such patients may be deprived of liquor altogether for a long period, a year or longer for example, and become apparently normal. They are still allergic, however, and a single drink will develop the full symptomatology again.


From accredited sources in 2009 we find the following: The Journal of the American Medical Association defines alcoholism as "a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking.

Alcoholism, which is also known as "alcohol dependence syndrome," is a disease that is characterized by the following elements:  Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink. Loss of control: The frequent inability to stop drinking once a person has begun.

The Design For Living AA Group finds that today in 2009  the definition or description of the alcoholic and the addict have become blurred – many mistakenly assume that if they are an alcoholic they are automatically classified as an addict while many addicts believe that they are automatically an alcoholic. Not so - to be an alcoholic you have to have a physical allergy to alcohol.  Alcoholism comes in people not in bottles.

Some people will say “well alcohol is just another drug” and in the sense that they mean a drink normally consumed under social circumstances, they are wrong.

Dictionaries list under Drug medicinal substance, narcotic hallucinogen, or stimulant, especially one causing addiction.”  And we have already shown that the alcoholic is different to the addict.

Dictionaries list for alcohola colourless liquid forming the intoxicating element in beer wine etc”.  It can only truly be called a drug in the sense of its medicinal or industrial use.

Although many dictionaries will list under alcoholic that there is addiction involved the truer definition is still found under the old term of:

Dipsomania - “ … in which they manifest an uncontrollable craving for alcohol”  - Websters 20th Century dictionary 1947.
“… an abnormal craving for alcohol” - Concise Oxford dictionary 1990.
While the term Addict is defined thus
…addicted or strongly disposed to taking drugs” - Websters 20th Century dictionary 1947.
“… A person addicted to a habit especially one dependent on drugs” - Concise Oxford dictionary 1990.


The 20 Questions

Excerpts from the AA Manual published in Akron 1940

YARDSTICK FOR ALCOHOLICS  - THE PROSPECTIVE MEMBER of A.A. may have some doubts if he is actually an alcoholic. A.A. in Akron has found a yardstick prepared by psychiatrists of Johns Hopkins University to be very valuable in helping the alcoholic decide for himself.  Have your prospect answer the following questions, being as honest as possible with himself in deciding the answers. If he answers Yes to one of the questions, there is a definite warning that he MAY be an alcoholic. If he answers YES to any two, the chances are that he IS an alcoholic. If he answers YES to any three or more, he IS DEFINITELY an alcoholic and in need of help.

The questions:

  1. Do you lose time from work due to drinking?
  2. Is drinking making your home life unhappy?
  3. Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
  4. Is drinking affecting your reputation?
  5. Have you gotten into financial difficulties as a result of drinking?
  6. Have you ever stolen, pawned property, or "borrowed" to get money for alcoholic beverages?
  7. Do you turn to lower companions and an inferior environment when drinking?
  8. Does your drinking make you careless of your family's welfare?
  9. Has your ambition decreased since drinking?
  10. Do you crave a drink at a definite time daily?
  11. Do you want a drink the next morning?
  12. Does drinking cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  13. Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?
  14. Is drinking jeopardizing your job or business?
  15. Do you drink to escape from worries or troubles?
  16. Do you drink alone?
  17. Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of drinking?
  18. Has your physician ever treated you for drinking?
  19. Do you drink to build up your self-confidence?
  20. Have you ever been to a hospital or institution on account of drinking?


Alcoholism and Recovery

Alcoholism and Recovery
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The Design for Living AA has neither been approved or endorsed by and is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. or any AA Service entity of any country.