No, You Don’t Have to Call Yourself an Alcoholic


September 19, 2023

Can we finally put this to bed? Probably not, but maybe this will be a step blog post in the right direction.

I’ve recently realized that while I talk about this nonstop on The Sober Mom Life podcast, I needed to bring it to the blog. I needed to see it, in black and white. I needed people to read it.

As with everything, the impetus for my desire to write this blog post is The Real Housewives. Because, really, doesn’t it all begin and end with those hot messes?

Shannon Beador, of the Real Housewives of Orange County, was arrested for a DUI and hit-and-run accident late Saturday night. When I shared the link in our Sober Mom Life Cafe discord chat, it wasn’t met with collective shock. Viewers of the show have been witnessing Shannon’s drinking and subsequent fall out from it for a few years. So, when we read that her drinking had led to this, we nodded. Yes, it makes sense. It’s horribly sad, but it makes sense.

Not only sad, it’s terrifying. The idea of someone with alcohol coursing through her body and brain getting behind the wheel is mind boggling. That is, until alcohol is in the picture to do its alcohol thing to our impulse control and decision-making. Judgment goes out the window. That’s not Shannon. That’s the alcohol.

I will never judge someone for getting a DUI or for making reckless choices while under the influence. I have made many, and it was dumb luck that I was never met with flashing lights in my rearview mirror, never had to walk the line while touching my nose. I just got lucky.

This story only held my interest when I read the comments of Shannon’s close friend, Jeff Lewis of Flipping Out.

Photo: US Weekly

On his Sirius XM show Monday, Jeff said: “I don’t think Shannon is an alcoholic,” he clarified. “I think as her close friend, I think she’s going through a lot of personal struggles right now, and I think that she probably has been leaning on alcohol, but I don’t believe she’s an alcoholic.”

I kept coming back to this comment.

This is it. This is exactly why the term “alcoholic” can be dangerous. When I quit drinking, the term alcoholic was a huge hurdle for me. I didn’t, and still don’t, consider myself an alcoholic.

What’s an alcoholic, anyway?

It’s not a term that is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Instead in the most recent version, the DSM-5, it integrates the two DSM-IV disorders, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, into a single disorder called Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) with mild, moderate and severe sub-classifications.

The term “alcoholic” has been around since the 1880’s, and was widely used by Alcoholics Anonymous beginning in the 1930’s to label their members and separate them from “normies,” those who have magical powers and aren’t affected by alcohol’s addictive properties. (This isn’t a thing.)

When I quit drinking in January 2020, I wasn’t willing to label myself an alcoholic. But, I also knew that I didn’t want to keep drinking. In my mind, sobriety was reserved for alcoholics, and if I wasn’t willing to attend AA meetings and label myself forever, well, then I might not qualify for sobriety.

Every day since, I have felt grateful that I didn’t stop there.

I went a quest to learn what alcohol is, how it affects my mind and body, and how I had used it in my life to cope and escape. With each stone I unturned and each truth I told, the term alcoholic faded until it was no longer a threat to my new found freedom.

I simply chose not to answer that question because it doesn’t matter.

Rather than asking myself if I was an alcoholic, I kept coming back to the one question that I could answer with certainty:

Did alcohol make my life better?

That is a question I could answer, over and over again: NO.

I know Shannon Beador won’t see this. This post is not for Shannon. It’s for you.

If you’ve been tricked into thinking that alcohol isn’t a problem until it takes more, or that you have to learn a better way to drink it, this post is for you.

If you’ve been tricked into thinking that sobriety is a sentence and a life of deprivation, this post is for you.

If you’ve never given yourself a chance to see that alcohol was never the magic, that it stole the magic, this post is for you.

If you’ve been tricked into thinking that you don’t qualify for sobriety because you don’t have a “problem,” this post is for you.

There is freedom on the other side of alcohol, and it is so, so sweet.

(Oh and also, can someone get Gina and a camera?)

  1. Brianna says:

    My first thought was..where’s Gina?! We talked about Shannon when I was on your sober moms podcast a few months back. It’s sad. She’s a mom with beautiful daughters watching her go through this. Hopefully she can now break free and the girls can witness her power. I’ve got. I thing but empathy for her right now. I’m incredibly relieved she didn’t hurt anyone and now has a second chance at getting herself together, not everyone is that fortunate.

    • suzanne says:

      Yes, I remember our conversation! I love how you phrased it: so her girls can witness her power. What a beautiful thought.

  2. Elena says:

    This is so good! Thank you for putting it here – I know I will refer back to it. 100000% agree on the term “alcoholic” getting many stuck. Thanks for all you do!

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