Two Great Myths about the Alcoholic Stereotype

Working in the field of addiction treatment, people often ask “what does an alcoholic actually look like?” In many cases, people expect the answer to validate the picture they already have in their minds of the steriotypical addict. Their preconceived picture however, is often quite innaccurate.

The Innacuracy of the Stereotype

Maybe it’s the depiction of addiction in television or movies. Maybe its our tendancy to generalize and magnify our differences. Whatever the reason, the commonly accepted picture of an alcoholic is often woefully innacurate.

There are several common myths about the face of addiction. Before we understand what addiction really looks like, we have to address these myths.

Myth #1: The Glorified Alcoholic

Society tends to underrate the severity of alcoholic problems in extremely gifted individuals, especially for the creative individual. Artists have long claimed alcohol and other drugs as muses for their creativity. As studies prove this correlation, more people have accepted the mindset that creative individuals are rightly entitled to abuse alcohol and other substances.

Alcohol, however, isn’t a necessity for creativity.

The more high-profile creative types become addicted, the more it seems that drugs and alcohol must be crucial to creativity.  (TIMES)

Maybe it’s because we connect so strongly with their work. Maybe it’s because we idolize them. Whatever the reason, we place these highly creative individuals in a different caliber of addiction. They’re not just another drunk, they’re a creative alcoholic.

But as Gene Duffy said, “A glorified alcoholic is still an alcoholic!”  It doesn’t matter the level of your abilities, why you started drinking, or how you compare with others. An alcoholic is an alcoholic. Popularity or acheivement doesn’t cancel out the damage inflicted by addiction.

Steven King, America’s greatest horror-story writer and recovered alcoholic, talks about this in his autobiographic book On Writing:

“The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time. . . Substance abusing writers are just substance abusers—common garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other words.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it’s what alkies are wired up to do. Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.”

Myth #2: The Unqualified Alcoholic

The second myth is that people who have their act together aren’t “real” alcoholics. Either they aren’t desperate enough, haven’t lost enough, or haven’t fallen far enough to qualify as an alcoholic.

Andrea, a recovering addict and blogger, addresses this long-standing myth in her blog post Confessions of a High Bottom Alcoholic:

“I felt like my story wasn’t good enough. Or, should I say “bad enough”. Like people were judging me, thinking that I didn’t belong there because my story was tied up with a pretty bow. . .  I felt like there had to be a criteria that was unbearably painful and tragic in order to qualify for being a real alcoholic. Then I could be a part of the club. Then I could qualify for sobriety. . .

All alcoholics have been in a “wasn’t that bad” place. I know in my heart that had I kept drinking, or if I ever go back out, I will end up a tragic, rock bottom story. I will lose my husband. My children will end up in therapy talking about their alcoholic mother. This disease does not give a sh*t about my designer jeans, house in the suburbs or my high bottom. I am an alcoholic, period.”

The picture of the homeless alcoholic is so deeply ingrained into our culture that we begin to forget who most alcoholics really are: normal people who slowly lost everything. This myth becomes an obstacle to the high functioning alcoholic’s chance of attaining lasting sobriety.

The Truth: Alcohol is an Equal Opportunity Destroyer

It doesn’t matter if you’re an international bestseller or on Rolling Stone’s Top 100. It doesn’t matter if you take home 6 figures, if you’ve never been in the hospital, never gotten a DUI, or if you haven’t reached “rock bottom.” Alcoholics are alcoholics, regardless of what their life looks like.

And all alcoholics need help.

If drinking or using is affecting your life or the life of a loved one in a negative way, consider seeking more information about the disease of addiction.  Break the myths and find hope and help today.