Alcoholism is a very selfish disease. The alcoholic would appear to care only about themselves and getting their next drink so that they stay medicated. It appears like they do not care about anything in the world expect for their own selfish desires.
Is this really true? And is there anything that you can do in regards to a selfish alcoholic in order to get through to them?
Let’s take a closer look.
The trap of the selfish alcoholic
I know what it is like to be a selfish alcoholic, as I have definitely been in that position myself.
The feeling is one of being completely trapped. Yes, it is selfish to drink every day in order to medicate your feelings. Yes, it is selfish to put your drinking as a priority over everything and everyone else. And there is really no excuse for it. Just because the alcoholic may have a reason to self medicate does not make it responsible for them to do so.
So in reality, yes, the alcoholic is being selfish. But they can’t help it. Does that matter? Not really. But at least it explains a bit of why they are being selfish. It doesn’t make it OK, but at least I understand the trap that they are in (as I have been there myself). The alcoholic feels like they cannot face another minute sober. They are running away from something when they drink. They are running away from themselves.
When my friends and family pointed out to me that my drinking was very selfish and that it was hurting others, my logic was that I should just kill myself if I was causing so much pain. See how the trap works? The alcoholic does not want to listen to reason, they do not want to pull themselves out of it and do the right thing and become sober and learn to live a better life. It is so much easier to stay stuck in their misery. And to be honest I did not really believe that sobriety would work out for me at all. This is part of being trapped! When friends and family suggested that I go to rehab, I did not think that the idea really applied to me. I could go through the motions for them but I did not really believe that it would change anything. I was doomed to drink forever until it killed me, or so I thought. How could rehab possibly help me? I really did not believe in a solution. I was trapped.
So even though the alcoholic is acting very selfishly, it is not necessarily what you might think of as an “evil” selfishness. The alcoholic is stuck. They are trapped. They don’t know how to live without drinking every day. And they are afraid. They are afraid to face sobriety, to give it a fair chance. It is terrifying to them. This is why they may feel threatened if you are trying to force them to go to rehab. Depending on the person they will probably not even admit to themselves that it is fear holding them back. But make no mistake, an alcoholic stays drunk due to fear of sobriety. If they were not afraid then they would embrace the change that is recovery. They will not make a decision to change until their misery finally becomes greater than their fear. They must overcome their fear in order to get help.
Being in denial and not seeing the solution that is right in front of their face
Before the alcoholic will get to the point of surrender, they will be in denial. This is how addiction works.
It starts out slowly. You try your drug of choice and you really like it. So you start using it more and more. As consequences develop, the alcoholic has to have a way to rationalize and justify their drinking. So they create a story that they tell themselves. They create reasons that they drink. They tell themselves something each day when they make the decision to get drunk again.
This narrative that they tell themselves is their denial. It might be something very simple, only a sentence or two. It might be something like “if you had my problems, you would drink too.” It may be something like “I work hard so I deserve to drink as much as I want.”
Every alcoholic has a thought going through their mind during that moment of rationalization. They wake up, they are sober, and they know that if they take that first drink they are going on another wild ride. And as they go to the store to buy the booze, they have to tell themselves something. They have to somehow make it OK in their own mind. This is their denial at work. What are they telling themselves that makes it OK to get wasted every day?
In the end, the specific justification or rationalization does not matter much. Who cares what their reason is? They are getting drunk regardless. They are doing so while in denial.
The family and friends of an alcoholic can tell that they have a problem. It is obvious to the outside world what needs to be done. The solution is plain as day to the person on the outside looking in, they need to stop drinking entirely! Just quit. This is obvious. Alcohol is the root of all your problems!
The alcoholic is stuck. They cannot see this logic. Because they are in denial, they cling to the idea that alcohol is not really the source of their problems, it is just sort of on the side. Because they have an answer for everything. They did not really lose that job due to drinking, they were fired because they showed up late three times and yet their coworker was late every day and they did not fire them, the boss just had it in for me! The alcoholic cannot bring themselves to see that their drinking is the CAUSE of all of their problems. They refuse to see this logic. Instead, they come up with all sorts of excuses and they point the finger of blame at everyone and everything else in the world. And they proclaim alcohol to be innocent.
This is denial. It is a huge trap. It is easy to see what it is like. I will tell you how to do it:
Drink a huge amount of alcohol every single day and let your life fall apart as a result. Keep drinking and then make excuses for everything. Place blame on others as often as you can rather than to own the responsibility yourself. Lay off the sauce a bit and then use that as justification that it is not alcohol’s fault. Keep drinking every day and justify your drinking in your own mind. Everyone has it in for you and the world is out to get you, so if other people had to deal with your problems they would drink too!
That is what the mind of denial is like. That mind cannot bring itself to realize that alcohol is the problem. It is constantly seeking another way to explain why life is so messed up, while sparing alcohol as not being the main culprit.
Here is how denial works: The alcoholic tells themselves “OK, let’s explain why things are so messed up, as long as we do not blame alcohol for the problem.” Then they argue and try to figure out why their life is so chaotic and miserable so long as they do not even think of blaming alcohol for any of it. The alcoholic does not really do this because they are selfish, they do this because they are afraid. They cannot bare the thought of walking away from alcohol forever.
The solution is obvious to the outside world; the alcoholic must give up alcohol. They need to stop drinking. But the alcoholic is terrified of this solution. So they will do nearly anything to avoid it.
What the average person tries to do to help the alcoholic, and why it never works
So what can you say to an alcoholic who is out of control? Most people try to convince them to change their ways, to stop drinking, to go get help.
This doesn’t work because denial is far too strong. The alcoholic has an answer for everything, and they are arguing from a position of fear. They don’t want to go to rehab because they are terrified of sobriety.
The friends and family of the alcoholic are almost helpless. They feel trapped just like the alcoholic. So they go to the alcoholic and try to reason with them. They make a plea to the alcoholic to go get professional help. They try to convince the alcoholic that they would be happier if they would just stop drinking. They use logic to try to persuade the person.
And of course it never really works. Denial is too powerful.
So what can be done?
What you need to do instead in order to really help the alcoholic to come to the point of surrender
The alcoholic is in denial. They do not want to consider the possibility that alcohol is the root of all their problems, and that total abstinence is the answer.
In order to reach that conclusion the alcoholic must reach a point of total surrender. They are struggling for control and they must give up this struggle entirely.
They must break through their denial.
The question is: “How can you help them to do this?”
You cannot do it directly. This is what people often do to make the mistake, they try to convince the alcoholic directly to go to rehab and get help. They try to use logic to force the issue. They try to persuade the alcoholic to just move past all their fears and take action.
The direct path is not going to work. You are free to try it if you like though, simply be direct and tell the alcoholic that you think they need serious help and that they should go to rehab and stop drinking. Be direct. Ask them to take action. If they do it, great!
Chances are good that the direct approach will not work. Denial is too powerful. The alcoholic is not going to be receptive to this brand of logic. They have an answer for everything.
What you need to do instead is to communicate indirectly with the alcoholic. This takes more patience, and it is not nearly as direct, but it actually has a chance at working.
What you want to do in the long run is to force the alcoholic to look at themselves. To really consider their own life and their own consequences. In order to force them to do this you need to behave in certain ways around them.
There are things that you can do in order to improve your relationship with an alcoholic or struggling drug addict. Perhaps the best thing that you can do is to go to an Al-anon meeting. If you do that then you can learn what the best course of action is so that you start moving the alcoholic closer to surrender. Remember that this is an indirect approach. You can’t just force them or ask them to stop drinking, as we have tried that and it doesn’t work. Denial is too strong. So we must trick the alcoholic into confronting their denial directly. We must force the alcoholic to take an honest look at themselves.
This also works better in greater numbers. The alcoholic probably has more than one person who influences their lives. They may have several different relationships with friends and family members. So what has to happen is that everyone involved has to “be on the same page.” They all need to use the same healthy approach in dealing with the alcoholic and indirectly manipulating them to move them closer to surrender.
So how do you do that? How do you move the alcoholic closer to surrender?
First, you set boundaries.
Then you must communicate them to the alcoholic.
Communicating your boundaries clearly
The alcoholic has to know what your boundaries are if they are going to move the person closer to surrender.
So what you must do is to decide, in advance, what you will and will not tolerate when dealing with the alcoholic in your life. You may want to ask for help from other people when you are deciding this information (this is why going to Al-anon can be so helpful).
For example, you might decide that you are no longer willing to help the alcoholic by taking them to go get food and groceries. That might sound “mean” but it may actually be the healthiest thing you can do for the alcoholic. Cut them off. They are relying on you for this help but in the end you are indirectly supporting their drinking habit.
At first you might not believe this, because maybe they really just buy food and they don’t actually buy any booze when you take them to the store. But what you have to realize is that you may still be enabling the person. Even going over to them and talking with them might be enabling them. “How?” you ask. Because if you withdrew your support then they would be alone, and they would be forced to confront themselves.
This is the essence of the approach. You must tell the alcoholic that you will help them get sober, you will help them get to rehab, you will help them when they decide that they want to go get professional help. And that you will help them with nothing else at all. Ever. So in effect you abandon them. You throw them a lifeline, which is to tell them that you will do anything and everything that you can once they make the decision to go to rehab. But until that moment comes you are done with them. You will distance yourself. You will not sit and talk with them, or take them to the store, or even really associate with them in any way (beyond what is necessary).
Now you might say “well if I do this, then that will isolate the alcoholic further, and this will cause them to drink more.” Yes, that is possible. And that might be the solution. Maybe they need to be alone. Maybe they need to have everyone walk away from them, so they can get smashed one more time and realize that only misery leads down that path. This is essentially what happened to me at my moment of surrender–I was completely alone and thought that I would be happy because I could finally drink in peace. But being isolated only depressed me further and I had that sudden moment of clarity where I realized that I would never truly be happy through drinking. In order to reach my point of surrender, everyone had to leave me. I had to be alone. I had to face myself and realize that I was my own problem.
I couldn’t do that when I had people around me every day. I couldn’t reach that conclusion when I was fighting with my girlfriend every night, for example. Because that was a massive distraction from myself that allowed me to justify more drinking. When I was interacting with other people (like my girlfriend, or arguing with my family about why I had to keep drinking alcohol) then this allowed me to take the focus off of myself. There is no way you are going to surrender and break through your denial when you are throwing more logs on the fire. When you argue and fight with other people about your drinking you are really just throwing more logs on the fire. It allows the alcoholic to distract themselves from having to get honest with themselves about how miserable they are.
Instead, everyone in the life of the alcoholic should tell them what their boundaries are. Here is what we will do to help you, and this is why we are withdrawing support from you. Tell us when you want to go to rehab. Otherwise, you are going to be forced to go your own way, drink your alcohol, and sit with your own self and suffer the consequences of your choices. It is only after the alcoholic faces themselves that they can come to the decision that they want to change their life.
The alcoholic is definitely being selfish, there is no doubt about it. But I think it is important to realize that they are not drinking because they are selfish, but instead they are selfish because they are addicted to alcohol. This does not justify the problem though, nor does it “let them off the hook” in any way. All it does is to explain what is driving the selfish behavior.
If you have an alcoholic in your (or even a dry drunk who needs to get back into recovery) then your job is to behave in such a way that it can indirectly move them closer to surrender. You can do this by setting healthy boundaries and then communicating those to the alcoholic.
What about you….is there an alcoholic in your life that is out of control? What have you done to convince the alcoholic to change? Has anything worked for you in this regard so far? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!