It’s thinking, not drinking!
In presenting my work with offenders during the past 35 years, I have been asked whether “errors in thinking” that adjudicated criminals manifest might also apply to alcoholics or “problem drinkers.” Unless they have been arrested for an alcohol-related offense, such individuals usually are not considered “criminals.”
Stanton Samenow, Ph.D., received his B.A. (cum laude) from Yale University in 1963 and his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. After working as a clinical psychologist on adolescent inpatient psychiatric services in the Ann Arbor (Michigan) area, he joined the Program for the Investigation of Criminal Behavior at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. From 1970 until June, 1978, he was clinical research psychologist for that program. With the late Dr. Samuel Yochelson, he participated in the longest in-depth clinical research-treatment study of offenders that has been conducted in North America.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
Yet anyone who has lived with an alcoholic or any professional who counsels alcoholics knows that although an alcoholic may not get arrested, he nonetheless is likely to inflict substantial injury on others. Alcoholics are unstable, experience severe mood swings, are very controlling, and angrily lash out at others when their wishes are frustrated. It is not news to members of Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholics have “something wrong” with their thinking. In fact, an A.A. term is “stinking thinking.”
Even if the alcoholic becomes sober and remains sober, there are aspects of his/her personality that still need to be addressed. Otherwise, family members, friends, or work colleagues may have to continue coping with the alcoholic’s irascibility, arrogance, and capricious behavior. A.A. has a term for this as well—”dry drunks.” They have stopped drinking, but they remain extremely difficult people to live with.
Substance abuse counselors who are familiar with my work have been unequivocal in confirming that the “thinking errors” that are associated with criminal behavior also, to an extent, characterize the cognitive processes of alcoholics. The following are among the errors in thinking that are readily identifiable in their alcoholic clients:
*Failure to put oneself in the place of others;
*Lying (about their drinking and other aspects of their life);
*A domineering personality in which controlling others is paramount to their self esteem;
*Unrealistic expectations of others and often of themselves;
*A pronounced proclivity to blame others or circumstances when they are held accountable;
*An ability to shut off from awareness their knowledge of possible consequences to their actions;
*A thin skin in which they take small slights very personally;
*A tendency to defer or totally default when it comes to fulfilling obligations;
*A failure to deal constructively with adversity.
All alcoholics do not share these thinking errors to the same degree. However, they generally are present and must be addressed. They can only be addressed successfully if the person is sober and remains sober.