the psychoanalytic view of alcoholism
Lance M. Dodes, M.D.
working intensively with people suffering with alcoholism,
psychoanalysts have learned about many psychological factors that
contribute to compulsive drinking. Some people use drinking as a way to
"treat" or lessen feelings that seem overwhelming at the time, such as
sadness, anger or shame. These feelings seem less intolerable when they
People also sometimes drink to be free of self-critical feelings. They
find that they can be gentler with themselves when they drink.
For others, a drink substitutes for a loved person whom
they have lost. They make, in effect, a new relationship with the
bottle, a relationship that they never have to lose.
In other instances, people use drinking to repair a
feeling of deep disappointment with others, or with their image of
themselves. Drinking serves to create a sense that the world is as it
should be, or that they are as valuable as they feel they should be.
Finally, in a view that I have proposed, drinking
may be a way to restore a sense of power when a person feels
helpless. The drinking expresses the great anger people feel at
being made powerless, and at the same time the act of drinking itself
restores a sense that they can control their own feelings through their
In general, psychoanalysts understand that the
behavior of alcoholism, like any behavior, arises within a person and
can be potentially understood by investigating the emotional factors
that drive it. Once these emotional factors are conscious, people are
better able to master them and, as a result, have a far better chance
to change their lives.
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