I use alcohol and sex for temporary relief

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on March 13th, 2011 - Last updated: July 1st, 2019
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Dear Stanton:

I am a 24-year-old female with an amazing career, a loving family and close knit group of friends whom I’ve grown up with since 1st grade. I am Irish Catholic. From the outside it appears that I have it all together, in fact, I have always been thought of as successful in all that I do.

Here’s the problem, my life is a mess. I have read your web page, questions and chapters from your book and I don’t fit into any one category.

I am a social drinker, I can have one or two and have no problem knowing when enough is enough. I can also go out with a group of friends and not drink at all. Then there are times when I drink and it is a problem. I black out and do some stupid things, like have sex with people (men that I am friends with or know socially). However, I am unable to stay in a relationship. I think this comes from a fear of being hurt. So I enter into situations and relationships that I know are impossible.

This all began when my father died 7 years ago. I became the main emotional support for my mother, and main emotional and financial support for my younger brother. I’m also the friend that everyone comes to for advice. These are roles that I love and hate at the same time. I think I have a deep need to be needed. But sometimes the pressure gets too much and I use drinking as an escape and sex as a comfort.

I have thought of support groups but don’t feel that I fit into any one category. I know when to avoid situations and I have no problem controlling my drinking or my sexual behavior but it seems that sometimes I choose to put myself back into bad situations.

I’ve also thought of one on one therapy, but I have a problem with letting others know that I’m not the perfect person they think I am. I don’t want to let anyone down.

I’m not really sure what my question is, I guess I just needed to let someone know.

It is my feeling that I don’t have a drinking or sex addiction, but I have deep emotional problems that I have to work through and learn not to use drinking and sex as an escape.

I guess I want to know if my case there are others out there like me.


Dear Liz:

I think your analysis of your situation is dead-on. That is, you have relationship and intimacy problems. For some reason, although people like you and seek you out, you do not bond into a romantic pair. You are ambivalent about this—that is, something makes you pull back or avoid accepting intimacy, while at the same time obviously you wish to have love, companionship, normal sex, et al. in your life. Alcohol temporarily relieves this situation, but in a way that you recognize is not helpful for your life.

In fact, many people use alcohol in this way — your advantage is that, compared to many, you see the patterns very clearly. Consider women and men who drink at fraternity parties or at singles bars as a way to temporarily gain intimacy and sexual fulfillment.

Let me first mention that age has something to do with this. That is, people often encounter this when younger and gradually improve in their ability to achieve intimacy.

This is not to say that you cannot hasten, or direct, the process.

Let me offer a few hints. You describe having sex with male friends when drinking. Do you have any male friends with whom you would actually like to deepen your relationship? Then why don’t you take active steps to do so? That is, suggest getting together, perhaps for longer activities that lead to bonding (e.g., hiking or camping).

Your story also suggests sexual hang-ups. How do you feel about sex as an ordinary part of your life? In other words, if you drink to have sex with male friends, one solution is to figure out which males you would enjoy being with and try to make this happen. Is the reason you don’t that you can’t accept your sexual needs? I think this may be the case, as indicated by your own mention of your religious background (Irish-Americans, according to Father Greeley, the novelist and sociologist, are the second most liberal ethnic group in the U.S.—after Jews—except in matters to do with sex and reproduction).

Your relationship with old friends is likewise a potential double-edged sword. Old friends are great. But do they keep you in place? Do they not accept you as the person you would like to see yourself as being (of which sex could be an important component)?

You do enter into relationships. Are these with people that you “accidentally” fall into bed with? Perhaps your sexual reticence colors all that you do. For example, you find yourself having relationships with inappropriate men because you are not active enough (including calculating the sexual side) in seeking companions or in presenting yourself to others.

In other words, you could put yourself in charge of your social-sexual life, which does not seem to be the case now. You wish to appear perfect, and convince many peole you are (by the way, your letter is unusually well-written and reasoned), but you are missing one essential ingredient—that of actively considering your needs and goals and pursuing them. What do you feel it would take to put yourself in charge this way? You seem to be skilled at gathering information and enacting plans. Let’s make this one of them (like the way you approach a project at work).

The fact that you are a mainstay in your family and that people seek you out is a good thing in itself—it shows that people admire you and that you have a heart. But taking it to the point where you feel taken advantage of suggests passivity, not strength.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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