People who attend AA meetings may feel that they must identify as both an alcoholic and an addict if they have a problem with drugs as well as alcohol. They could also feel that they have to choose one term or the other since the problems are separated in different meetings through twelve step programs.
The reality is that there really is no difference between alcoholism and addiction. Being dependent on alcohol is only one type of addiction out of many, so anyone who identifies themselves as an alcoholic can also be considered an addict.
The reason to identify as an alcoholic rather than an addict has to do more with connecting with peers in the group. People may find it easier to relate to others who are addicted to same substance so they choose to identify as an alcoholic rather than simply an addict.
Alcoholics can relate to stories of drinking in excess more than other types of drug use.
Alcoholism as a Type of Addiction
The symptoms of addiction, no matter what the substance or activity, are essentially the same. All addicts regardless of what category they fall under experience same inability to abstain, impairment of behavioral control, cravings, and dysfunctional emotional responses.
Someone who may identify as an alcoholic is also an addict; they are simply addicted to alcohol rather than illicit drugs or other types of addiction. Because addiction is so similar, it is common for people to develop substitute addictions while they are in recovery.
People might use another substance as a "way out" of their primary substance that they are addicted to. Those in AA could be addicted to anything because they are wired to be unable to control their behavior.
They might choose to identify as an alcoholic just so they feel a sense of fellowship with other people in their program. When you say out loud that you are an alcoholic you are the same as everyone else in the room.
Problems Specific to Each Addiction
The term addiction can apply to a wide variety of things from substance use disorders like alcoholism or addiction to drugs like meth, cocaine and heroin. It can also apply to non-substance use disorders like sex, gambling, shopping or even overeating.
In any of these issues, addiction refers to the brain and behavioral changes that create consequences in a person's functioning. People in recovery usually understand that the reasons for having an addiction are basically the same across the board.
However, each addiction can have its own unique challenges and effects on a person's physiology. An alcoholic in recovery must face triggers everywhere because alcohol is legal and socially acceptable for adults.
Drug addicts may not deal with the same level of temptation at all times because illegal drugs are harder to obtain. Alcohol is one of the most prevalent drugs in the world that is widely available everywhere.
People can identify more with other alcoholics because they face these same challenges.
Even though alcoholics and addicts have much in common, a person in recovery might choose to identify exclusively as an alcohol or an addict because they feel that their addiction to a particular drug creates specific experiences and circumstances. People in support groups want to feel the same as their peers and be able to relate closely to the stories of their addictions.
Alcoholism can be similar to other addictions but it has its own problems that might not be an issue with other types of drugs. Identifying as an alcoholic rather than an addict helps you narrow down the issues that affect you and others who are addicted to alcohol.