I have read a few articles recently saying that there is no point trying to give up an addiction until you address the underlying problems that caused that addiction to take hold in the first place; the loss of a loved one, unemployment, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, etc.
I think this view is both wrong and dangerous. Let’s look consider it in relation to drinking.
As we know, alcohol is a chemical depressant, when you drink your brain takes various steps to counter the depressive effects of the alcohol. When the alcohol then wears off you are left feeling overly anxious and nervous. Essentially any feeling of comfort, confidence or relaxation you obtain from drinking then has a corresponding feeling of anxiety. This is a feeling of being nervous and afraid, molehills start to look like mountains. It is in essence a feeling of being unable to cope with problems. It is doubt, worry, fear and timidity. The more you drink, the more extreme is this post drinking fear.
It can take several days after your last drink for this feeling of fear to dissipate, but a far quicker way to get rid of it is to drink more. After all, the fear is caused by hypersensitivity that your brain has triggered so that it can work under the depressive effects of the alcohol. More alcohol counters that fear so you go back to feeling normal. This is the main benefit of drinking, it removes fear and anxiety caused by the previous drinking.
Because it takes a few days to fully recover from the post drinking fear, regular drinkers never fully recover from it, the just yo-yo between post-drinking induced fear and relieving that drinking induced fear by drinking more. All the regular drinker knows of life is that life when not drinking is a life of fear, anxiety, timidity, and an inability to cope. Life when drinking is a life of confidence, boldness, spirit and fortitude. It may not be as extreme as this, as mentioned the more you drink the worse the post drinking timidity, but even one glass of wine a night will have this effect, albeit less pronounced than the bottle of spirits a day drinker.
Whatever your problem is, no matter how terrible and overpowering, drinking will stop you dealing with it. When you are drunk you aren’t dealing with it, you are just numbing the effects of it. Like having cancer and taking morphine, the morphine can’t stop the cancer, all it can do is briefly numb the pain it is causing. And when you are in the post drink fear, however bad the problem originally was, it now looks ten times worse. You cannot do anything, you are frozen in fear. All you can do is reach for another drink.
So the first problem with saying that you need to address your underlying problems before you quit drinking is that you cannot effectively address a problem, any problem, when suffering from post-drinking induced fear. Nor can you effectively address a problem when you’re drunk.
Secondly, when you get into the realm of drinking to deal with problems, you drink to deal with all problems. Whatever problems you deal with, new ones pop up to take their place. I don’t care who you are or what you have in life, everyone has their problems. Even if you could deal with every single one of your problems, every day new ones would come along to take their place. Stopping drinking isn’t about first remedying all your underlying problems, it is about learning to deal with, and coping with, all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without recourse to alcohol. If your sobriety relies on you not having any problems to face then you’re going to drink yourself to death.
The fact of the matter is, whatever problem you are suffering from, it never looks so bad as when you are in the middle of post drinking anxiety. The peace and confidence that comes from long term sobriety is precisely what you need to give you the best chance to start tackling those problems that we all suffer from to a greater or lesser degree.
Alcohol is a drug that erodes our confidence and our ability to deal with day to day life. It then partially restores that ability, thus creating the illusion of being a necessary and crucial part of our lives. It is alcohol that often makes our problems appear insurmountable, and a period of sobriety is often what we need to rediscover the inner strength required to actually properly deal with those issues.
Saying that you need to deal with your underlying issues before you stop drinking is like saying you need to run a marathon then do the training for it. If you need to tackle a challenge, you need to be in your best form to do it. For a physical challenge you need to be at your best physically, for a mental or emotional challenge you need to be at your best mentally and emotionally. You cannot be in this best mental and emotional condition unless you first stop drinking and put an end to the endless rounds of chemically induced highs and consequential lows.
If you have managed to live with a problem that’s effect on you is being constantly warped by the emotional yo-yoing caused by drinking, then you are going to be able to survive it when you have the confidence and emotional stability you get from long term sobriety. Stopping drinking will turn mountains back into molehills, and those few genuine mountains can start to appear less insurmountable.
I once sat in an AA meeting and listened to a lady who was in a car with her husband and two children. They were in a crash, she managed to get out but her husband and two children were trapped inside. The fuel tank caught alight and she watched them burn to death, trying in vain again and again to get them out, and getting horrifically burned herself in the process. She had not only managed to stop drinking, but had also managed to find some degree of peace and hope. How she managed to do that is utterly beyond me, but it demonstrates the ability of human beings to deal with the most horrific things if only we give ourselves the opportunity to, instead of just seeking chemically induced anaesthesia.