Cheers to Tears

Identifying in Recovery: To Call Yourself an Alcoholic or Not?

Identifying as an Alcoholic vs. Leaving the Term Behind: Which is the Better Approach

For decades, being labeled an alcoholic was considered a death sentence, signifying a lack of willpower and moral failing.

However, as we learn more about addiction and how it affects the brain, there is a growing movement to change the narrative. Today, we understand that addiction is a chronic illness that requires ongoing treatment and management, and the way we talk about and view addiction must reflect this reality.

There is a divide among individuals in recovery as to whether identifying as an alcoholic is helpful or harmful. Some cling to the label, seeing it as essential to their ongoing recovery, while others reject it as stigmatizing and disempowering.

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons for identifying as an alcoholic and leaving the term behind, so that you can decide which approach is the right one for you or a loved one.

Reasons for Identifying as an Alcoholic

The term alcoholic can have a powerful effect in raising awareness of the ongoing battle to overcome addiction and reducing stigma. Here are some reasons why you may choose to continue using the term:


Awareness: One reason why some people choose to label themselves as an alcoholic is that it helps raise awareness of the ongoing battle of addiction, especially when it comes to explaining the devastating effects of addiction to others. By self-identifying as an alcoholic, others can gain a better understanding of what you’re going through and may be inspired to learn more about addiction.

2. Reduce Stigma: The term alcoholic has been around for decades, and although it has been stigmatized in the past, today, OWID data proves there is a shift in mindset and the majority of Americans are starting to view addiction through the medical lense.

By claiming the label, individuals can contribute to breaking down the negative bias in society towards addiction and substance misuse. In turn, this wider acceptance will lead to more resources and support being available for individuals in recovery.

3. Examples of Public Figures: Public figures such as the former Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh, have been open about their battles with addiction, and have continued to use the term to describe themselves.

This decision is partially rooted in the high-status status of some of these individuals. Due to the high profile that some of these people have, they are potentially bringing the struggles of addiction to public light, and their continued use of the term may inspire others to be open about their own struggles.

4. Inspiring Others to Be Open About Their Struggles: Finally, identifying as an alcoholic can have a validating effect, inspiring others to be open about their own struggles with addiction.

When people see others openly admitting to their addiction and seeking treatment, it can hold a powerful hope message that if someone is struggling, there is a blueprint for recovery and a chance to change the narrative. Reasons for Leaving the Term “Alcoholic” Behind

While there are valid reasons for identifying as an alcoholic, there are also reasons why some people prefer to leave the term behind, instead choosing to focus on recovery without the label.

Here are some reasons why:

1. Labels can worsen stigma and shame: Historically, the label of “alcoholic” was associated with negativity and loaded with judgment.

For many people, it carries a sense of shame and stigma. Individuals who have been viewed as failing in recovery may feel like that is all they are known for.

Labels can be counterproductive when it comes to building the self-esteem and self-worth necessary to move forward in recovery. Person first language and focusing on the person and not the label, helps to empower them to move forward.

2. Separating the person from the addiction can be empowering: Focusing on the person and not the addiction is empowering.

Addiction can be paralyzing, and when a person is mired in defining themselves by their addiction, it can be challenging to find the motivation to recover. People who start to identify themselves by their addiction may feel more hopeless and struggle with the needed reality of their current situation.

3. Success with TSM may lead individuals to move on from the term: A final reason why someone may choose to leave the term behind is if they’ve had success with The Sinclair Method (TSM) or other treatments that focus on treating the disease through medication.

TSM uses the FDA-approved medication naltrexone to rewire the brain and reduce cravings. For people who have experienced success through this type of treatment, it may be easier to move on from the label of alcoholic and instead focus on their ongoing recovery with reduced cravings.


Ultimately, the decision to identify as an alcoholic or leave the term behind is a personal one. While some may find it helpful to claim the label, others may prefer to focus on recovery without it.

As we continue to learn more about the biology of addiction, it is becoming less stigmatized, and people should feel comfortable making the decision that is right for them and their recovery. It is essential to remember that recovery is an ongoing process, and there is no shame in seeking help to manage addiction.

Alternative Ways of Identifying

Moving away from the label of “alcoholic” has led many to alternative ways of identifying in recovery. By changing the language we use, we can move beyond the stigma surrounding addiction and create a more positive and empowering narrative.

In this second part of our article, we’ll examine some alternative ways to identify that can help individuals recover with a positive outlook.

Using Positive and Empowering Language

Using positive language like “recovering alcoholic” can avoid damaging self-talk and unhelpful ideas surrounding addiction. Shifting your language to reflect the situation’s possibilities restores optimism and provides a light at the end of the tunnel.

Choosing a phrase like “recovering alcoholic” conveys hope, but it’s essential to focus on what the person wants the future to look like. Emphasizing the positive aspects and adopting a forward-looking standpoint can reinforce growth and provide momentum and positivity in recovery.

Identifying as Someone in Long-Term Recovery

Long-term recovery is the journey of making positive life choices to support a healthy, substance-free life. Throughout the ups and downs of life, the work of recovery must continue to stay vigilant against complacency and potential relapses.

Describing one as “in long-term recovery” opens doors to continued growth and acknowledges the work and effort required to make lasting change. Emphasizing the constant work many continue to put into recovery over a lifetime helps to deepen understanding and respect for the ongoing challenges involved in leaving addiction behind.

The Importance of Changing Language Used

The treatment and recovery field is beginning to move away from stigmatizing labels to more holistic, person-centered language. Instead of referring to patients as “addicts” or “alcoholics,” person-first language centers the person rather than the problem.

This distinction can contribute to reduced stigma surrounding addiction and help those in recovery feel seen and heard without the negative stereotypes that can accompany labels.

The Personal Choice of Identifying in Recovery

Choosing how to identify oneself in recovery is an intensely personal decision, one that’s made daily. Here are some things to consider:

Holly Whitaker’s Choice to Stop Identifying as an Alcoholic

Holly Whitaker, who wrote Quit Like a Woman, sparked extensive media attention when she shared her choice to stop identifying as an alcoholic.

Whitaker acknowledges that the label can be helpful to some; it didn’t work for her. Instead, she chooses to identify as “addicted to alcohol” because it supports her refusal of a label that could define her in negative ways.

In Whitaker’s case, removing the “alcoholic” label gives her the freedom to move past shame and towards a more empowering recovery. The Importance of Acknowledging One’s Struggles with Alcohol

Acknowledging that one has a problem with drinking is the first step to recovery.

It’s okay not to know precisely what the problem is. Identifying that there is some issue with the frequency or amount of drinking is an essential step in the right direction.

Language is an essential tool in acknowledging and identifying the situation. The more accurate and authentic the description, the more helpful it can be.

Finding Support Without Requiring a Specific Label

There are many treatment and recovery options available that offer stigma-free, personalized support for individuals struggling with alcohol. Ria Health’s telemedicine approach, for example, provides a comprehensive and inclusive individualized treatment plan for those struggling with alcohol misuse.

Their approach is centered around creating a personalized treatment plan that doesn’t require a specific label or identification of a certain level of use or dependence.


Alternative ways to identify in recovery can provide a positive, empowering way of viewing the ongoing journey of recovery. Language changes can help shift the conversation from one of stigma and labels to one that focuses on the ongoing work and growth of living a substance-free life.

By embracing alternative labels and descriptors, individuals can create a personal narrative that reinforces growth and hope in their recovery. Ultimately, the decision of how to identify oneself in recovery is a personal choice, and whatever label is chosen, the important thing is acknowledging and committing to making positive changes to ensure a healthy, happy, and substance-free life.

In conclusion, identifying as an alcoholic or leaving the term behind is a personal choice and whichever approach is chosen, it’s essential to keep a positive, empowering outlook on the journey of recovery. Alternative ways of identifying can help break down the stigma surrounding addiction, embrace a growth mindset, and empower individuals on their path to wellness.

As we continue to learn more about addiction, we can approach recovery with empathy, understanding, and hope, necessary components in rebuilding a healthy and substance-free life.



Can I recover without identifying as an alcoholic? – Yes, there are alternative ways to identify in recovery that don’t involve the term “alcoholic.”


What are some alternative ways of identifying in recovery? – Some alternative ways to identify include using positive and empowering language like “recovering alcoholic” or identifying as “someone in long-term recovery.”


Why might someone choose to leave the term “alcoholic” behind? – Some individuals may decide to leave the label behind due to the stigma and shame associated with it.

Others may feel that it’s disempowering, focusing on the problem rather than the person. 4.

How can language contribute to breaking down the stigma surrounding addiction? – Changing the language surrounding addiction, away from stigmatized labels like “addicts” and “alcoholics,” towards person-first language, can help promote understanding, empathy, and respect for people in recovery.

5. Is it essential to identify as an alcoholic to receive help?

– No, many treatment and recovery options can help individuals struggling with alcohol misuse without requiring a specific label or level of use or dependence. Ria Health’s telemedicine approach provides a personalized treatment plan that doesn’t rely on identification of specific labels.

Popular Posts