The Alcoholic’s Delusion

problem drinker vs alcoholic

The Alcoholic’s Delusion

In the book Alcoholics Anonymous there’s a passage from the chapter More About Alcoholism about the alcoholic’s delusion:

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.

We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

There are healthcare experts who say some types of alcoholics can drink again, but it has to be determined if the studies on which this claim is based used problem drinkers in their studies or alcoholics. Plus, we have to look at so many factors in a study like this, it’s almost impossible to determine facts. Self-reporting is suspect, so if you go by whether the person studied is not drinking like he once drank and is not having the problems he once had, you also have to look at what happened to the person during the period of abstinence. If there was a period of abstinence in which the person studied improved his life, then when he started drinking again his life might not have fallen apart again in a short period of time. It takes awhile sometimes to tear down what’s been built. The person could be using all his will power to hold it together, and wants so badly to prove he can drink he ignores how miserable this effort has become and that it’s likely a matter of time before he loses all control again. Social drinkers don’t have to exercise all their will power to “control” their drinking — the social drinker can take or leave alcohol — alcohol is not that important to the social drinker. It’s just very difficult to get real information in situations like this when the study is not controlled and there’s no way to know what’s really going on with the person studied.

Having dealt with alcoholics for 18 years, I see people stay sober for years, then drink, then have serious problems as a result of the return to drinking alcohol. No one has yet come up to me and told me about their successful return to drinking, if the person was, indeed, an alcoholic. Many have tried, but I see them returning to treatment befuddled as to why they thought they could drink again after what happened before. Drinkers who have no history of alcohol problems, then start drinking heavy after a divorce because they don’t know how to deal with the painful emotions, will likely adjust their drinking later on after the pain subsides, but these drinkers aren’t alcoholics, never had the signs of symptoms of alcoholism, so, yes, they can most likely drink successfully later on — but let’s not mix temporary problem drinkers with alcoholics — it’s dangerous to fuel the alcoholic’s delusion.