difference between an addict and an alcoholic

We as members of the 12 step community may or may not be familiar with the idea of “crossing our A’s.” Essentially that means a member of a specific 12 step group identifying as something that is not necessarily indicative of that set group. An example would be someone identifying as an addict in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, or as an alcoholic in a meeting of Narcotic’s Anonymous. There are several schools of thought to be considered in retrospect to not only the recovery community, but also to the clientele of Oregon Trail Recovery.

Difference between an Addict and an Alcoholic?

I have certainly heard a client tell me they cannot identify with anything when they attend an AA meeting because they do not identify as an alcoholic. My usual response to this situation is to ask them a set of questions in which I hope they will identify with the subject matter of the meeting.

These questions include asking them if they’ve ever tried replacing the word “Alcohol” with the word ‘Drugs?” I implore them to look back on their history of use. Those who come to our detox program for an issue with meth, heroin etc. have probably drank in their past. After all, the NA literature does state that alcohol is a drug. I then challenge the client to see there is a high probability they were drinking for effect. This way they can have some chance at finding some common ground with the subject of whichever meeting they attend. This, of course, can work the other way around. Specifically, for a client whose drug of choice was alcohol in an NA meeting.

Of course, in the realm of addiction recovery programs, there exists a level of solidarity. Several NA groups will specifically ask you not to identify as an alcoholic. They do this at the start of the meeting by having someone read The Clarity Statement. This statement outlines that by identifying as an addict, the message of NA does not become convoluted or confusing. On the other hand, several AA meetings will state they are a closed meeting of alcoholics anonymous. This essentially means the only attendees are alcoholics and people who struggle with drinking.

Understanding Addiction

What are we as staff members of Oregon Trail Recovery to do with this solidarity that exists amongst NA/AA meetings? Could we not be at risk of having a confusing general message? Honestly, I certainly think so. I make it a point to let my clients know that 12 steps allow you to find recovery. If we allow them to think their disease is “worse” than other’s, they’ll miss the general idea of recovery. They, in turn, will be missing a chance to develop a fellowship and a community around them.

Our staff at Oregon Trail Recovery must understand that our common enemy is addiction. We strive to fight it and help others recover from whatever addiction gets in the way of their life; a life which is happy, joyous and free.


– J. Dalton Williams, B.A.