The Almost Effect

Helping the nearly alcoholic

"Recovering Alcoholic," Words that Stigmatize or Empower?

Is it stigmatizing or empowering to be in "recovery"? Read More

re: words that stigmatize?

When I hear the words recovering alcoholic or addict... to be honest, I think of someone with their training wheels still on and that their situation is precarious.
On the other hand, it's good to remind yourself that you're never really out of the woods and you should remain vigilant, never complacent. It would be interesting to hear research on whether the labels are harder to bear in the early stages of recovery because of hidden shame or self-loathing that hasn't been able to come to the surface.

Newly recovering alcoholic

Newly recovering alcoholic here. I agree with this article 100%. While I know I'm subjecting myself to stigma by telling people I'm an alcoholic, I feel it's always been better to be upfront and honest with people about my recovery than keeping it hidden from others.
Being open about my recovery has also helped me reaffirm why I gave up alcohol and even opened up dialogue with other people questioning their relationship with alcohol. And while I understand telling people this about me may bring up visuals of me having no willpower or self-control, I feel it's more important to show people that alcoholics take many different forms and anyone could have a problem with substance abuse.

Yes, it is incredibly stigmatizing

A person is stigmatized by identifying as a recovering alcoholic/addict. A person is stigmatized by being in AA/NA. It is a myth that they are not. People will react on the surface to someone who is "recovering" by being all congratulatory and encouraging, but it clouds the way they see these people. I keep my anonymity and see how people really think of those who do not. It often isn't pretty. I see no reason to define myself by ten years of active alcoholism that ended over 20 years ago. That's a sentence people shouldn't be required to bear.

Words That Stigmatize

Yes, words CAN stigmatize but there are so many factors as to what degree. I'm reading 3 different comments with 3 different points of view and they are all legitimate. I think the biggest factor, at least for me and after reading the comments, is the length of sobriety and also to what degree alcohol affected your (my) life. I am now 57 and have been sober for 27 years. The day I first admitted to my psychiatrist was also the first day I uttered the words, "I am an alcoholic" (after he asked me if I COULD say that and I could). It was also the same day I checked myself into a rehab and went to my first AA meeting. It was a busy day! The rehab used the AA model for recovery and upon discharge, I became heavily involved in AA, attended daily for 7-8 years and you had better believe that, at the time, NOT saying you were an alcoholic (forget the "recovering") was totally unacceptable in the halls of AA. But I also felt I was leading a double life because outside of AA, I never called myself anything. I just said I didn't drink (if offered a drink). I had been a closet drinker so I was not terribly eager to be very proactive with telling people I had never known when I drank or even to some I knew but they had no idea I was an alcoholic. So why should I now? Alcohol plays no part of my life anymore. I don't attend AA (although it saved my life for the first few years of sobriety). I have a 15-year-old son who has never seen me (or my husband) drink alcohol. We have talked about how we no longer drink but have never said we were/are "alcoholics or even recovering ones). So why would I ever define myself to anyone as being a recovering alcoholic? I do not feel I'm in denial but why would I want to relive the shame I felt when I was an alcoholic? I think it's an individual choice. At the beginning of recovery, you HAVE to admit you are an alcoholic. It's one of the 12 steps. But I don't believe you have to label yourself to others when alcohol is not the topic nor activity. I am still under the care of the same psychiatrist who had me admit I was an alcoholic so many years ago and handed me the phone to see if there was a bed available at the rehab. But after becoming sober, he changed my diagnosis to bipolar disorder, type 2 (more depressive than manic). This was confusing to me (his feeling that my alcohol abuse was my way of self-medicating but also encouraging me to be an active member of AA when I was newly sober). But he also led me to understand that why I drank was incidental and that AA has been proven to be the most effective means to sustained recovery (but he also said that I should take what makes sense to me from AA and not fixate on the rest). It is and can be confusing but, in sum, it is a personal choice and I chose to not define myself by how I abused alcohol 27 years ago,

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Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., is the supervising psychologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center.


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