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What is a Real Alcoholic?


The Big Book, ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ makes a distinction between three types of drinkers:

  1. Moderate drinkers
  2. Heavy drinkers
  3. Real alcoholics

A moderate drinker, according to the book, is someone who can take the drink or leave it, one who does not suffer any consequences neither physical nor psychological due to alcohol consumption.  A heavy drinker in turn does suffer either bodily or mentally from alcohol consumption and may even die before his/her time.  A heavy drinker is, however, able to stop or even moderate his drinking habits either on his own self-will or with the assistance of doctors or shrinks.

According to the Big Book a ‘Real Alcoholic’ is someone who has lost all control of his liquor consumption once he/she starts to drink.  Thus after the person takes the first drink he loses all control.  This is described in A.A. literature as the phenomenon of craving.  The book goes further to explain that alcoholics are also without defense against the first drink.  This means that we are even powerless before that first drink.  In A.A. terms this is described as the phenomenon of obsession.

At this junction it is important to point out that in A.A. literature there is no distinction made between ‘Real Alcoholics’ on the one hand and ‘Alcoholics’ on the other.  The word ‘Real’ is only used as an adjective in the Big Book just like saying that someone is truly alcoholic.

On the other hand it is equally important to point out that should anyone find a way to stop or moderate their alcohol consumption either on self-will or by means of medical treatment by definition then that person is not alcoholic but, according to the categories of A.A., that person was a heavy drinker.

Absolutely nobody other than the person him/herself can determine if they are alcoholic.  Neither A.A., nor A.A. members judge or diagnose anyone, neither members nor non-members.  A.A. encourages each and everyone to examine themselves.  The Big Book offers the suggestion for the person who may be in doubt to try controlled drinking and to be completely honest with themselves.  A.A. also offers a handy tool to help the user determine whether or not he or she is alcoholic through a pamphlet with 12 questions.  This pamphlet is also available online using THIS LINK and the questions are also available online with the use of THIS LINK.

Some ultra-conservative members of A.A. may point to page 92 of the Big Book to justify making judgement on other drinkers.  Please don’t allow yourself to be led astray by them.  The reference in the book is to help the potential 12th-stepper, the one offering help, to determine their own action.  If and when they judge using this they are making a judgement upon their own inability to provide help and not on your ability to get help from the program.  It does not grant them any rights to label another person as ‘Alcoholic’, ‘Real Alcoholic’ nor ‘Problem Drinker.’  For the 12 steps of A.A., the program, to work it is important that both the candidate as well as the sponsor or 12th-stepper to be convinced that the candidate is alcoholic.  If you are convinced you are alcoholic and someone else is not, that is their problem and is of no concern to you.  You are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous once you have a desire to stop drinking.  You are an alcoholic if you cannot do so on your own.

Some alcoholics take a certain pride in referring to themselves as ‘Real Alcoholics’ as opposed to other alcoholics.  In Alcoholics Anonymous there is no such distinction.  We are all alcoholics and we are all peers.  The desire to make a distinction among ourselves  may be just a remnant of our disease, of our ego being inflated again after we have recovered.  Please do not be intimidated by anyone.  Focus on your own reasons for being in A.A.: to obtain sobriety, to stay sober and to help others.

The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.”
~ Tradition 3, Alcoholics Anonymous




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