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Atwater: New Year’s resolutions abandoned by alcoholics

Published: Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

Alcoholics don’t make New Year’s resolutions. It’s true. They’ve learned the hard way that promises to themselves or promises to others are a one-way ticket to disappointment.

They have discovered through trial and error (mostly error) that deciding to swear off alcohol is not a viable option.

I don’t want to overuse the word hopeless, but that’s where this ends up. Alcoholics often have been hopeless for so long they don’t even recognize hopeful. Hopelessness is a forgone conclusion and a way of life. The theme song for these folks is a shrug and “I don’t care,” which translates to “I’m hopeless that anything will ever be any different.”

Many have tried numerous ingenious ways to limit or control the drinking. Some blame the gin but keep the wine. Some blame the scotch but keep the beer, and some alternate days. Some only drink on weekends, which end up starting Thursday and ending after Monday night football. Some think it’s their God-given right to drink and blame its consequences on those around them. Some simply maintain it’s not that bad. Some supplement alcohol with prescription medication, and others switch to weed.

The one thing they have in common is they know, even though they have yet to admit it even to themselves, they wouldn’t be doing these intricate maneuvers if they didn’t feel the need to control the drinking.

A hallmark of alcoholic drinking is rationalization. It is said alcoholics have “rationalizing minds” – that they can justify pretty much anything. This doesn’t mean they don’t feel badly about what they’re doing, simply that they can avoid feeling the shame associated with it. The more drinking, the more shame and the more shame, the more drinking.

Identifying alcoholism has a lot to do with defining the term “loss of control.” Many people think that means continuous drinking, but this is not the case.

“I don’t drink every day,” the alcoholic says.

“You mean you don’t get drunk every day,” the addictions counselor says.

“Yes, so that means I can control it,” the alcoholic says.

“Can you determine, once you start drinking, which days you’ll get drunk?” asks the addictions counselor.

“No,” says the alcoholic.

“I rest my case,” the addictions counselor says.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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