People Become Alcoholics for a Reason
And it isn’t because they are ill.
Posted March 29, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
- Use of alcohol can be precipitated by events such as life-changing injury.
- A skilled mental health practitioner can help.
- But to get help, the individual must desire to seek it.
They had been happily married for 40 years until the accident. After satisfying careers – Marilyn as a dental nurse and Ray as a fireman – and bringing up three children, they were enjoying their retirement. Both did voluntary work, Marilyn in a charity shop and Ray as a mentor at the local secondary school. They didn’t have a lot of money but enjoyed long rambles in the countryside, as part of a local group, liked to socialise, and relished spending time at their allotment.
Then, four years ago, Ray had an accident in which his right foot was badly crushed, preventing him from being able to stand for long, and certainly not able to go on the walks that they had so enjoyed. Soon afterwards, he gave up the mentoring, because he found it a struggle to get around the school.
“They would have come to some accommodation if he had asked, as they really valued his contribution,” Marilyn said, when explaining the situation in our therapy session, “but he was adamant. And he gave up on the allotment as well, even though I wanted to take a folding chair with us so that he could do his bit sitting down. No, he wouldn’t have it.
“We had always enjoyed a drink socially, but that was when it began to get out of hand.”
A Foot Injury Led to Alcohol Consumption
Now he very commonly started on spirits at 9am, hiding bottles and glasses, and denying it – although it was clear to Marilyn that he was drinking. He refused to accept that he had an alcohol problem or to seek help. He insisted, to his children’s fury, that the only thing the matter with him was the foot injury: it had ruined his life.
He blamed Marilyn for telling lies against him – even though he had gashed his hand seriously enough while drunk to need stitches and had pranged the car, leading to being breathalysed and disqualified from driving for a year.
The children couldn’t help much, as they all lived abroad. So, desperate for support herself, Marilyn had consulted an addiction counsellor, who told her that alcoholism was genetic – she had since remembered that Ray’s father had gone to the pub every evening. She also joined a family support group, which took the firm view that alcoholism was a disease. When she said that she could take no more, the horrified group leader said, ‘But he is ill! You wouldn’t leave him if he had heart disease or MS, would you?’
Marilyn was dreadfully confused and miserable and had started having panic attacks, which is why she had now come to see me. I showed her a breathing technique to control the attacks and also ways to detach herself from the constant worrying , to give herself some mental space. I also explained that, from a human givens perspective, it seemed evident that Ray’s problems with addiction had started because important needs were no longer being met in his life. 1
As someone who had always been active and practical, he felt control had been taken away from him; he had lost the connection that came from the much-enjoyed group activity of walking in nature. And his sense of status and meaning and purpose had been eroded when he relinquished his mentoring role and gave up the allotment.
Locked in tunnel vision and unable to consider his circumstances from a wider perspective, he stopped everything he had previously enjoyed rather than find ways to adapt, so that he could continue. ‘Nothing is worth it anymore,’ he kept telling Marilyn.
Needing Help From a Mental Health Professional
If Ray could have been persuaded to seek help then from a mental health practitioner , for what was clearly depression, all might have ended very differently. Even if someone has already turned to drink, our methods of working with addiction are powerful, if a client is open to help.
‘But perhaps it is genetic – it runs in his family,’ said Marilyn. Gentle questioning revealed that Ray’s father’s drinking took the form of a half of bitter in the pub on weeknights, enjoyed on the way home from his job as a factory foreman as his bit of ‘downtime’ before he eased back into the demands of family life.
Marilyn was thoughtful as she left our session. She contacted me a few weeks later to say that she had decided it was time to think about her own dangerously compromised emotional needs and her own mental health. Scary and sad as it was for her, after all those years together, if Ray continued to refuse to accept help, she was going to file for divorce.
Facebook image: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstok
1. Griffin, J and Tyrrell, I (2005). Freedom from addiction: the secret behind successful addiction busting. HG Publishing.