An “Addictive Personality”- The Alcoholic’s Convenient Myth

Dentist

People addicted to alcohol drink compulsively and often claim to have an addictive personality. It is a convenient myth.

I heard of a dentist who approached his dental work with compulsive attention to detail. His crowns had to fit perfectly. He was fanatical about bite adjustment and his workspace cleanliness was impeccable—all things I like to see in a dentist, because I do not like pain… or recalls.

Unfortunately, when his compulsive cleanliness extended to his front office and the waiting room, he could not keep his staff. His marriages didn’t last, because he imposed his compulsive orderliness on his family.

Compulsively doing things is a way of handling underlying fear. In other words, a compulsion is a fear-based urge. It is an ego defense mechanism just like rationalization and denial. We all have some degree of compulsive tendencies.

At one end of the continuum are compulsions that are innocuous, or even, on the surface, positive. For example, punctuality is generally a good habit. However, if being a minute late for any appointment makes you anxious, being on time is probably a compulsion for you.

At the other end of the continuum is the person with the psychiatric condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Recall the Jack Nicholson movie, “As Good As It Gets.” A very small percentage of people ever qualify for that diagnosis.

The Chandler dentist I mentioned above illustrates how compulsive tendencies can be both beneficial and harmful. Joining a gym, signing up as a volunteer, starting a book club, gardening or even DIY teeth whitening could be examples of positive alternatives. However, he would not come even close to meeting the criteria for OCD.

Compulsive behavior can take many forms: compulsive drinking, TV watching, coffee drinking, chocolate eating, working, exercise, gardening or sex. Some of these compulsions are reframed as addictions, making the person an alcohol addict (alcoholic), chocolate addict (chocoholic), work addict (workaholic) or sex addict (sexaholic).

Alcoholism is compulsive seeking and consuming alcohol. If the functioning alcoholic stops drinking, the compulsion often shifts to something else. The stories of the amount of coffee consumed at AA meetings are legend. That and other observations about compulsive drinkers have led to the term “Addictive Personality.” Functioning alcoholics now add “addictive personality” to their litany of excuses for continuing to abuse alcohol.

In fact, unless your compulsion happens to be drinking, no one would think you had an addictive personality. Since the use of the term, “addictive personality,” is dependent on the object of the compulsion, not on the process, it explains nothing.

However, since you can shift compulsiveness from one object to another, like from alcohol to coffee, and can harness it for beneficial purposes such as dentistry, why couldn’t you redirect the power of the compulsion to drink?

The compulsion to drink might be harnessed, for example, to pursue compulsively a new hobby or new business. If you could harness the compulsiveness of alcoholism for volunteer work, for example, think of what good could come as you phased out the addiction.

Could a harmful compulsion be redirected to self-improvement? I have seen it happen.

The shift from a bad compulsion to a better one, of course, is not an end in itself. However, it could be an important step in leaving a bad compulsion in the past, doing something positive, and in ultimately achieving a more balanced life.

Alcoholic Neuropathy: Signs and Symptoms

A reader left a question on the article “Can you become Allergic to Alcohol?” Her question was

What is alcoholic neuropathy? Have heard the term and interested in understanding.

She went on to add the comment,

It is just amazing when you read the comments from other people, and it is like they are just describing the events of your own life.

Alcoholic Neuropathy: Symptoms

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How Much Alcohol Is Too Much? The Facts Might Surprise You

Women drinking wineJackie asked me how many drinks could her husband have in a day before she should worry. She says he drinks three or four beers in the evening on work nights and a lot more on weekends when he doesn’t have to go to work the next day. She thinks he may be a functioning alcoholic.

Kevin worries that his wife’s three or four glasses of wine in the evening could be the beginning of alcoholism. Alcoholism runs in her family.

Both Jackie and Kevin were quite surprised to find their partners’ consumption was well above what are considered low-risk drinking levels…

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The Functioning Alcoholic and Achievement: Part Two

Failure

Part Two of The Functioning Alcoholic

In The Functioning Alcoholic: Gaps in Functioning I argued that doing one’s job is not one’s only function in life. For the alcoholic to consider himself to be “functioning” he has to function in various areas of life, not just on the job.  In part two of this series, I will talk about the functioning alcoholic and achievement.

Abandoned Dreams and Under-achievement

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The Functioning Alcoholic: Gaps in Functioning?

Bar

As drinking and driving becomes less tolerated, many communities have volunteer programs, as well as paid services, to get people home safely if they’ve been drinking and shouldn’t drive. Their existence is a reminder that parties, family gatherings, weddings and other celebrations push up alcohol consumption.

A few of all the people celebrating will already be full-blown alcoholics: they may drink a bit more than their normal level, but generally will blend in with everyone else. After all, they hold jobs, serve on volunteer committees, have families and have friends. These are the so-called “functioning alcoholics.”

So what’s wrong with being an alcoholic if you can function normally?  This  is the first of three articles on the issue.

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