Magazine article Psychology Today

The Cost of Sobriety

Magazine article Psychology Today

The Cost of Sobriety

Article excerpt

( UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM )

A friend of 30 years recently celebrated one year of not drinking. She was a "functional alcoholic." Every night, she drank at home by herself to the point of intoxication, but managed to hold a job and pay her bills. She got into a rehab program after her family staged an intervention. Even though she says she doesn't want to drink anymore, she frequently voices anger at her family and, more indirectly, at me for confronting her about her past drinking. I was not part of the intervention, but I did tell her I was worried about her drinking. It seems to me that a person who's sincere about staying sober would be grateful to the people who cared enough to encourage her to get help. She is not involved in any aftercare or AA, and I really don't understand her continued anger toward her family and me.

Confrontational gang-UPS are not the way most people like their encouragement served. Real encouragement reinforces what is best in a person, not shoves her nose in what is worst. Your friend perceived the interventionbut not its goal- as negative and dehumanizing, and considerable evidence supports her view. A look at the psychological realities of interventions clearly suggests why any self-respecting person might experience lingering anger over being force-fed unasked-for advice, and told that she is unacceptable as she is, defective in some profound ways, and blind about herself, and that everybody else in the room is more enlightened than she is. Most interventions proceed by labeling someone an addict or alcoholic; to sum up a person's entire being in one pejorative label not only diminishes the whole of a life but makes the problem behavior feel eternal and inescapable. Confrontational methods are practiced nowhere else in the worldfor good reason. Interventions are deeply humiliating. They imply a moral and psychological superiority among those staging the intervention. They remove a person's autonomy and induce shame and guilt- feelings that actually reduce the likelihood of change.

In 2007, psychologist William Miller and consultant William White reported that "decades of research have failed to yield a single clinical trial showing efficacy of confrontational counseling, whereas a number have documented harmful effects. …

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