Once an Addict, Always an Addict, Right?

Why this age-old saying can’t be further from the truth.

I am Elyse Hocking
6 min readJun 28, 2021


Photo by Jack Ward on Unsplash

I was recently asked this question but didn’t respond because although it was a seemingly simple question, my opinion of addiction (not myself but many family members) differs from the standard man or woman. I figured it would be best suited to a more in-depth response

The question:

If someone was previously an ‘alcoholic’ and they still drink alcohol then they surely should still be termed an alcoholic?

Let’s start by looking at what the term ‘alcoholic’ means. It is described as someone who is physically and mentally dependant on alcohol to get through their normal life. An alcoholic may also be termed an addict. Alcoholics have addictions to alcohol. Drinking alcohol alone doesn’t make you an addict or an alcoholic.

What is an addiction?

Addiction in itself is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviours that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. — Asam.org

There is still a lot of misunderstanding and stigma attached to the alcoholic label. Those who do not understand the condition have been known to say to addicts ‘why don’t you just stop’ but the reality is that their condition [the addiction] is a side-effect of a larger problem and not the attributes of the person directly.

Alcoholism is not about drinking or not drinking.

Much like someone who suffers from extreme period cramps or PMS, at the time their condition can cause side effects that cause pain, low tolerance, grumpiness (due to pain), and a need to stay indoors. This person is not necessarily grumpy per se as they may be the cheeriest, happiest, and most energetic person ‘normally’ but at that time, their character changes to a fit with how their condition.

It’s the same for addicts.

Most addicts in my opinion are very empathetic, caring to a fault and that can lead them down a dark path. If you are someone who feels and cares a lot and keeps those emotions inside of you they will only fester causing you emotional pain in the long run.

A large portion of men do not communicate effectively, this may be why addiction is more common in men than women?

Alcohol or substance misuse, in general, was an easier way for those people to temporarily numb the emotional pain they were feeling. Unfortunately, it only leads to built-up emotions worsening and, therein lies the never-ending addiction cycle.

When you realize you have something you cannot fix on your own, reaching out to get help should be the first step and most common way to resolving it. Many however never reach that stage. As their addiction worsens, their pride increases, and the ability to make sense of the internal jumble gets harder they resign themselves to using those self-medicating coping mechanisms and, in turn, lose their own sense of character.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Are previous alcoholics who drink, still always ‘alcoholics’, and is the term ‘once an addict, always an addict true’?

Anyone who doesn’t understand addiction will say yes. For them it’s black or white, you drink or you do not.

For anyone who has grown up with an alcoholic or has been an addict themselves will tell you ‘not always’ and here’s why — Healing from anything is never linear. It’s never about following one path as everyone’s journey to wellness will be different. Some will abstain wholly and others will work towards finding balance and healing the triggers.

Nothing in life is black or white — simple or hard. It’s just not that two-dimensional.

If you have severe flu [condition] and you go to the doctor as it won’t go away and they give you antibiotics to heal it, but tell you to stay away from extreme temperatures or it could come back — you would be mindful of ensuring you stayed away from extreme temperatures right?

But also aware from a human point of view that freezer aisles in the supermarket, or trips out via your social group or work may result in small timescales spent in cold bars or roasting hot coaches, and you are aware that those are ‘extreme temperatures’ therefore may trigger your flu to return, however, to compensate you ensure you stay cooler in the hot weather by drinking water and you stay warmer in the cold weather by wearing a scarf.

You are mindful enough to know your weaknesses but strong enough to adjust. Mindfulness lets you understand cause and effect. Understanding cause and effect enables you to remain in control of future outcomes.

The same applies to addicts.

Cause and effect

Alcoholic cause — Take for example someone who was an alcoholic years ago. At the time they were an alcoholic due to mental health issues attributed to anxiety, agoraphobia, a lack of self-confidence and a family that made you feel worthless. A sense of loss for your own future and an inability to heal medical conditions only worsened their self-confidence. Every day became the same cycle. Get up, go on the computer, eat bland meals and drink alcohol (provided by people who wanted to keep the person in the same cycle to fit with their own addictions).

Alcoholic effect — That person realized they were in a never-ending cycle. They decided it had to stop. Getting support from local mental health teams, finding employment, and changing their routine so they went out more, slept at normal times, and woke at normal times. Refilling their life with more sociable tasks such as work, learning to cook more exciting meals, and starting a relationship completely changed their life.

Understanding cause and effect — The person learned to find the triggers, learned to communicate how they felt and what their emotions were so that they didn’t internalize them. As they learned more about themselves, they increased their own sense of worth and confidence, they understood how the previous addiction came to be, and over the last thirteen years, they have grown in every possible way.

Mindfulness and application of cause and effect — Now this person does have a drink of alcohol from time to time but is mindful of cause and effect therefore will drink a few drinks under 5% or, will have a limit of say two glasses or two cans. If out with friends that person continues to enjoy a drink but applies rules such as drinking water, or eating food, not mixing alcohol, or only drinking a specific amount of alcohol.

Drinking in these situations is purely about the moment and the taste of what’s being eaten or drunk rather than the ‘effects of the substance’. An addict however only cares about the effects and cannot maintain social rules. Many addicts cannot maintain happy households, employment, or friendships, many indulge in their addictions alone or in a way that can be hidden.

The issue of addiction would only be active if the person for whatever reason starts to internalise those emotions and uses alcohol to numb themselves. Someone who has not been a misuser of alcohol in an addicting sense for over thirteen years is most definitely deemed in all sense to be in remission.

If you are struggling with addiction, please reach out to someone. Never suffer alone.


An alcoholic is a term used for someone addicted to alcohol. The problem isn’t alcohol directly it’s the manner in which it is used. An addict will use it regardless of its detriment to their life. A drinker will drink and ensure it doesn’t encroach into all aspects of their life. Someone who drinks to ‘have a drink’ is not an addict. Someone who drinks to ‘use alcohol as a way to self-medicate’ is more likely to be an addict as it’s the effects that the alcohol provides the addict that fuels their addiction.

Understanding the cause of the addiction and its effects on their life can be enough to resolve what is a curable ‘condition’. Someone who drinks socially or enjoys the taste is not an addict or an alcoholic. Someone who drinks to medicate or to numb pain or emotions may be an alcoholic.



I am Elyse Hocking

Blogger | Scottish life and personal opinion *All views my own* You can also find me at: https://www.sweetelyseblog.com