Monday, 1 October 2018

What is an Alcoholic?

What is an Alcoholic?  What is your definition of one?  What does your mind conjure up when you think of the word 'Alcoholic'.  Is it that man that you see sitting on a park bench drinking out of a bottle hidden in a paper bag?  Is it that woman in front of you at the supermarket that smells of booze, buying a bottle of vodka or gin .. or whatever?  Or is it that woman (or man) that is well dressed, has a decent job, seems to have a good life?  That person who is just very capable of hiding it well?

I ask because my friend - whose husband very recently passed away - is livid.  She has his death certificate and it says the cause of death is decompressed alcoholic liver disease.  She took some calming down I can tell you!  She said the Doctor who certified the death got it wrong:  Her husband died from multiple organ failure.  His liver stopped working completely and then so did his kidneys.  Yes, she said - there was alcohol involved .... but "He was NOT an alcoholic!".  

While I find this a little strange taking into account her feelings expressed to me a few weeks ago, I can understand she does not like the connotations this has and she doesn't want her children having this as their legacy.  The certificate has to be forwarded to various people and she told me that they had previously had their critical illness insurance refused due to the reasons of her husband's illness.  I don't doubt that is also an element of denial too and embarrassment.  She doesn't want strangers knowing her business.

You see, it's the words "he was not an alcoholic" that bother me.  When I think of someone as an alcoholic .... And I really detest that word .... I think of someone who drinks way too much than they should on a daily basis, I think of someone who hides what they drink, someone who hides the empty bottles.  Someone who obsesses about where, when and how much they can drink from almost the minute they wake.  Someone who cannot go even for a day without a drink of booze.

I know, because I was that person.  An alcoholic has many different disguises.

My friend's husband couldn't even stop drinking booze when his life depended on it.  I spoke to her parents yesterday - when they were clearing up her overgrown neglected garden recently they found empty spirit bottles galore hidden in all sorts of places.

For now, I think her denial will be how she's going to cope with her grief and that is her perogative.  All we can do is be on standby for when or if that denial turns into anger.


  1. I know the stigma is so strong, that the word alcoholic still keeps people from getting help.
    It's so hard to admit.
    Sometimes the nurses here now use the phrase, alcohol dependent.
    I just wish we could remove the stigma and shame, so maybe more people would get help sooner.
    Hugs to your friend.

  2. I'm eight and a bit months sober, and have been very open with people about why I stopped drinking. The other day I was speaking on the phone to a friend and she wondered if I'm "really an alcoholic" followed by "but did you drink everyday?". I think the stigma and misconceptions are deeply engrained. Sorry to hear about your friend. Best, Anna