Why does your alcoholic partner’s mind make no sense?
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Alcoholism is a disease and we alcoholics use the expression “dis-ease” to describe our malady. What this means is that we live inside our head with a profound sense of discomfort and mental anguish. At times, we have a sinking feeling that something is either wrong, off or missing in our lives. We are full of self-doubt and tend to have a profoundly different mental process from normal drinkers. It’s comparable to being at a party where you are panicked that no one will talk to you.
There is no difference between alcoholism and addiction
To clarify, for me, there’s no difference between alcoholism and addiction. They are, unfortunately, exactly the same “torturous” experience. For example, the stress and anxiety that triggers a sex addict to sexually act out is the identical process that leads the alcoholic to binge drink. Constant internal rumination leads ALL compulsive behaviors towards self-medication.
Sadly, it just depends on which flavor of addiction you’ve acquired. There is no difference. It’s the same for drug abuse, the same for video games and yes; exactly the same obsessive thinking (or avoidance) that leads to over-eating. In this article, I will discuss all of them inter-changeably. When I say the word “alcoholic” you should understand I mean, “addict” and vice versa.
This thinking might offer you some clearer insight into another term–“self medicating.” We alcoholics attempt to block, drown, or simply remove these intolerable mental thoughts. For an addict, self-medicating is not a choice; it’s a reflex.
How an alcoholic’s brain works
Many alcoholics have an over-active brain. We constantly re-think the past (cringing at our actions) and obsess about the future (certain that catastrophe waits around every corner). We can’t shut off these ruminations. It’s a draining process in which our mind constantly runs through new scenarios on how to avoid personal failures, disappointments or people getting angry with us. It’s exhausting! This is why many alcoholics are huge procrastinators. We talk ourselves out of taking actions because many decisions lead to (imaginary) disasters.
Here’s one more analogy that might help. We call this obsessive process–“future tripping” or my personal favorite–“the hamster wheel brain”. While normal people sleep, the “hamster brain” goes ‘round and ‘round the damn “wheel” throughout the night. For alcoholics-we can’t shut it off. We keep playing through future scenarios comparable to a stupid video game that’s impossible to win. Around each corner is a monster. In reality, it could drive a person (or a hamster) insane.
How fear dominates an alcoholic’s mental process
Fear plays a huge role in the brains of alcoholics because we tend to focus or obsess about what can and will go wrong. Of course, this is crazy thinking because no one, no matter how smart, can actually predict the future. Even if outcomes are “bad news” they never are exactly what we predicted. I love the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real (F,E,A,R). It certainly captures this distorted mental process which is much more common in alcoholics than normal drinkers.
There you have it; the distorted thought process of an alcoholic. It’s not pretty—but it does explain why we feel so different. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to visit my website or contact me at: addictioncouplestherapy.com
Goodbye for now.
Max Yusim, LCSW
Addiction and Couples Therapy expert