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There are plenty of obvious reasons why problem drinkers forgo treatment for addiction. Some people are unable to afford lush rehabilitation centers, for example, while others have lost faith in conventional programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Some lack accessibility to an addiction specialist or the resources to visit them.
Nevertheless, the vast majority actually hold back due to personal attitudes about the value or necessity of recovery. If you’re concerned that your or your loved ones’ or drinking habits might be threatening their safety—or yours—learn what attitudes about treatment might be standing in the way of proper care.
Unwillingness to Quit
According to a wealth of research, the main reason problem drinkers delay treatment for addiction is because they deny having a substance use disorder in the first place. For some, this means living under a guise of normalcy, unable to see how alcohol abuse tarnishes their day-to-day life. However, for most, this mistaken sense of “denial” actually stems from an unreadiness to give up alcohol for good. Because alcohol recovery programs usually necessitate complete sobriety—a rather “all or nothing” approach—many hesitate to do anything about their drinking. Instead, they rationalize their current (sometimes dangerous) habits in hopes that they can continue drinking at all.
In order to convince others—and sometimes themselves—that their drinking patterns are normal, problem drinkers often put on a facade. For example, many dismiss their habits as minor issues, fundamentally unworthy of treatment. Others become defensive or dismissive when confronted by their bosses, friends, and family members. Some even claim they are “driven to drink,” blaming their excessive alcohol consumption on external stressors.
Even when their drinking habits start to breed deadly repercussions—such as divorce, unemployment, arrest, or imminent bodily harm—many continue to attribute these problems to other causes, in order to keep drinking. Unfortunately, it often takes reaching a critical “tipping point” for problem drinkers to recognize the roots of their suffering and decide to manage things differently. What sometimes speeds the process is finding a patient-centric alcohol recovery program—such as Ria Health—that allows members to set their own, healthier drinking goals without having to become totally abstinent.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many still view addiction to alcohol as a moral failing rather than a medical illness. And for those struggling with the condition, this stereotype can have damaging effects. Oftentimes, problem drinkers internalize the stigma associated with treatment by convincing themselves that they should be strong enough to recover without outside help. As a result, some have trouble confiding in their loved ones for fear of embarrassment, condemnation, or being labeled as “alcoholics.” Others jump through hoops to conceal their drinking habits, attributing late nights at the bar to “overtime at the office” or sickly-sweet breath to “new mint gum.”
By attempting to shoulder the burden of addiction single-handedly, problem drinkers wall themselves off from supportive social influences who might encourage them to seek help. They also risk becoming trapped in a stasis of shame and self-blame, which could worsen their relationship with alcohol even further. This is especially true of those in higher income brackets, who sometimes feel they have “more to lose” by admitting they might have an addiction. Ria Health dispels this stigma by providing members with medical guidance and psychological support whenever and wherever they choose—which, for some, means away from prying eyes.
Well-intentioned or no, even problem drinkers’ closest relatives can fan the flames of their addiction. As discussed in an earlier article, sometimes entire families focus on protecting a loved one with AUD in order to maintain an outward appearance of household stability. Typically, the spouses of problem drinkers disguise their dysfunction by paying their unpaid bills, rescuing them from scrapes with the law, making excuses to their employers, and generally taking on any responsibilities they neglect. Though seemingly helpful, these measures actually cause harm in the long run by shielding these individuals from the negative consequences of their behaviors and, as a result, enabling them to drink unsafely. These efforts also give those with drinking issues the impression that they are independent from alcohol when, in reality, they could be suffering from life-threatening addictions.
Many people watch their relationships, physical wellness, or livelihoods crumble before doing something about their drinking—and the impacts can be truly sobering. Luckily, it’s never too late to begin treatment for addiction, no matter how much drinking has affected you or a loved one. You can start by taking our alcohol use survey to see if your drinking habits might actually be a problem, checking out our previous article on proven alternatives to rehab, or contacting a Ria Health representative to learn how our approach to drinking management could help you take back your life.
Kimberly Nielsen writes about health issues, and has written for various scientific newspapers and blogs. She is currently studying biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and plans to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health.