"Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not."
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 34, More About Alcoholism
Of the many internal rearrangements I experienced as a result of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, the most profound was in how I understood the disease. This shift was a direct result of being able to align the experience and pain of my repeated relapses with the explanation of the disease in the first 63 pages of the Alcoholics Anonymous text book (with the help of a terrific teacher). Ideas and concepts I had held for decades about the nature of alcoholism were rendered embarassingly inaccurate. Many of the AA sayings I had chanted effortlessly for years (just don't pick up the first drink!) suddenly felt like codependent sloganeering.
Had you asked me several years ago what the difference was between a drinking problem and alcoholism, I would have likely responded "not much." Try to explain it to me? I'd have politely nodded but dismissed you as someone with way too much time on their hands. I simply was not there-- I had double digit sobriety, a good life and the assurance that by keeping my memory green about where alcohol had taken me, I'd never drink again. I've since learned that alcoholism is cunning and baffling; it can also masquerade as sobriety. In retrospect, I was unaware that the very proclamations I valued as manifestations of my sobriety were really untreated alcoholism. And it was biding its time, trying to find another way in.
But back to the point of the post-- what's the difference? I see it this way: the person with a drinking problem should stop, and usually can. The person with alcoholism must stop and cannot....