Myths and facts about Alcoholism

Myth: Addiction is a voluntary disorder.
Fact: Alcoholism is highly genetic. Alcoholics have to drink to feel normal.

Myth: Treatment doesn’t work.
Fact:  Ninety percent of patients who work the program stay clean and sober.

Myth: Patients are going to relapse anyway, so why bother?
Fact: Treatment has success rates similar to asthma, hypertension, and diabetes.

Myth: Addiction treatment is not a worthwhile endeavor.
Fact: Treatment saves lives.

Myth: Drinking coffee will help sober me up.
Truth: Only time will sober you up. Once alcohol is in your blood, there isn’t anything you can do about it but wait. Coffee might wake you up, but it sure won’t do anything about your blood alcohol levels.

Myth: Eating breath mints will fool a police ‘breath test’.
Truth: The breath test is not fooled by breath mints. Blood alcohol measurement devices measure the alcohol content of the air in your lungs - breath mints will not change the alcohol content.

Myth: Physical activity will sober me up.
Truth: Exercise, because it speeds up your heart rate, may have a marginal affect to sober you up. However, this affect is so marginal that it’s almost negligible in the grand scheme of things. If you had enough time to get drunk, wait longer and stay safe. It doesn’t pay to drink and drive.

Myth: If you can’t taste the alcohol in a drink, it’s not there.
Truth: Some mixers, such as fruit juices, can mask the taste of alcohol. Also, certain types of alcohol (i.e. alcool) do not taste very strong, but the alcohol is still there. The best policy is - if you’re drinking, don’t drive!

Long -term Recovery
For recovery to be stable, abstinence must be maintained for years in settings (drinking establishments, environmental stressors) that closely resemble those in which alcohol was consumed.  Supervised community abstinence needs to occur in the presence of many secondary reinforcers that used to trigger drinking. When secondary reinforcers continue to be present in the absence of drinking,  the reinforcers lose their effectiveness in controlling the alcoholic’s behavior. Compulsory supervision such as AA sponsors, random breathalyzers, drug screens, drug courts, probation officers, and supportive family members often is key to sustained abstinence.  Table 2.2 summarizes critical ingredients in long-term recovery.

The alcoholic needs to find a substitute for his or her drinking behavior.

Table 2.2
Critical Ingredients in Long-Term Recovery
- Recovery that occurs in the community and lasts for years.

Compulsory supervision or experiencing a consistent aversive experience related to drinking.

Finding a suitable substitute for drinking.

Attaining a new alcohol-free, guilt-free social network.

Membership in an inspirational group that offers hope and self-esteem in Alcoholics Anonymous or religion.
- From “Spontaneous Remission from the Problematic Use of Substances:  An Inductive Model Derived from a Comparative Analysis of the Alcohol,  Opiate,  Tobacco and Food/ Obesity Literatures,” by R. Stall and P. Biernacki, 1986, International Journal of the Addictions, 21, pp. 1–23

This means the alcoholic can get more of what he or she wants by using new behaviors. These new behaviors include new social networks including therapeutic communities,  halfway houses,  or Alcoholics Anonymous home groups that ask a patient to bond with a group of companions whose only commonality is that they do not drink.  W.  R.  Miller and C’deBaca (2001) found that conversion to a new spiritual path is often a key to maintaining abstinence.  Involvement in religious activities and AA meetings can effect conversions and spiritual experiences that are better than drinking. The task of treatment is to transfer the addict’s dependency on alcohol to a healthier lifestyle. Intense involvement with AA and religious groups provides group forgiveness and relieves the feelings of shame and guilt that can trigger relapse.

Many of the reinforcing causes and effects of alcoholism have no direct pharmacological basis. For each person, the pattern of alcohol abuse may be maintained almost entirely by secondary reinforcers. It is not surprising, then, that detoxification and treatment are not enough to maintain sobriety. To a remarkable degree, relapse is independent of conscious free will and motivation. What is needed is for alcoholics to alter their whole pattern of living (Vaillant, 2003).


Robert R. Perkinson,  PHD
Helping Your Clients Find the Road to Recovery

Alcoholism - Treatment.  I.  Title.
RC565.P375 - 2004
616.86’10651- dc22

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