Why do alcoholics drink?
~written by Toby Drews, author, “Getting Them Sober”
Posted with permission.
“It is so easy to slide into believing that the alcoholic drinks “because of a problem.” And that if the alcoholic just “gets to the root of the problem” the drinking/drugging problem will just “wither away” by itself.”
That was the thinking of almost the entire mental-health profession about 25 years ago—before the days of James Milam (author of “Under the Influence”), who, along with other pioneers in the field of addictions, toured the country on a regular basis, lecturing and training mental-health practitioners, judges, pastoral counselors, nurses, criminal-justice personnel, and others, to help them understand that alcoholism is a primary disease.
What does that mean? It means that nothing can get you drunk. It means that no matter what else is going on in your life; no matter what your childhood was like; it means that no matter what your job is like, your spouse and/or kids are like; that none of those things get you drunk.
Yes, they cause stress! Life causes stress! And if everyone who had stress drank alcoholically, everyone would be an alcoholic.
“But the stressors of life are not what makes one an alcoholic.”
Why do alcoholics drink?
You “get” alcoholism because you are genetically predisposed to it. (You have to go back about six or eight generations to see the proclivity to alcoholism in one’s family; just because your parents did not have it, doesn’t mean it is not in your family. And back then, no one said people were alcoholic unless they were falling down in the gutter. And they certainly did not say that women or the clergy or any “good people” were alcoholic).
But, getting back to the mythology of “stress causing alcoholism”: Yes, stress can make you want to drink. Yes, having violent parents and being thrown out on the street at age 17 can make you want stress-relief and want to drink. But if you don’t have the brain receptors, etc., to be alcoholic or addicted, it’ll be a “passing phase” (It’s like the veterans after Vietnam: many, many of them tried heroin in Vietnam; but only 1/3 of those who took it in Vietnam, continued to take it, after they came home. Why? Because if you don’t have the physical set-up to become an alcoholic or other-drug addict, you won’t.
Look at all the spouses in Al-Anon who are not alcoholics who sat on bar stools to try to drink alongside their alcoholic spouses—to be there, to have their spouses at least physically with them—who could not keep up the drinking, even when they tried to).
And, if a catastrophe in life happens to a non-addict/non-alcoholic—and if they drink or do any other temporary thing to relieve stress—if they are not addicted, they will probably, after a while, not continue that drinking but get down to dealing with life on life’s terms.
Why do alcoholics drink?
The difference with alcoholics is that if they start to drink at all, even for a “legitimate stress reason”, the craving and the obsession make them continue the process of the disease of alcoholism. And once that disease process is in effect, that disease does not need any “reason” to drink: In other words, alcoholics drink because the Yankees won; alcoholics drink because the Yankees lost; and alcoholics drink because the Yankees didn’t play.
“Alcoholics drink because the Yankees won; alcoholics drink because the Yankees lost; and alcoholics drink because the Yankees didn’t play.”
It often LOOKS like the alcoholic drinks because he lost his job—or because he hates the weather. But when that same alcoholic gets a job . . . a better-paying job and/or moves to where the weather is great . . . the probability is that the alcoholic will still continue drinking or start drinking again, and the disease will still progress and the drinking will get worse. “Stuff” happens. “Stuff” does not cause alcoholism.
When alcoholics get sober and go to A.A. on a regular basis, they learn to replace that knee-jerk reaction of picking up a drink or a chemical for stress-relief—and replacing it with “taking it to a meeting” and talking about it. And by the Grace of God, it relieves it. A way is found to deal with it.
One more thing: when an alcoholic has, alongside the alcoholism, a psychiatric illness (like clinical depression) they may initially only drink to relieve the clinical depression—and they may receive temporary relief from it because they drank. But, and this is a big “but”—when they drink even for that reason . . . it gets and keeps the disease-of-alcoholism process going.
And even if that particular cycle of clinical depression “lets up” for a while because of the temporary relief of the alcohol, the alcoholic drinking usually continues, because the alcoholism has its own dynamic and is itself progressive. It gets to exists alongside, in addition to, the psychiatric illness.
And if the alcoholism is not treated for itself and the drinking does not stop (even if the psychiatric illness is treated with medication and therapy) then two things usually happen:
A) intaking alcohol when the medicine is in the body usually makes the medicine less effective
B) the alcoholism follows a progressive course and continues to eventually make that person’s life worse on just about every level, if not all levels. And it usually continues to make that psychiatric illness worse, too.
“If a person with both psychiatric illness and alcoholism wants to get better, they usually have to get help for both problems.”
If a person with both psychiatric illness and alcoholism wants to get better, they usually have to get help for both problems—and that help is often found in an alcoholism treatment center (one that is A.A.-oriented) that is good at diagnosing and treating persons with both addiction and psychiatric illness. And after initial treatment is completed, ongoing counseling, as well as A.A., of course—is usually the prescribed course of treatment.
This article, “Why Do Alcoholics Drink?” is from Toby Drews’ “Getting Them Sober” newsletter.
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