Is There An Alcoholic Personality?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.

Question:

I keep hearing the term “alcoholic personality” from some recovering persons. Is there such a thing and if there is, what is it?

Answer:

There does not seem to be any kind of particular pre-morbid personality in alcoholics. Pre-morbid refers to the time before the onset of alcoholism.

Generally, alcoholics seem to have the same kinds of personalities as everybody else, except more so.

The first is a low frustration tolerance. Alcoholics seem to experience more distress when enduring long-term dysphoria or when tiresome things do not work out quickly.  Alcoholics are more impulsive than most.

Secondly, alcoholics are more sensitive. This sensitivity relates especially to nuances of interpersonal relationships. Alcoholics have a “low rejection threshold.” They feel more apart or left out. Incidentally, a drink or two “works wonderfully” to deal with this feeling. Yet, it is known that sensitive people are often especially creative. Alcoholism seems to selectively strike gifted people. Most American Nobel Prize winners in literature suffered from alcoholism.

Another trait found in excess in alcoholics is a low sense of one’s own worth. Then there is isolation. Alcoholics are loners. It is with most difficulty they are able to share innermost thoughts and concerns with anyone.

Although they may be articulate, charming and very persuasive, they operate behind an armor or shell that keeps the world out. They are afraid of intimacy.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center’s first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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