Addict or Alcoholic? Self-Identification and Addiction

September 22, 2014 Kira Lesley

The most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published in 2013, changed the criteria for evaluating substance abuse problems and problems involving compulsive behavior, such as gambling. The DSM-5 includes the word "addiction" for the first time, in reference to pathological gambling, which the manual lists as a "behavioral addiction."

What is Substance Abuse? What is Addiction?

I identify as an alcoholic and an addict, and as a person in recovery, but I don't identify as having a disease. Learn about self-identification in addiction.

Substance problems are now classified as "substance use disorders" and fall on a continuum of mild, moderate and severe. In the DSM-IV, problem substance users were categorized as either displaying characteristics of "substance abuse" or "substance dependence." The term "dependence," however, created confusion because it describes a bodily response that does not in and of itself mean addiction.

Former users and abusers of substances identify and relate to their experiences in many different ways. Some, such as myself, have no problem identifying as an alcoholic, while others might refer to themselves as "recovering alcoholics" or might simply say they used to have a problem with alcohol. I also refer to my "addiction," but almost never refer to my "disease." In today's video, I explore why I choose to identify as I do and invite listeners to share their own experiences with addiction and identity.

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APA Reference
Lesley, K. (2014, September 22). Addict or Alcoholic? Self-Identification and Addiction, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Kira Lesley

Kira Lesley
October, 3 2014 at 6:45 am

Sam, thank you for your input. 12-step programs discuss self-centeredness as being the root of problems, but I am not as familiar with discussion of narcissism outside of that context. You've given me some more research to do, thanks!

September, 26 2014 at 11:00 am

The cause of all addictions !! Is at the root , Nacassism , If you doubt look into the signs symptoms and effects of it and you will see ,, look at the cause as well and the cure . Really they say can not be cured but there is one way ,, addiction recovery was given the answer from the only source of recovery from addiction / nacassism !!

esther Monroe
September, 26 2014 at 5:47 am

I identify as an alcholic when I am among alcoholics (specifically in an AA room). I think that's because when you announce yourself in those rooms you are qualifying. You are qualifying yourself. When I talk in general about my addictive personality I say that I'm an addict and I have a tendency towards compulsive behavior.if I engage and pull impulsive behavior and addictive behavior I will have no control over myself. But I myself identify as an addict. In an AA room I would introduce myself as an alcoholic, in a NA room I would introduce myself as a narcotics addictI and in a CA room I would say I'm a Cocaine addict. On and on and on. I myself am an addict and I use the term disease because it's understood but I do really feel that what I have is more of a disorder. To say it is only a disease for me would be ignoring quite a few important components of what is happening when I am in the throwes of it. I do understand everything that you've talked about though. Thank you for your ideas.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
October, 3 2014 at 6:42 am

Thank you Esther, for your comments and ideas as well. I think it's interesting what you had to say about using the term disease but also feeling like that doesn't quite cover it. For me, addiction absolutely is a spiritual issue as well, and an emotional and psychological one too, of course. I appreciate your input, and I think it's interesting that you identify differently depending on the type of meeting you are in. I always wonder about that too. I often hear people say "I'm an alcoholic and an addict" and I think they are saying it mostly for themselves, for their own acknowledgment that they have multiple addictions.

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