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  Excuses Alcoholics Make
Floyd P. Garrett, M.D.

By the time a chronic addictive process such as alcoholism has become frankly problematic it has invariably acquired a complex and sophisticated array of psychological defense mechanisms aimed at protecting its continued existence by minimizing the cognitive dissonance the addict experiences as a result of his progressively irrational self- and usually other- harmful behavior.

Though he imagines himself to be free - perhaps even freer than free!- and though he will (because he is unable to) brook no contradiction to his will, the addict is nevertheless completely controlled by and under the thumb of his addiction.

In fact his behavior is not determined by his own will at all but by the will of the addiction that now constitutes and constructs his reality. For in addiction, the true self is suppressed or eclipsed and the false self -the addicted self- installed in its place as a kind of Vichy regime to execute the imperatives of its lord and master, addiction. The addict, that is, supposes that he is making his own choices when in fact they are being made for him by his addiction. Yet obvious as this may be and frequently is to those around him, it is normally the most difficult thing of all for the addict himself to grasp or admit.

The will of the addiction is a blind biological process that is endlessly questing for gratification and satiation, regardless of the consequences to the individual himself. Though such satiation and gratification may be transiently obtained they are inherently ephemeral, indeed, self-undermining states that are quickly followed by a return of the original distress. The addict purchases an all too brief remission of his dysphoria(bad feeling) at the cost of added misery on the other side. Addiction is thus a kind of Faustian Bargain.

Addiction also resembles the fabled perpetual motion machine that runs of itself - while the plight of the individual addict is precisely that of the unfortunate soul who holds a wolf by its ears. In such a predicament both holding on and letting go seem equally undesirable - even calamitous.

Because addiction is a stereotyped and fundamentally inhuman process it produces predictable signs and symptoms that may be used to gauge the degree of its progress as it penetrates and invades the personality of the individual afflicted by it. One set of symptoms of addiction are the customary excuses the addict makes to himself and others for the irregularities of thinking and behavior foisted upon him and those around him by his addiction.

Common stereotyped addictive defenses include but are by no means limited to the following:


  • Problem? What problem?

Primitive and unconscious denial is classified as a psychotic defense mechanism because it denies or distorts reality itself. Those in the grip of psychotic denial are literally out of touch with reality. Thus an alcoholic with multiple and perfectly obvious negative consequences from his pathological drinking(legal, health, marital and job problems) may, difficult as this is to believe, indignantly and -from his perspective- honestly deny that he has a serious problem with alcohol. He doesn't know what people who criticize his drinking are talking about - and he is genuinely hurt and offended at what he perceives to be their unfair and unreasonable attacks upon him. He often reacts to expressions of concern about his drinking with self-pity, resentment, and -of course- more drinking.

  • I'm not THAT bad!

Minimization and downplaying of the problems connected with addiction fill in the gaps and take up the slack left by the failure of psychotic denial to adjust reality completely to the requirements of the addiction. The addict admits that difficulties exist - but he stoutly maintains, frequently in the face of an astonishing and rapidly accumulating mountain of evidence to the contrary, that they are not really as bad as others make them out to be.

  • It wasn't my fault or It's not the way it looks!

Rationalization and projection of blame attempt to distance the addict from the consequences of his(actually, of his addiction's) actions. Alternative explanations are constructed and stoutly defended, e.g. the employer who fired him or the officer who arrested him or the wife who divorced him were actuated by dishonest or frankly corrupt motives.

  • All I want is a little relief!

Justification of addictive behavior is often self-pitying and subtly manipulative. The addict feels victimized, perhaps even martyred by what he believes to be the unfair circumstances of his existence and seeks consolation from his addiction. He believes himself thereby an exception and entitled to special treatment, including remission or at least mitigation of the sins caused by his addictive behavior. The prospect of giving up his addiction or, even worse, having it taken away from him by the unsympathetic demands and requirements of others fills him with horror and indignation. Blind to the fact that it is his addiction and its consequences that are making him miserable, he falsely believes that the addiction is the only source of comfort and security available to him in a cruel, cruel world.

  • I'm not hurting anybody but myself!

Frequently phrased as "Leave me alone! I'm not hurting anybody but myself!" this defense invokes a legalistic right to self-harm at the same time as it denies the interpersonal and social realities of the addict's harmful behaviors. The addict, unable or unwilling to recognize how his behavior does in fact impact and thus harm other people, indignantly and self-righteously proclaims "It's MY life and I can do anything I please with it!" Curiously -and revealingly- the addict seldom finds anything incongruous in the notion that he might knowingly and willingly be harming himself, regardless of whether he is harming anyone else.

  • Nobody knows the trouble I've seen!

A blatant claim for special status based upon self-pity. Because it is seldom as persuasive to others as it is to the addict himself - other people usually have difficulty seeing how one's problems, no matter how severe or unfair, justify adding further misery resulting from theoretically avoidable addictive behaviors- the frustrated addict usually becomes resentful and sullen, convinced that "nobody really understands me." This licenses, at least in the addict's mind, still more flagrant and egregious addictive acting up and out.

  • I've got to be me! or You knew this when you married me!

Unable to distinguish himself from his addiction, the addict cannot imagine himself or existence without the addiction. The prospect of "losing" the addiction is unthinkable to him since it would, he believes, mean the loss of himself and of everything that makes life worth living. The addict paints a Romantic portrait for himself and others which, while it may acknowledge at least some of the destructive effects of his addiction, attempts to rationalize the insanity of addictive behavior as glorious, if tragic self-actualization and fulfillment, and to represent anything less than this, e.g. abstinence and sobriety, as a kind of forfeiture of the self and living death, to which a premature addictive exitus is much to be preferred. The fact that many addicts actually believe such transparent foolishness is a somber testimony to the power of addictive insanity.

  • I HAVE to drink (or drug) for my work!

The addict insists that he will not be able to make a living or that he will no longer be successful if forced to "give up" the increasingly harmful and destructive behaviors caused by his addiction. He may regard the latter as "the cost of doing business." In the vast majority of cases, of course, his addiction has already begun to impair his work performance, his judgment, and his interpersonal relations.

  • You're not so pure yourself!

Following the adage that "the best defense is a good offense" the addict seeks to turn the tables and distract attention from himself by "attacking the attacker," i.e. the individual who attempts to point out to him the reality of his addictive behavior. Under the spur of necessity to defend their addiction as they are, most addicts possess a keen eye and a sharp tongue for the shortcomings and faults of others - even as they deny or are indifferent to those of themselves. Thus the addict is often almost demonically astute at exploiting the vulnerabilities and Achilles Heels of those who, wittingly or unwittingly, threaten the continuance of his addiction.

  • Trust me - I know what I am doing!

The addict, blinded to reality by his own denial, attempts to reassure those who have begun to wonder about his judgment, perhaps even about his sanity, that he is in control and that all will be well. He informs them that he is perfectly aware there is or may shortly be a problem, that he does not intend to let it get out of hand, and that he is or will be taking steps to control it. 

  • I can stop any time I want to! 

Unaware that his addiction and not he himself is calling the shots, the addict genuinely believes that he is choosing to behave the way he does and therefore he can stop doing so any time he makes up his mind. Unfortunately for him and for those who must deal with him, he seldom makes up his mind to stop(even though he most certainly could if he wanted to, &etc. &etc. &etc.)

  • I'm not nearly as bad as OTHER people!

An almost universal addictive rationalization. The addict compares himself to people who are in his opinion in far worse shape than he believes himself to be and concludes from this that there is no reason to be concerned about his own addictive behavior. Since there is always someone worse off than himself the addict feels entitled in continuing his addiction.

  • I HAVE to drink (or drug) to drown my sorrows! 

The victim of a dysfunctional childhood or the survivor of a difficult life, the addict attempts to persuade others, as he has largely persuaded himself, that continuing to engage in destructive addictive behavior is a rational and healthy response to his problems - or that if he does not drink or drug, he will fall apart or behave even worse.

  • Now is not a good time to stop!

Another nearly universal addictive rationalization. "I'll quit tomorrow" is a familiar addictive refrain. The time never seems quite right to stop - even though the addict may be or seem to be perfectly sincere in his determination to cease his addiction "just as soon as I get through this difficult period." He may even convince himself and attempt to convince others that stopping his addictive behavior immediately would be a bad and counter-productive idea, and that the chances of success will be enormously increased if he delays his attempt to stop until a more favorable time.

  • It will never, ever happen again!

Following an unusually painful or embarrassing episode caused by his addiction the remorseful, frequently tearful addict promises those he has harmed that nothing, absolutely nothing could ever cause him to repeat such behavior. He may take the lead in excoriating and flagellating himself for his unpardonable sin as a demonstration of penance and a reassurance to those he has harmed or offended. Almost always effective in allaying anxiety and soothing hurt feelings on the first occasion of use, this defense rapidly loses effectiveness with repeated use as those whom it is intended to reassure become, usually with good reason, increasingly skeptical.

  • Nobody is going to tell ME what to do!

The problems caused by addiction are avoided or obscured by a heroic pose worthy of Patrick Henry("Give me liberty or give me death!"). By focusing on his supposed freedom to do as he wishes -actually the freedom of his addiction to do as it wishes- the addict sidesteps the more difficult question of the rationality and sanity of his behavior. Defiance and oppositional behavior are common defenses of addicts against looking at themselves.

  • I'd be OK if it weren't for you!

The addict blames his addictive behavior on his significant other, usually his spouse. He feels resentful and self-pitying about the way he considers himself to be treated and uses this to justify his addiction. Since one of the commonest causes of resentment and self-pity in addicts is criticism by others of their addictive behavior, and since the characteristic response of the addict to such criticism is to escalate addictive behavior, this process tends to be self-perpetuating. The addict is often quite cruel in highlighting, exaggerating and exploiting any and every defect or flaw the significant other may have, or even in fabricating them out of his own mind in order to justify and rationalize his own behavior.

  • Look at all I have done for you! or This is the thanks I get!

Another "guilt trip" designed to disarm or deflect criticism of addictive behavior. References to the hard work, long hours, job stress and material status of the family are common attempts to win sympathy and understanding for behavior that has become harmful to the addict and others.

  • I don't have time (or money) to get help!

Almost universally deployed whenever the question of seeking professional assistance or attending AA or other mutual-support group meetings comes up. If the addict does actually take a step to get help -usually as a result of external prodding of some kind- there is a 98% probability that he will not agree with the frequency, intensity or duration of the help recommended. Underestimation of his problem and the belief that it can be controlled by what others more informed about such matters know are half measures is the rule rather than the exception in addiction.

  • I'll handle it myself!

Another nearly universal defense. The addict finally acknowledges and even believes that he has a significant problem but is adamant that he can and will deal with it by himself rather than seeking any kind of professional or support group help. Because he does not yet understand the nature of addiction he supposes that recovery is merely a matter of will power, hence that it is superfluous or even a disgrace to ask for help from others for what he ought to be able to do by himself.



The Addict's Dilemma

Addiction, Lies and Relationships

Addiction and Its Mechanisms of Defense

Alcohol Addiction: A Psychobiological Approach

The Experience of Deprivation and Loss in Early Recovery From Addiction

The Female Partner of the Recovering Male Alcoholic

Getting Away With Addiction?

Obstacles to Recovery

Resistances to AA Attendance

What is Recovery?

Why is Recovery So Hard?

Your First AA Meeting: An UNOFFICIAL Guide For the Perplexed


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Original Papers

The Addict's Dilemna

Addiction, Lies and Relationships

Addiction and the Mechanisms of Defense

Alcohol Addiction

Drug Therapy of Alcohol Dependence

Excuses Alcoholics Make

The Female Partner of the Male Alcoholic

Getting Away With Addiction? 

Intervention for Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Obstacles to Recovery from Addiction

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prolegomenon to the Metaphysics of Recovery

What is Recovery?

Why is Recovery So Hard?

Worried Sick About His Drinking?

Your First AA Meeting: An Unofficial Guide for the Perplexed