We can’t afford to be confused about it.

I vaguely remember my first recovery meetings. I attended both Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous in an effort to kick my drug habit. It was 1988, and I still lived in Oakland, California.

Those meetings were filled with a kaleidoscope of colorful people. One of my favorites was a burly man who used to announce his name followed by “and I haven’t killed anyone today.” He shared a lot of wisdom, and although we only had drug addiction in common, I could relate to him. That’s the magic of twelve-step meetings.

At the start of recovery meetings, uniform messages are read aloud. The one bit I viscerally remember from NA meetings was this: “Alcohol is a drug. We cannot afford to be confused about this.”

I shook that phrase off like a dog does water. I wanted no part of believing it applied to me. I wasn’t alone. Many recovering drug addicts still want to drink—just like many recovering alcoholics still want to smoke weed. Our attitude is: “But this drug isn’t a problem for me—only this one is.”

Wrong-o-rama, as I would soon discover. With drugs out of the picture, I watched my drinking quickly escalate to an alcoholic level. It had always been there, mind you (my first drug and the gateway to all others), but it was manageable. I even prided myself on how well I controlled my intake. Without other substances to clog my brain, however, drinking took center stage—and it was gunning for a Grammy.

All my personal “what makes you an alcoholic” checklist items I hadn’t experienced started to happen. Blackouts? Check. Drinking every day? Check. Drinking when I swore I wouldn’t? Check. Drinking getting in the way of my daily life? Check.

Through it all, those words haunted me: “Alcohol is a drug. We cannot afford to be confused about this.”

I quit drinking in 1989 with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, and have never looked back or relapsed.

What I’ve noticed in the ensuing years is how many people abuse alcohol. Several adults I know are still using it as a main mode of entertainment—getting hammered on the weekends or at parties. It has become clear that alcohol is not viewed as the drug that it is through the cavalier way in which people use it—some even giving it to underage kids. Maybe this is because it’s a legal drug, or due to the way it’s casually marketed. If crystal meth was advertised like beer, would that make it okay?

Something to consider is that booze is completely unnecessary to our happiness or lifeblood. If it feels essential, or that life would be boring without it, that’s an invitation to explore its usage more deeply. Alcohol IS a drug, and we cannot afford to be confused about that.

Answer these 20 Questions by Alcoholics Anonymous to determine if you may have a problem with alcohol.

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Katherine is a freelance writer and novelist—and recovering addict. She can be reached here.

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