You hear it all the time: two drinks too many and friends are laughing at each other, captioning a blurry photo: "you're SUCH an alcoholic, lol!"
It's always been a joke in my circles, at least. I remember people snickering about it, grabbing their bragging rights alongside their carelessness: We're such alcoholics.
Despite having admittedly participated in this, the reality is, it's not a word to be thrown around. It's not a joke to have an addiction. And worse, the repercussions that friends, family, loved ones and individual lives suffer at the hand of this disease is no laughing matter either.
My father is an alcoholic. When I was in middle school, he began attending meetings. I never fully understood what it meant. I saw a change in him as time went by, but I never asked questions. He is now nine years sober, and I feel I'm finally coming to understand it a bit more.
Being an alcoholic means having a dependency. A life-sustaining dependency (or so you perceive). It means you can't go a day, or even a few hours, without having one. It means that your every moment centers around when you can have your next drink.
My father was never actively abusive toward me -- but he was a different person back then. His tone was sharper and meaner. He would disappear from time to time. It wasn't until his second car accident that I even began to see what was happening. When he finally became sober, I noticed that he was struggling. Not only struggling with being sober, but also struggling with figuring out who he was without alcohol.
He was still gone a lot during this time but only because he had replaced his nightly drinking with a nightly AA meetings. He worked the steps and started to change as a person. His tone changed. His thoughts were clearer and he became an all around nicer person. But having this disease is still a daily struggle for him, even he if doesn't say it aloud.
When people use the term in a joking fashion, they are making it seem as if it's nothing. It's not nothing. Being an alcoholic is more serious than a person who has never experienced it in their own life can understand. Unless you know someone who is struggling with it, or you personally do, you may never understand what it really means.
Imagine if every day you woke up and you needed a drink. To go to work in the morning, you need a drink. Even to be around family and friends, you need a drink. It's not that you want a drink, it's the feeling of not being able to get through the day without one.
Think of it like your cell phone. If you leave the house without it for a day, you feel empty. You think about it constantly. You wonder when you will finally be able to have it in your hands again. You go through the entire day with it on your mind. That's what alcoholism is. The feeling of being empty without having a drink and wondering when you can have your next one. Except you don't return to it to text your friends and check your newsfeed. You return to get trashed and blacked out and angry and void.
I've learned a lot from my father in the past nine years but I truly believe this concept of not using the term alcoholic so freely is the most important. I have seen the worst of what this disease can do to a person. I have watched my father struggle with it and continuously work to keep himself sober.
So next time your friend gets blacked out at a club or you want to make a joke about how often they drink, don't. Don't call them an alcoholic in a jokingly way. Don't use this term as a way of describing their habits. While they may be a social drinker, they are not an alcoholic. Or maybe they are and because you use the term so freely, they will never seek the help they may need.
Just think about it before you use this term so loosely. Alcoholism is an actual disease, not a joke. Pay attention to what you are saying. You never know the truth behind someone's drinking habits.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.