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At AA meetings across the country, alcoholics and drug addicts struggle with how they define addiction. Their sponsors tell them that one must choose how they classify themselves—but are alcoholics and addicts that much different from each other?
As quoted in a story published on The Fix, an Alcoholics Anonymous member said, “There’s almost an unspoken taboo in AA where you’re not supposed to talk about drugs or refer to yourself as an alcoholic and addict.” She adds, “I snicker when someone identifies as an alcoholic and an addict, but the fact is that everyone in that room is an addict – they’re just addicted to alcohol.” Many perceive alcoholism and addiction to be two separate things: alcoholism, an abuse of alcohol and addiction, the abuse of drugs. Yet alcoholism is a specific type of addiction. When a person’s brain acts in an addictive way to one substance, it will typically act in a similar way to another.
Heroin addicts, for example, can move out of their primary addiction by acquiring a secondary addiction; in place of heroin, they turn to alcohol.
Addiction psychiatrist Dr. Reef Karim says that there is no clinical term for addiction; instead, he says that it’s derived from popular culture, according to The Fix. Substance abuse disorder, however, can range from a variety of substances like cocaine and alcohol. People may also display addictive disorders that don’t involve substances, such as compulsive gambling or porn addiction.
So what’s the difference? It’s all about the words, according to experts. Regardless of the substance, addiction is a disorder that not only impacts the brain, but also creates behavioral changes that result in an array of consequences.
The biggest difference between an alcoholic and a drug addict is the social consequences. The cultural aspect of alcoholism makes the disorder different from drug abuse. For example, people typically congregate at a bar to drink with friends, yet you’re not likely to participate in a similar outing to a crack house.
The differences between the two are so slight, in fact, that many see alcoholism as a brand of addiction. Many who use drugs use alcohol to cope, and vice versa. Instead of polarizing the two conditions, experts believe alcoholism and addiction to be one disease that can have disastrous mental and physical consequences, regardless of the substance that’s involved.
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