Lush is my favorite word to describe an alcoholic, mainly because it sounds like a person bathing themselves in liquor, as if lush were a portmanteau of liquor and wash. But the more I’ve thought about this word, and thinking is all you do on death row (which I so am on. I murdered, like, a lot of people, and told the judge that I had FUN) the more I realized that lush is not perfectly interchangeable with alcoholic. In fact, all the so-called synonyms for alcoholic carry their own connotations. And with probably more work than I’ve ever put into any post, I found that it takes a minimum of four criteria to delineate the most common words.
The criteria are tolerance, control, admission, and employment.
Tolerance: Does the drinker require a great deal of alcohol to reach inebriation, or a relatively small amount?
Control: Does the drinker have control over when and how much they drink?
Admission: Will the drinker admit to how much or how often they drink, or even whether the alcohol negatively impacts their life?
Employment: Is the drinker gainfully employed?
The handy chart below paints a nice picture of each class. Click on the image for a printable version.
To someone like me, who doesn’t drink much at all, every one of these people is an alcoholic. Even the Social Drinkers, who may need alcohol in order to have fun, are a type of alcoholics. But in a classical sense, that is, to the ancient Greeks and Romans, an alcoholic is someone who can drink a lot, is probably able to hold down a job, but cannot control themselves and will never admit to how much or how often they drink. They hide it from everyone, especially themselves.
A lush is a special type of alcoholic, one who bears all the trappings of an alcoholic, but while the alcoholic can drink and function, mostly, the lush is always drunk. The lush gets drunk on their own boozal imaginings. You go to pick up your friend the lush to go out, and the girl is already drunk before leaving the house. She might be fun, but usually gets out of control. Lushes are usually women or gay men. Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises is a lush.
A drunk is an alcoholic who fully admits to his drinking, is probably miserable most of the time, gets into fights, or beats his wife. Drunks are usually men but can be women. Ernest Hemingway was a drunk.
A wino is an alcoholic who can’t even hold down a job. He just drinks all the time and denies that he’s drunk.
Shitloafs are people who don’t really have much of a life, no real job, no hobbies, no hopes, and no dates, so they just go out drinking all the time. They don’t deny it, and if circumstances change they could give it up. But for now, they’ve got nothing but booze to make them happy.
Contrast this with the Social Drinker, who also goes out drinking a lot, but probably has a decent job and doesn’t drink to excess.
College Freshmen are shitloafs without a tolerance.
Your average Roommate drinks impossibly gargantuan volumes of Simple Times Lager and Franzia Box Wine, could stop doing this if they wanted to but are strangely comfortable being bastards, and are usually too hungover to look for a job.
Ukranians are mostly unemployed people who drink even more than Roommates, but could get jobs if there were any.
Bartenders are professional alcoholics.