Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Alcoholism - The Alcoholic Personality

Alcoholism - The Alcoholic Personality;
It may seem a little strange for this post to be about alcoholism, especially since the focus should be on ourselves. But there are some things that perhaps we should know. The key is to know this information, but not become obsessed with it. And not use it in a rejoinder (engaging/arguments) with the alcoholic.

First Question - Is there an alcoholic personality?
This question asks, are there people with certain personality traits who are more likely to have problems with drinking?

A man by the name of George Vaillant, out of Harvard - who is a psychoanalyst - studied alcoholism over a long period of time (over 40 years). He studied the undergraduates of Harvard and candidates from Boston's inner city. Two different groups. Two different backgrounds of people (wealthy & poor; different family structure; etc.).

Interestingly, both groups showed the same results.

What was assumed at one time - that certain personalities were more likely to become alcoholics - was found to be untrue. It was assumed or thought, that people who were emotionally insecure, depressed, dependent, criminal activities when young, pessimism, etc. - were more likely to become alcoholics.


Vaillant's discovery is that such pronouncements were incorrect. In fact, it was alcoholism that produces traits of depression, dependence, criminality, pessimism, etc. And the recovered alcoholic is no more psychopathic, depressive, pessimistic, or selfish than the rest of us.

Since he or she may have missed two decades of his or her life however, he or she is often less grown up in work, emotional life, and in relationships than other men or women their age.

"As my closest childhood friend told me after recovering from twenty-five years of drug abuse, 'Marty, I'm fifty going on twenty-five.'" (quoted from the book - What You Can Change and What You Can't, by Dr. Martin Seligman). The above information is derived from the same book.

There are not many studies on alcoholism, due to the nature of this disease and the wanting to hide the fact that one is an alcoholic or remain anonymous. I am not judging here (about anonymity) - it is just a factual statement regarding getting good/accurate data on the nature of this problem our society is facing. It is not like cancer or some other disease where doctors and researchers can track the results and progress of patients under various conditions. But Vaillant's work is probably the best as he sampled people from a general population to derive at the results and tracked their progress over time.

More on this and the studies in later posts.

5 comments:

Patrick said...

You wouldn't know you're already alcoholic until you have to be sent to an alcoholism rehab, and this is because you you are enjoying too much drinking. But enjoyment, no matter how it makes you happy, can always be dangerous. Here are some signs to know when you're already in a risky situation.

TraceyBaby said...

My father, a former alcoholic says he has an addictive personality. I have always felt that way about myself. I was afraid to touch a drop of alcohol and do not drink. I didn't want to be mean and nasty like him and I was afraid of this "addictive personality" trait.

I am, however, an overeater and at times a COE...compulsive overeater.

So when I feel like judging my drug addict son, or any addicted person for that matter, I look in the mirror and am reminded....

Anonymous said...

I just finished writing in my journal about what is going on with my alcoholic son and his rapidly deteriorating life. My last comment speculated on his "alcoholic personality" as I'm trying to accept him as he is and support him in his quest for sobriety.

So when I opened the blog to this post about the alcoholic personality, I had to admit to myself that I do have a Higher Power, that my HP reads my mind and gives me just the information I need so often.

It's good to know that the traits I see and worry about so much might be tied to his depression and lack of maturation for the past 10 years. It brings me hope. Thank you for this this morning.

Catherine said...

As one of the slogans says, "there but for the grace of god go I" (actually that slogan goes further back than AlAnon) and I believe it to be true in terms of addiction.

Yesterday I spent time with a sober friend and I asked him what percentage of the people he knew suffered additions. He said 80%. I said 75%

So, uh, I've seen more than a few addicted people and while I agree with the good doctors that there isn't a trait that causes someone to become addicted, there are obviously characteristics that they share once they are addicted.

And you know what? I want to know what those characteristics are. (Yes, Joe, to your point this is not focusing on myself.) Because here's why: addicts pose a threat to me. Seriously! Addicts are my addiction and it's in my best interest to think about that in my relationship and my daily life. I mean, would I hire a babysitter who I thought was an unrecovered addict?

It's also helpful for me to identify these characteristics because then I can separate the addiction from the person. I can say "I recognize that brand of BS -- that's the addiction talking." It helps me to be calm and compassionate toward the addict if I can understand them.

Syd said...

Interesting stuff. I always thought that alcoholics have the same problems as those in Al-Anon--we just do our insanity sober.