Words Matter: Alcohol and Drugs

I’ve always been a little uncomfortable when I hear the phrase “alcohol and drugs”. I’ve been around treatment long enough to know that alcohol is a drug. I’ve even joked before that alcoholics are simply addicts in denial about the nature of alcohol. I’ve heard a number of arguments in favor of keeping them separate…the primary being that alcohol is legal. I think the main reason we separate the two is that for the most part, alcohol is socially acceptable.

Now I’m not arguing that alcohol should be considered a controlled and dangerous substance. We tried that once and it obviously didn’t work. There are millions of persons who use alcohol responsibly with no significant problems or distress. No, I’m not suggesting we start to look at alcohol like we do other drugs; I’m arguing that we start to look at other drugs the way we do alcohol.

Just as there are millions who successfully use alcohol, many are able to “successfully” use illicit substances with no significant consequences aside from the legal risk. Should that use be called a psychological disorder? Should those who disagree with arbitrary societal controls be considered disordered? That’s a dangerous thought.

Not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic and not everyone who uses drugs is a drug addict. I’m hopeful that the change in the DSM-5 will eliminate some of those previously diagnosed only because of involvement in the criminal justice system. While criminal justice involvement is certainly a problem, it isn’t necessarily a substance use disorder (SUD). Many who currently meet the criteria for abuse may have decision-making problems but you’d be hard pressed to classify their behavior as a psychological disorder.

Hopefully the new diagnostic criteria for Substance Use Disorder will “purify” the diagnosis and only include those who are experiencing actual physiological, psychological, social or interpersonal distress as a result of their use.

8 thoughts on “Words Matter: Alcohol and Drugs

  1. The “War on Drugs” over the last 40 years has been an abject failure! We, as a nation, have spent more than one trillion dollars and have made 45,000,000 drug-related arrests! Drugs are more available, of higher quality, and lower cost than they were 40 years ago. It is definitely time to rethink our approach!

    1. I couldn’t agree more…see my post on “The Law of Attraction” for some thoughts on this subject.

  2. Hi Daniel,

    Good article. Portugal’s response (minimal penalties for small quantities) appears to be working after 12 years. It’s certainly something to look at, especially with the hugh debt this country is in. Here’s a link:

    Low cost, simple and effective.

    The Therapeutic Process
    For individuals and family members dealing with personal issues.
    + Reoccurring Negative Dreams & flashbacks.


    A father and son, living on the West coast of Canada (in the Vancouver area ), loved to go sailing between the mainland and Vancouver Island.

    The father, over the years, had upgraded from a small boat to a larger sail boat and the son was intending to follow his example, but, at the time the son only had a small boat.

    One day the son went for a sail in his boat and a major storm came up which caused his boat to capsize. The son drowned on that day and his body was never recovered.

    As result, the father kept having a reoccurring dream regarding the loss of his son and the lack of closure. ( no funeral for closure because the sons’ body was never recovered )

    In the dream the father would go out in his sail boat to where his son had drowned and he would dive over the side and swim down to the bottom. When he would get to the bottom he would find a treasure chest and when he opened it up it would, always, be empty.
    ( it can be said that the father treasured his son )

    At that time, I was a co-facilitator of a therapeutic group in which the father
    ( as a participant ) told the story of his reoccurring dream and to address the problem the following potential solution was proposed to him.

    Write up his story including his emotions, feelings, appreciations, anger, resentments, positives and negatives of the relationship with his son and with his death, etc.
    Buy a small tree ( hopefully his sons favourite kind of tree).
    Take the write up, the tree and some pictures of his son ( + small personal objects / reminders of his son ) and take them to his sons favourite place.

    NOTE: His sons favourite place was up on a forested knoll over looking Horse Shoe Bay on the North Shore of Vancouver where he could see the marina that he and his father used to dock their sail boats.

    The father was to take the write up, the tree, the pictures and the personal
    objects to the knoll.
    Dig a hole for the tree / then read the write up ALOUD..
    Set fire to the papers ( write up ) pictures and personal items.
    Let the smoke go up into the air, the ashes and personal items fall into the hole.
    Plant the tree over them. ( burying them and the problem in order to gain closure )

    The father never had the reoccurring dream again…

    NOTE: People and their family members can, by using these principles and practices, gain closure in relation to various kinds of personal and family issues = re: the loss of a loved one, abuse, addiction, PTSD = reoccurring dreams / flashbacks, suicide prevention, anger management, beginnings and endings, unfinished business, closure, etc.

    Some guidelines:

    Use your own imagination and creativity when you apply
    these principles and practices to your own personal and family issues.
    This can be done alone and/or with others who can appreciate their attendance and find value in the process.

    NOTE: This therapeutic process can stand alone and/or be an addition to
    existing individual or group therapy programs.

    Helpful hints:

    You can bury and get through your own personal / family issues and start a new life.
    Planting ( a living memorial, a bush, shrub or a crop ) represents hope for the future.
    The obstacles in life, often, become precisely what is required…

    Warm Regards: to family members who are dealing with the loss of a loved one(s) and other ( above noted ) personal issues ( past, present and future ).

    Author James L. Halstrum ( The Stone Shadow )
    P.O.Box1326 Montague, PEI C0A-1R0
    Note: If this helps or saves the life of one person, I’ll be pleased.

    1. Very insightful experience. I believe that closure means a lot for the person who is grieving. And unless they do it, it becomes very hard to let go and continue living. I have seen it with my own family members. I lost 4 close family members in 14 months starting November 2002; (first my baby brother, then my mom, followed by my elder sister then my younger sister). As if that was not enough, two years later I lost yet another brother, my close uncle, my very close auntie, her daughter (my first cousin), and then my dad (2009). It was very difficult for me to grieve because as I was getting ready to do so, another family member would die, and I actually gave up going through the grieving process. In all honesty, I have not yet grieved enough. I feel that I need to do this, but I need to have the courage to face the anguish that I have accumulated all along. So, this article is very helpful. Thanks for sharing and the empathy from the group members.

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