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Spoiler alert: disappointment awaits if you’re expecting a manual on “how to reason with an alcoholic.” Indeed, “reasoning with an alcoholic” is effectively a contradiction in terms, as people with alcohol use disorder become all but incapable of listening to reason even when sober.
Alcoholism and Mental Health
Everyone knows what’s meant by “under the influence of alcohol,” but there’s considerably less publicity regarding “under the influence of alcoholism.” And the latter is the greater danger, since it doesn’t wear off when the latest drink does.
Anyone afflicted by alcohol use disorder is already suffering the “insanity” of chronic brain dysfunction:
- Repeated drinking becomes a habit, training the brain to see alcohol intake as “normal”—and to trigger discomfort if that intake ceases.
- Alcohol is physically addictive when regularly consumed to excess: not drinking for longer-than-normal periods means withdrawal symptoms, which make it even more difficult to think reasonably.
- Excessive alcohol consumption is directly damaging to the brain, further impairing reasoning abilities.
How an Alcoholic Thinks and Reasons
Combine all the above with the frustration of other problems caused or abetted by drunkenness, and it’s not surprising that symptoms of alcohol use disorder include short-tempered defensiveness and stubborn “reasoning away” of any advice to quit. Alcoholic thinking always has an explanation for why the problem doesn’t really exist or isn’t the drinker’s fault:
- “I wouldn’t do it if you didn’t stress me out with your nagging. You’re the one who’s driving me to drink.”
- “I work hard all day. I’ve got a right to unwind and enjoy myself.” (Even if the “enjoyment” routinely culminates in screaming and smashing things.)
- “I’m not addicted. I can quit any time I want to.” (Even if they’re already “quitting” every morning and drinking again by suppertime.)
- And the classic “poor me” excuse: “No one appreciates or understands me, so I don’t owe anyone anything and I’ll do whatever I want.”
Trying to reason with someone who’s under the influence of alcoholic thinking can almost drive you to drink. Spouses and partners of alcoholics typically do develop irrational-thinking problems of their own. Often, they start believing the “alcoholic reasoning” excuses themselves, and taking personal blame for everything. In nearly every case, they practice the insanity of doing the same thing over and over—nagging, pleading, cleaning up, covering up—while expecting different results this time.
None of which is to say that an alcoholic’s loved ones are powerless to influence him or her—only that “reasoning” is the wrong approach to take. There are ways to make the “alcoholic comfort zone” less comfortable without being drawn into fruitless arguments.
- First, understand this isn’t just a matter of the other party’s being too “stubborn” to quit drinking: they really aren’t capable of understanding the extent of their problem, or of resisting temptation by sheer willpower. Plus, to “just stop” alcoholic drinking is not only difficult at best: without a doctor’s supervision, it’s also unwise and dangerous.
- Make up your mind to stop “enabling” the drinking by protecting your loved one from its consequences. Rather than nagging about “the mess you made last night” (which you’ve already cleaned up), leave the mess to speak for itself.
- Find professional counseling and peer support for yourself.
- If domestic abuse is a factor, find another place to stay (with any children in your household) until the problem is resolved (and not just to the point of “it won’t happen again” promises).
- If you really want to confront the drinker, consult a professional intervention specialist for advice on doing it the right way: in a group, without undue emotion, and armed with evidence that even the alcoholic version of reasoning will find difficult to counter.
- Once your loved one does agree to get help, be prepared to put in your share of work for the long haul. No reputable treatment center will limit its recommendations to “fixing” the party with the addiction: expect whole-family counseling and some major changes for everyone. Tackling the problem as a team is the only reasonable route to long-term sobriety.
Help and Hope for Alcohol Addiction
Situated in sunny southern California, Hope by the Sea treats alcoholism as well as other addiction and mental health issues. If you or a loved one need help, we provide medically supervised detoxification, plus individual-focused counseling to help clients get started on long-term recovery and a healthy future.
Please contact us today to learn more about our programs and services. Hope Starts Here!