Common Alcoholism Stereotypes Enable Denial
Thursday, January 14 2016 Becky Doyle
There are many stereotypes about alcoholics that enable denial that developed through years of misinformation, changing research, and biased opinions. These misconceptions about alcoholism, and the people who suffer from it, are arguably the biggest barrier to individuals seeking help. Alcoholics use stereotypes to justify their drinking habits and explain why they cannot possibly be an alcoholic (Identifying and Diagnosing Alcoholism). If the stereotypes about alcoholics were debunked and known to be attributes not exclusive to alcoholics, these excuses would be harder to find. Without stereotypes about alcoholics, it would be harder to enable denial.
Think of it in terms of taxonomy -- the classification of plants and animals in the animal
kingdom. Deciduous trees shed their leaves in winter and include both maple and walnut trees, among many others. But just because a maple is not a walnut, that doesn't mean it's not a deciduous tree. Likewise, alcoholics come from all kinds of backgrounds and have a wide variety of experiences. The variety of their experiences do not make them any less of an alcoholic, they just separate them into different "species" of alcoholics.
Alcoholism Stereotypes Drive Denial
An alcoholic's need to preserve their drinking habit is the driving force behind denial. A person's denial will latch onto any differences, no matter how minor, as evidence that he or she is not an alcoholic. This is why we say in addiction recovery that it's important to find the similarities and to not focus on the differences. Denial is typically reliant upon what I call exclusionary stereotypes. People who are undiagnosed and untreated alcoholics are quick to use these stereotypes to exclude themselves from being an alcoholic. They may say, "I'm not an alcoholic because . . ."
- I'm not homeless or unkempt.
- I don't drink out of a brown paper bag.
- I don't drink every day.
- I don't black out.
- I don't drink hard liquor, only beer/wine.
- I've never been caught drunk-driving.
- I didn't grow up in an abusive home.
In all honesty, not all alcoholics are the same. Some alcoholics may never exhibit any of these attributes. For instance, I identify as an alcoholic, but I have never been homeless, nor have I been arrested for drinking and driving.
Superiority Over Alcoholism Stereotypes
High-bottom alcoholics is a subjective term used to describe people who did not experience significant material losses in their addiction, something commonly referred to as "rock-bottom." In many cases, especially high-functioning alcoholics may use their material possessions or successes as justification that they are too good to be an alcoholic. They may say, "I'm not an alcoholic because . . ."
- I own my house/I always pay rent on time.
- I have a good job.
- I have family and friends that love me.
- I go to church/synagogue/etc. regularly.
- I am a reliable person.
- I come from a good family.
- I have control over my life.
High-functioning alcoholics are people who maintain a good standard of living while still drinking alcoholically. Not everyone is capable of maintaining this lifestyle, but several are. There are several books on the subject of high-functioning alcoholics, one of which was authored by a guest on a HealthyPlace web cast, Catherine Patterson-Sterling. You don't have to be falling apart at the seams to be an alcoholic, it's just that most people don't awaken to the reality of their condition until their lives fall apart.
The exact cause of addiction is still unknown, which begs the question, "Is it innate, or a learned condition?" Just remember that no matter how good of a person you are, or how perfectly manicured your life may appear, you could still be an alcoholic. If you're curious about what other signs may indicate alcoholism, take the Alcoholism Test.