Many therapeutic interventions to help people stop or cut down their drinking focus on behavioural issues, such as setting clear goals around drinking, finding replacement behaviours to drinking and focusing on a future without drinking. Whilst all this is very helpful, I also think it’s important to ask the question, ‘Why am I addicted to alcohol?’. Because if you don’t ask this question – and work through getting to an honest answer – you’re going to still have the same underlying drives which caused you to drink to excess in the first place. No matter how good your strategies to stop or cut down your alcohol consumption are.
The simple answer is, alcohol is an addictive substance. And, of course, this is true. Alcohol tricks the brain, leaves the body craving and fools the mind into wanting more and more. Anyone can, in theory, become addicted to alcohol. But not everyone does. So what else is going on in terms of addiction?
When I first went for therapy, I didn’t specifically go about my drinking and, in fact, I was in denial about the level I was drinking and the impact it was having on me. I went about my anxiety, the fact that I was holding myself back in life and my poor coping mechanisms. What emerged from my wonderful life coaching and counselling sessions was that…I didn’t really like myself, and I didn’t know how to cope with life. Drinking allowed me to be more sociable, to keep going when I felt like dropping and to hide the pain and hurt I felt around certain people and situations instead of being able to assert my needs.
Why was I addicted to alcohol? Certainly there was the physical addiction – when you’re hung over, groggy, fatigued, aching muscles and everything else that accompanies drinking, the one thing you want more than anything else is a drink to (temporarily) sort you out. But I was addicted to it as a coping mechanism. I was psychologically addicted as it quickly and effectively solved my problems for a few hours.
With my life coaching clients, I spend some time looking at why they became addicted in the first place and why they continue to be addicted and I make sure we move away from simply focusing on alcohol as an addictive substance. Addiction of all kinds, including alcohol, is strongly associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) (see here https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/ace-questionnaire for ACE questionnaire). Having a higher ACE score is clearly linked with higher incidences of alcoholism. If you experienced adverse effects in your childhood, you are significantly more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol later in life.
So what to do with that knowledge? The past is past…Except that it’s not really – not if its still informing how you act in the present. Not if your coping mechanisms and choices are guided by things which happened in your childhood. By examining what happened in your past, you are able to make the links, to discover that you’re not a bad or weak person, and to realise that your actions today have been influenced by what happened to you much earlier in life. It doesn’t mean you’re apportioning blame or saying, ‘’Well, I had a crap childhood – no wonder I drink these days!”. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about taking control, identifying the factors which contributed to your drinking addiction, working through any issues which may have started in your past and which continue to drive your drinking.