Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
My dad is an alcoholic, sober for 23 years now. His sister was also an alcoholic, still drinking; I realize that it is something that runs in the family.
I can’t say that I have a drinking problem, but I do know that if I am not careful, I will start drinking too much. So I am very careful and don’t let it become a habit, I don’t drink alone, nor do I binge drink on the times I indulge socially.
I think that my consciousness about the problem in my family makes me aware enough that I can control myself.
However, I have a brother who is definitely on his way to becoming a problem drinker. His daily cocktail hour starts at dinner and continues through the evening. His wife says he never gets “drunk” per say. But the cautious voice in me senses a potential problem.
Anyway, here’s my question- how come people from the same family, who have similar dispositions and probably similar genetics, can react so differently to alcohol?
My dad can’t touch it; my brother probably shouldn’t but is a functioning drinker; I’m moderate as hell. It raises the question-
is alcoholism really a “disease” that runs in families? Is it inevitable and uncontrollable to anyone who has the wrong body chemistry?
Or is it something that we each either chose to control…or not?
Despite popular culture’s belief, alcoholism is not a disease. It is a complex of genetic predispositions wherein alcohol becomes the obvious solution.
You can’t catch alcoholism from people although substance abusers do like to initiate others into their addictions. Unlike a disease that enters into your body without permission substances have to be introduced into your system by your own behavior. You are always choosing to use when you use; or choosing not to, when you don’t.
You are being vigilant, consciously taking responsibility for your choices. The rest of your family is taking the route of least resistance. However, you should realize- addiction doesn’t always take an obvious form.
In every alcoholic family there is at least one designated driver, the one who carries the responsibility for all the others. Genetically, the designated driver is not any different but their particular addiction is that of obsessive guilt and hyper responsibility. One can be addicted to dysfunctional people or dysfunctional love as much as to a drug. Destructive habits such as cutting, gambling, sex addiction or anorexia are all interchangeable shortcuts as well.
The silly thing about addiction treatment in our country is the prevalent use of medications to treat addictions. Sure, they might work if you stay on them forever- but that isn’t success- it does not change the big picture. One substance is simply substituted for another. All the behaviors that predispose a person to addictions (a shortcut mentality, black&white thinking, heightened sensitivity to emotions, the misconstruing of other’s intent) continue to operate. The twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous deals with the bigger picture but, ironically, many people don’t work the steps if they are taking a medical prescription because they think they are cured.
In reality, constant vigilance is the only way to control addiction. You need to address and develop the skills necessary to counteract your genetics tendencies.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I think that a great metaphor for addiction is the legend of the Vampire- he can only come into your house if you invite him in. Once he has been invited, you can’t keep him out.
Every addiction is a permission given by the person who has it. Everyone has their own reason, their own special explanation as to why it is OK, or how it works to keep them going. And they are right- when you are unbalanced, drugs and addictive behavior can help create an artificial balance that you can live with. The problem comes with the consequences…most addictive behaviors are eventually destructive on either, or all of, these levels- physical, emotional, spiritual, economic and social. The price they ask is too high. The balance is not sustainable.
If addiction occurred for intellectual reasons, an understanding of consequences would be enough to stop any potential addict. However, addiction does not come from our minds, or even our emotions. It comes from a black hole inside that is always aching, empty and hungry. It is like an element that rages unbidden. It is not a rational thing.
It is, and always will be, only a firm decision and commitment to change will ever precipitate the control of addictive behavior. We make bad decisions every day, telling ourselves we will do the right thing tomorrow. But as any food addict can tell you, by the time tomorrow comes, years can have gone by and we don’t just have five pounds to deal with- we have a hundred and fifty.
It’s always easiest to catch an addiction early. If you catch it after it is firmly entrenched, be prepared to have a long battle on your hands. The tentacles reach deep.