The Benefits of Addiction: Why Alcoholics Drink

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on October 22nd, 2011 - Last updated: January 30th, 2014
This content was written in accordance with our Editorial Guidelines.

How to think about the plusses alcoholics are pursuing

People who believe in the disease theory are dumb. They can’t help it, so we shouldn’t mock them. You see, they don’t have enough human insight to answer the question, “Why do alcoholics drink even though it hurts them?” Other than by positing that they have some inbred disease that compels them to drink, that is.

Stupid, huh? But, as I said, don’t make fun of them. Because their stupidity — which reigns supreme in America — has a tragic element. It guarantees that we will never actually impact addiction, either for individuals or society-wide.

Think of a college kid who gets drunk on weekends with his or her friends. What an experience! As Thomas Vander Ven, Ohio University sociologist, details in Getting WastedWhy College Students Drink Too Much and Party So Hard, the revelers can overcome their inhibitions, act stupid, and sing, dance, and laugh. Moreover, they can continue to feel a part of a group that is now united in misery the morning after, when they can both recount their war stories of the night before and suffer the horrors of hangovers together.

All in a day’s — or a weekend night’s — work, you might say. And most people outgrow this experience when they leave college. Except some don’t. There are two groups of such drinkers. One group extends the college fraternity (or fraternity-style) environment into young adulthood.

And the other group does something more consequential. They have found that the drinking experience alleviates deep-seated anxieties they have about themselves and their lives. In other words, alcohol provides more than temporary camaraderie for such drinkers. It provides existential relief. And people find such crucial psychological benefits are hard to relinquish.

Fast forward. Even most of these existential drinkers find more enduring satisfactions and reassurances in life and at some point cease to encase themselves in alcohol. But some go on to alcoholic careers. And it is this group of drinkers that disease adherents are most likely to encounter — in AA groups and rehab — and to posit that they must be out of control of their drinking. Why else would they continue to imbibe, diseasifiers’ thinking goes, unless they had no choice?

But let’s return to the realm of the human being. People who have learned to allay their anxieties and fears, to feel good — or at least okay — about themselves while intoxicated, to gain some sense of control that they otherwise are bereft of — well, those are hard people to persuade to give up the bottle. Which is what AA and the 12 steps are selling — “Step over to the sunny side of the street where I live — it’s much better here.”

Maybe — if you like folding chairs and listening to endless drunkalogues. As to gaining a grip on your anxieties — and finding more fulfilling ways of being — well, AA is a pretty haphazard way to go about that. Which is why we are waiting for a miracle cure yet to be discovered in some government or university lab. You know, a replacement for alcohol that makes people feel good about themselves. Let’s see — what would we call such a substance?

I know. We’d call it an addiction.

Follow Stanton on Twitter

P.S.  I get a lot of comments — always have — and this one kind of encapsulates many of them:

You really, really are a bad person Mr. Peele
Submitted by Erich on December 29, 2011 – 7:12am.

I’ll tell you why that is.

People who don’t get it. Like you for example Stan old boy. Furthermore, people who stand to profit from offering a dissenting view (and books and programs, etc., like (once again) you Stan.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *