December 9, 2019  Last Update: November 12, 2019, 4:01 pm

Alcoholism is now Sophisticated. Does that make it Fashionable?

Sophisticated Alcoholic book by David Allen

There’s a new book out in England, and it parallels the sensibilities of a social set of “alcoholics” here in the US.  It’s called “Sophisticated Alcoholic“, by author David Allen, a therapist specializing in alcohol dependency.

There are so many differences between this “sophisticated” perspective and the 12 step understanding of alcohol, I don’t know where to start. So, in true fashion, we’ll try and present just the facts and observations. We leave the conclusions to you. Please use the comments section to speak up.

Shall we start out with some controversial statements?  Would that sell a few books? Let’s start with a quote:

"I don’t believe that alcoholism is a disease -- it’s a behaviour," Allen says. "Saying it is a disease can become a convenient excuse for people dependent on alcohol"

And from that basis of alcoholism as behavior, Allen notes the choices being made :

"It’s a behaviour and it’s a choice ... I think it’s unhelpful to refer to alcoholism as an illness except in the sense that it causes serious illness."

While this behavior view of alcoholism is not new, it does lean towards the more permissive, softer side of “alcoholism”. Certainly many alcoholics in 12 step programs would not agree with Allen’s  calling  “middle-class drinkers” or people who “don’t really see themselves as having a problem with alcohol” alcoholics. Allen describes them as alcoholics who are  enjoying “a normal life”. He asserts that they “would be considered Mr and Mrs Normal”.

I wonder… has it become fashionable to be “an alcoholic”?

I still recall the first time I was told the difference between a drinker, a problem drinker, a drunk, and an alcoholic.  It was a 12 step discussion.

“An alcoholic”, I was schooled, “admits he is an alcoholic, unable to control his drinking. Someone who drinks is just a drinker. Someone who gets into trouble because of his drinking is a problem drinker.  Someone who gets drunk and makes an ass of himself is a drunk. But unless he acknowledges he’s not in control, he’s not an alcoholic“.

David Allen named his book “Sophisticated Alcoholic” after the people he sees in his therapy practice. He says they recognize they drink too much alcohol, that they depend on alcohol, and they want to reduce that dependency.

"...they are drinking excessive amounts of alcohol -- well above the recommended limits. They drink in an organised and managed fashion."
- David Allen, about Sophisticated Alcoholics

Allen fashioned his therapeutic approach on his own life, and his own self-described recovery from alcohol dependency. He calls himself a “fully recovered”  alcoholic. He also reports that he still drinks.

"I will occasionally drink for social reasons -- particularly when I’m away in another country. But I drink very little and it’s quite amazing that it’s now normal for me. The relationship I had with alcohol has completely changed. Looking back, there was one point when I couldn’t go a day without having a beer."
- David Allen

In 2007 Allen started a  “life changing online therapy program” called “Control Your Drinking”, which led to this book.On his program web site he says:

"Reading my book and following this program is much cheaper than seeing a therapist, though some may still want to do that at some point."

In the US there is continuing debate over “harm reduction” vs. “zero tolerance” approaches to relapse prevention.


  • David Allen’s Control Your Drinking web site
  • Interview with David Allen
  • Data suggesting approximately 12% of recovered alcoholics still drink
  • Alan Marlatt on Relapse Prevention





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