Control, Need-Satisfaction, and Alcohol

Do you know someone who is trapped in a difficult, unsatisfying situation? It’s painful to watch, isn’t it? It’s even worse if you perceive that a happy, satisfying life could be readily available.

Mick and Minnie’s friends see a simple obvious solution to their unhappy situation; it’s as plain as the bottle in front of Mick’s face. If Mick would stop drinking, he and Minnie could have a wonderful life together. But that won’t happen as long as he continues, and there’s no indication that he’ll change.

In his new book, “Take Charge of Your Life,” Dr. Glasser addresses the issues of drugs and alcohol in a very direct way. I found his commentary on alcohol particularly interesting, as he discusses the effects of drinking in choice theory terms.

Glasser says, “The common characteristic of all drunken alcoholics is the vast difference between the amount of control they actually have (almost none) and the amount of control they believe they have (total).”

Alcohol gives the drinker the illusion of greater control over their lives. The reality, of course, is just the opposite. When Mick is drunk, he feels in control, his basic needs satisfied. He has fun, he feels like he belongs, that he’s powerful, free, and he’s having fun, too! That’s tremendously need-satisfying if his life feels otherwise out of control. It’s powerful stuff!

For example, a scenario that’s unfortunately often played out in real life reminds me of one of my favorite cartoon episodes. Mick and Minnie go to a party. Mick drinks too much. Next day, Mick and Minnie “discuss” the evening. “How could you act that way?” Minnie shouts.  “Like what?” Mick wonders. He recollects an evening where he was charming, witty, debonair, attentive to the ladies, life of the party, admired by all. Minnie’s version, and that of the other guests, is of a loudmouth drunken laughingstock who would be pitied if he wasn’t so obnoxious.

From a choice theory perspective, drinking provides Mick with a way to temporarily get the feeling that he’s in control of his life and that his needs are satisfied. In reality, of course, Mick isn’t in control and his needs aren’t being satisfied. The more he drinks, the further his actual reality drifts from his drunken perception.

On the other hand, Minnie and their friends see Mick as completely out of control. They can’t understand why he doesn’t seem able to see himself that way. Their logical explanations, complaining, and attempts to help/change him are ignored, because Mick is either drunk (and therefore feels in control, with his needs satisfied) or wanting to be drunk (so he can once again get that feeling of being in control.)

What to do? Dr. Glasser highly recommends AA and its associated program for family members, Al-Anon, which he describes as a program that follows choice theory. Of course, there are other programs and support services that can help too. Minnie need not wait for Mick to change before she seeks a change.

Do you think that some of alcohol’s appeal relates to the illusion of control and need-satisfaction?

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