I recently read a good article on the BBC News site which asked whether the word 'alcoholic' was so contaminated by association with down and outs that perhaps we needed another word for those who still have some control over their life but have a drink problem. (full article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25639406)
This made me think of my late step-mother who died from alcoholism but who felt so out of place at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that she only went once. If she had fitted in it might have saved her life but she felt excluded for not depending on crime to feed her habit.
I also remembered a psychologist friend telling me that the person who drank a sherry 5 nights a week when they got home from work was more likely to be an alcoholic than someone who went out and got drunk 2 nights a week. This is where the problem really starts because the person who is medically an alcoholic may not have a drink problem whilst the one who isn't addicted may have the problem.
This is personal for me as for the last few years I have been trying to work out if I was an alcoholic or not. I had got as far as saying I couldn't say I wasn't but, at the same time, I didn't feel comfortable saying I was an alcoholic. That I had a serious drink problem was beyond doubt but was I an alcoholic in the way the word is defined medically? In a way the answer is irrelevant as I have to live as if I am an alcoholic but life is always easier if we can put a label on things.
The two occasions I have allowed myself a little alcohol are Communion services and family meals, particularly over Christmas. This Christmas I allowed myself to have more that a small glass of red to see how I managed; with mixed results. Outwardly it was successful as I didn't over drink and I really enjoyed the wines but inwardly it wasn't so straight forward. I didn't serve the wine so I don't know if I'd be OK pouring it myself and I could feel myself getting tense inside - one of the feelings that made want to drink too much.
So I still don't know whether I fit either the medical or common usage definitions of an alcoholic but I have to assume I am or the alternative is just too bad.