David Sklar, PhD, ACSW
Alcoholism and Addiction
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
I would like to present some of my thoughts, while I can still think them, that come out of my forty plus years as a psychotherapist in a variety of settings. My particular knowledge of alcoholism and addiction emerge from my own descent into the cauldron of alcoholism, my 'recovery', and the experience of hundreds of clients I have worked with and befriended over the decades.
Let us start out with two commonly asked questions;
What is alcoholism?
Am I an alcoholic?
The first question is way too general and is usually derived at by some type of questionnaire using quantitative data.
The second question, Am I an alcoholic, I find is better answered by what is occurring internally, subjectively. The best I can do to answer this question for others is to offer some personal observations as my drinking crossed the line between enjoyable, to unavoidable.
Over time I became increasingly tuned into my inner state of being when drinking. Whenever I felt the buzz dropping, I took another shot. The problem is that alcohol is a fast moving train. You are only at the stop you want for a short while. Every drink is futile attempt to get to where you think you want to be, and every shot takes you farther from your desired destination.
Rushing the Buzz.
The effects of alcohol unfold over time. Compare liquor to marijuana. When smoking pot, there is a toke that tells your body that you are high. It is a linear incremental process. Perceptions change and you know you are there. Relax and enjoy the walk down. Alcohol is so different. It takes time to kick in. It is similar to time released medication. The alcoholic, being hyper-attuned to his buzz, feels it dropping and replenishes far before the effects of the last shot have been exhausted. The result of rapid drinking is that the residual liquor mixes with the new liquor, and there comes a point where it explodes geometrically and you are past the point of no return. This is the nature of alcohol.
Developing a Primer
Towards the middle of my drinking career I began to drink before I drank. If I was going out with company I would have a big drink before leaving. Before coming home often the same would occur. I felt, as most alcoholics, a physical discomfort that I would rush to eliminate. There is an inner aspect of panic and desperation that underlies most alcoholic drinking. Once I had a few shots the inner panic subsides and the alcohol begins building internally. This is what a shot and a beer is about.
Ground Hog's Day.
Alcoholics, or most of us I imagine, wake up with the same vow every morning. 'Today will be different. I am not going to get drunk. I will not slur tonight. I will not drink tonight and everything will be O.K.' Throughout the morning I felt confident in my vow. As the day wore on, my confidence waned and I physically weakened. My vow morphed into ' I won't drink that much tonight.' Drink less, don't slur, it's all good. By evening it all shattered. It is hard to explain the desperate, desirous visceral state, as if you are enveloped in a tractor beam, that propels you towards the bottle, that takes place every night. This raging urge is something normal drinkers do not feel and have a hard time understanding. Different day, same outcome. Every day ends up the same. Every day is a defeat. Alcoholic Ground Hog's Day.
Many alcoholics experience blackouts. I know I had them and am blessed that I didn't kill anyone. There were nights I spent watching movies with my children that are lost. I remember waking up and through my questions trying to piece back the night. My oldest son saw me during blackouts in ways that will always evoke my shame, and I don't even know what I did. What happened? What did I do? Who was I? Looking back, it is hard to fathom being in that place that is someplace but no place. Total loss of space and time. Always a disaster. By the way, once the blackouts come, the only way to eliminate them is total removal of alcohol from your life.
Not all alcoholics feel guilt. There are some out there, who through years of drinking are so divorced from any significant relationship that there is nobody in their lives towards who they feel guilty. I believe that most problematic drinkers have those they love, and who love them back. We know, on a level,(not a deep enough level) that our drinking hurts them.
Our children, who we love the most, suffer the most from our drinking.They hear slurring, see us tottering, notice us eyes glazed over. Try as we may to shield ourselves from our failure, is hard to do that all the time. Alcoholics are living disappointments. Most of us know it and actually feel real bad about it. Now, of course, the only way to deal with this searing sense of shame is to drink more. This leads to more failure, guilt, and need to drink more. The Alcoholics Greata Mandala.