These days there are many options for how people can escape an addiction. The different approaches have led to the development of different terminology. Sometimes the differences in language will be minor, but they can also express fundamental differences for how each approach views addiction and recovery. One of the most contentious disagreements in terminology is in relation to the use of recovering or recovered alcoholics to describe people who are no longer drinking.
Some may say that the words are not that important – all that matters is that people are getting sober. Others might argue that the labels we use are crucial because they define how we view the world. It is even suggested that the words we use create our reality. It could be that by choosing between the terms recovering alcoholics and recovered alcoholics will have a difference on how people experience life in sobriety.
If people choose to consider themselves to be recovered alcoholics it may be beneficial in a number of ways:
* It reinforces the idea that the addiction is over and the individual is now ready to get on with their life.
* When people enter sobriety there problems are no longer related to alcohol but with daily living. The recovered label reinforces the idea that the current problems are due to life and not alcohol.
* Those people who have been addicted to alcohol for years will already have wasted too much time focused on their drug. They have no wish to be defined now by their previous addiction.
* The individual is no longer being controlled by alcohol so it is reasonable for them to claim to be recovered.
* The label of recovering alcoholic is mostly associated with the disease theory of alcoholism. There are many people who do not subscribe to this theory so prefer the word recovered.
* This label is more empowering for the individual. They have put the past behind them and can now concentrate on finding success in life.
There may be dangers associated with using the recovered label such as:
* The individual may wrongly assume this to mean that at some time in the future they will be able to drink safely again. The fact that the individual is recovered does not mean that they will never fall into the same difficulties again – in fact they almost certainly will if they relapse.
* Some people may use the idea of being recovered as an excuse to not put enough effort into their new life. They begin to take sober living for granted and believe that just stopping drinking is enough.
* If the individual believes themselves to be recovered they might not see the need for aftercare. If people do not get enough support in recovery it greatly increases their risk of relapse.
* Over time people in recovery can forget how bad things were in the midst of their addiction. There is a wise saying that explains how, those who forget their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
* If the individual believes they are recovered they can become overconfident. As much as 90% of people who enter recovery will later relapse so overconfidence is not a healthy attitude to have.
There are advantages to using the recovering alcoholic label such as:
* It is a constant reminder to the individual that they can never drink like a normal person. They have not been cured of their alcoholism.
* It implies that there is much more work to be done. In order to keep recovering the individual will have to keep put effort into their sobriety.
* Some people begin to enjoy identifying themselves in this way. If they are part of a recovery fellowship this label will be the thing that holds the group together.
* Members of Alcoholics Anonymous believe in the disease theory of addiction. They view their recovery as a daily reprieve granted by continued participation in the program.
* When people identify with this label it may increase their motivation to help those who are still struggling with addiction.
The disadvantages of the recovering alcoholic label include:
* The individual may be encouraged to blame all their problems on their alcoholism. They may fail to realize that every human has similar problems to deal with.
* It can mean that people begin to divide the world into us and them. They may start to believe that those outside the fellowship can’t understand them because they are not recovering alcoholics.
* Some would claim that by continuing to view themselves as alcoholic the individual is disempowering themselves.
* The fact that the individual still considers themselves to be an alcoholic might be used as justification to relapse. The individual can claim that it is normal for them to relapse because they are an alcoholic.
The disease theory views alcoholism as a chronic lifelong condition that cannot be cured. The best the sufferer can hope for is that their disease will go into remission, and that this will last the rest of their life. This image of alcoholism is supported by Alcoholics Anonymous. They agree that they are dealing with a incurable disease of the mind, but they add that remission can be achieved using a spiritual program called the 12 Steps. So according to this theory there can never be a recovered alcoholic but only a recovering alcoholic. The individual is always only ever one drink away from their disease. There is even the belief that the disease progresses even when the individual is not drinking. This means that should the individual relapse things will be much worse than they were before.
The disease theory of alcoholism is not accepted by everyone. Some would even suggest that it is an unproven theory with little evidence to support it. Those who follow other recovery programs such as Rational Recovery claim that belief in this theory has led to a great deal of harm – it has transformed a common vice into a national tragedy. According to this view the theory of alcoholism being a disease has disempowered people and turned them into passive victims. The idea that alcoholism requires a spiritual remedy has alienated many nonbelievers and left them with the belief that there may be no cure for their addiction.
There appears to be advantages and disadvantages to both the terms recovered alcoholic and recovering alcoholic. The individual may be able to avoid the dangers of both by:
* No matter what label they use the individual needs to accept that they can never drink safely again. So long as they have any ambivalence about this they will struggle to progress in their new life, and they will be at risk of relapse.
* Even if the individual no longer consider themselves to be an alcoholic they will still need to put a great deal of effort into their new life. There will have been reasons for why the individual fell into addiction in the first place, and to find success now they will need to tackle these issues.
* People can become too obsessed with labels and this can be an excuse to avoid dealing with what is really important. The most important thing is not how people describe their recovery but with how they change their ways.
* There appears to be no one label that suits everyone. Each individual has to decide on which label works better for them.
* There is probably no point in arguing about these labels. What works for one person might not work for somebody else – there might not be a right or wrong answer.