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Emotional Causes of Alcohol Abuse

Emotions & Alcohol Abuse

After years of defending people charged with drunk-driving, I have seen human suffering embedded in hearts and souls that make many people feel overwhelmed, ashamed, alone, and depressed. I have counseled clients weighed down by problems with complex and deeply embedded layers that are seemingly impenetrable. I see people who feel like nobody could possibly understand their pain – people who feel ashamed, embarrassed, depressed, alone, and unworthy.

I have represented and counseled rape victims, victims of childhood abuse, adults who grew up with abusive parents, adults in abusive or poorly rooted marriages, adults who inexplicably lost parents or loved ones, and adults who had a parent or loved one abandon them. Their depression, bitterness, anxiety, and low self-esteem are real and intense. That human suffering – the desire to get out of pain, is at the root of the alcohol abuse.

Chris Prentiss, the founder of “Passages”, a premier addiction treatment center, says that “[a]lcohol and drugs are not the problems; they are what people are using to help themselves cope with the problems.”  (“The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure”, Chris Prentiss).

According to Prentiss, “[a]lcohol is just a quick and easy way to change ordinary, everyday reality from unbearable to bearable. All it takes is a short trip to the liquor store and a few drinks. People who are dependent are merely using alcohol as a crutch to get through the day. Yet doctors and scientists are still treating “alcoholism” as if it is the problem when it has nothing at all to do with the problem. They might as well be studying “scratchism” for people who have a chronic itch.” (“The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure”, Chris Prentiss).

According to Dr. Keith Ablow, all addictions have a “common denominator … addicts are turning away from underlying emotional pain, always rooted in their life stories.” (New York Post, August 19, 2008).

According to Dr. Ablow, “[a]ll too often … attempts to cure addictions neglect to acknowledge their psychological cause – the why that explains a person’s determination to use one thing or another to try to run from unconscious conflicts, grief or low self-esteem. And without getting to the why, cures remain elusive.” (New York Post, August 19, 2008).

First, “[a]ddiction to anything – food or alcohol or an illicit drug or sex – is a symptom of an underlying psychological problem, not the whole of the problem. Insist on treatment that addresses the motivation for your behavior, not just the behavior itself.”

Second, “[t]he emotional fuel for addictions is more easily discovered than most people believe. You don’t have to spend years in therapy to find the psychological key that unlocks real healing. But you do have to make that exploration a priority.”

Third, “[a]ddiction often masks underlying major depression or an anxiety disorder or attention-deficit disorder. Treating those conditions can have a very significant impact on your long-term well-being.”

In the book “Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism”, former Senator George McGovern talks candidly and heart-wrenchingly about his daughter’s struggle with alcoholism. His daughter, Terry, died at age 31 when she froze to death after she passed out drunk, outside of a bar.

The book is very moving. One thing that was telling for me as I read the book was that Terry McGovern’s alcoholism morphed. Her abuse of and reliance on alcohol caused her more problems and pain. That pain caused her to turn to alcohol to numb the pain – the pain caused by her alcohol abuse. It was a proverbial “vicious cycle.”  I see this often with clients who are suffering from depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, these clients who are already in pain have added worry and depression after getting charged with a DWI.

I do not have all of the answers to this complex human issue. I do know, however, that human suffering is the root cause of many DWI offenses. People who judge DWI defendants harshly and see only the offense are myopic in their thinking. Many DWI defendants are merely people who have deeply-embedded pain that they are trying to medicate.