the psychoanalytic view of alcoholism

 Lance M. Dodes, M.D.

  Through 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 are drinking.

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 own actions.

    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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