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Is the Word “Alcoholic” Hindering People from Seeking Help?


Is the Word “Alcoholic” Hindering People from Seeking Help?


In this recent interview, I discuss a Psychology Today article entitled,  “The New A-Word: Should We Stop Using the Word ‘Alcoholic’?” I understand that alcoholism and the stigma surrounding the term “alcoholic” remain significant concerns today. In this article, I delve into whether this label may be hindering individuals from seeking assistance, and I propose adopting person-first language as a potential remedy. Furthermore, I explore the notion of an alcohol use spectrum, which could enable individuals to gain a deeper understanding of their relationship with alcohol.

Alcoholism and the stigma surrounding the word “alcoholic” continue to be a significant concern in society today. This article explores whether the term “alcoholic” prevents people from seeking help and how using person-first language could be a possible solution. We will also discuss the concept of a spectrum of alcohol use and how it can help individuals better understand their relationship with alcohol.

The Stigma of the Word “Alcoholic”

The term “alcoholic” dates back to the 1800s, and since then, it has been associated with public drunkenness and habitual drinking. This long-standing stigma might discourage people from seeking treatment and support for their alcohol use.

Instead of using the term “alcoholic,” person-first language like “a person with alcohol use disorder” or “a person somewhere on the continuum of alcohol use” could be more appropriate and encouraging for those seeking help.

The Spectrum of Alcohol Use

Alcohol use can be understood as a continuum, ranging from occasional social drinking to alcohol dependence and addiction. With the pandemic behind us, many individuals have changed their relationship with alcohol, leading to increased sales and higher consumption levels.

Understanding that not all alcoholics are the same and that people with alcohol use disorder are at different points on the spectrum can help identify problem drinkers who may not fit the traditional “alcoholic” mold but are on a dangerous path.

The Importance of Identifying as an Alcoholic in Recovery

For those who have been sober long-term and have gone through a 12-step program or therapy, identifying as an alcoholic can be a crucial part of the recovery process. It can serve as a breakthrough moment for individuals seeking help. However, the stigma surrounding the term could also be a barrier for some people, preventing them from taking that crucial step toward sobriety.

Breaking the Stigma and Encouraging Recovery

While society has made progress in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and depression, the term “alcoholic” remains heavily stigmatized. To change this perception, we need to adopt person-first language in media and everyday conversations and encourage those struggling with alcohol use to seek help without the fear of judgment.

The “Recover out loud” movement, which promotes openness about recovery, has been helpful in de-stigmatizing alcoholism. By showcasing successful individuals who have overcome their alcohol use disorder, this movement helps break down stereotypes and misconceptions about alcoholics.


Regardless of whether an individual identifies as an alcoholic, the most important thing is not to let the stigma associated with the term prevent them from seeking help and pursuing sobriety. By adopting the person-first language and understanding the spectrum of alcohol use, we can encourage more people to seek help and break the stigma surrounding alcoholism.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is person-first language?

Person-first language refers to describing a person with a condition rather than labeling them by their condition. For example, “a person with alcohol use disorder” instead of “alcoholic.”

How does the stigma surrounding the term “alcoholic” affect people?

The stigma associated with the term “alcoholic” might discourage people from seeking help and support for their alcohol use due to fear of judgment and negative stereotypes.

What is the “Recover out loud” movement?

The “Recover out Loud” movement encourages openness about recovery from alcohol use disorder, helping to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about alcoholics.

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Shauna McKenna Vick is a certified Joy Coach with a unique background, specializing in addiction recovery and chronic relapse. She uses a neuroscience-based approach to help clients understand brain patterns, create new neural pathways, and overcome obstacles to joy. Drawing from her own experience in long-term recovery, Shauna crafts individualized plans that emphasize building a sobriety toolbox, setting intentions, and developing healthy habits. With an extensive educational background, including certifications in professional recovery coaching and recovery specialist, Shauna is dedicated to empowering clients to not only overcome addiction, but also to thrive in their lives and create fulfilling, sober existences.

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