I’m one of those therapists who firmly believe that we can better help our clients by knowing the cause of their current dysfunctional behavior. Knowing the cause allows us to provide more individually tailored interventions that I believe make us more effective therapists. I’ve noticed that when it comes to alcoholism their tends to be four causes or “paths” that lead to it. You’ll notice that I don’t list the “alcoholism gene” as a path. If there is a genetic trigger for alcoholism, I still feel that it is facilitated by one of the four causes below. I say this because I never met anyone who was born an alcoholic. Something happened along the way that initially caused them to start drinking. If you feel like I’ve missed anything, please chime in!
- Boredom: For some people, boredom is the reason they started drinking. They grew up in a small town without a lot of opportunities for young people. When you get too old for playing in the woods, the next logical step is to start drinking in the woods with your friends. Without options for after school activities or jobs, some young people turn to drinking as a way of mediating the boredom and restlessness of youth. This isn’t just something that happens to young people in rural areas, but can also happen to people of privilege whose sheltered life lacks novelty or excitement. Add to this a genetic potential for alcoholism, and soon nightly drinking turns into addiction, even after they move away and start living their own life.
- Rebellion: Fighting for independence is a natural part of being a teenager. We need to flex our muscles and experiment with handling life on our own in order to prepare us for adulthood. Although this is inevitably a good thing if the goal is to become an independent adult, some parents respond to this by tightening their grip even more. Of course, this only makes the need to rebellion even stronger. For some young people, partying and drinking seems like the only way to have some control over their life. And if that’s not enough, then drinking heavily seems like an even better way to rebel. Most people outgrow this phase, but some succumb to addiction and become trapped.
- Stress: This may start in youth or later in life. For people who have experienced stressful lives or trauma, alcohol provides temporary relief. Especially if the stress keeps them up at night, alcohol can provide a surefire way to fall asleep at night. I’ve found that it is essentially to teach these individuals coping skills, stress management, and most importantly, techniques to help them sleep at night.
- Social anxiety: In my private practice, I see this path the most often. Truth be told, alcohol does relieve social anxiety, which is why sobriety can be such a hard sell for those suffering from social anxiety. The therapist is going to have to simultaneously work on alleviating the client’s social anxiety if the client has any hope of becoming sober.