Alcoholic Selfishness | Are Alcoholics Selfish?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

It can be easy to dismiss the behaviors of someone struggling with alcoholism as “selfish” or “uncaring”. Exploring the cause of these behaviors can help you to understand the nature of alcohol addiction, and how treatment can help.

Alcoholic Selfishness

There seems to be a common thread among loved ones of active alcoholics. Loved ones often feel as though they are being forced to deal with an addiction they didn’t ask for in the first place. Similar negative behavior patterns, commonly called alcoholic selfishness, come up in many people struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction.

Is alcoholic selfishness a real thing? The short answer seems to be, yes. But as with any situation with addiction and substance abuse, the full answer is never quite that simple.

Are Alcoholics Selfish?

Selfish people are everywhere—it is a behavior unique to all human beings, not just those with alcohol use and drug use issues. However, the nature of addiction can lead people to behave with a certain self-centeredness and end up hurting those around them.

Because alcoholism does not have a “type”, the causes of selfish behaviors won’t look the same in each person.

Some of the reasons for alcoholic selfishness might be:

  • unhealthy upbringing
  • lack of appropriate coping skills
  • abusive parents
  • mental health issues
  • being neglected by caregivers
  • history of relationship abuse
  • abandonment issues
  • sense of entitlement

Often, a person struggling with alcoholism is attempting to numb whatever they are feeling or to avoid their own experiences. This compulsion to consume alcohol can end up leaving loved ones feeling hurt and taken advantage of.

Alcoholism can also result in a significant amount of guilt and negative emotions. This can lead to feeling so overwhelmed that they throw their hands up and say, “It doesn’t matter anymore, no one sees what I am trying to do” or “I keep trying and I just can’t stop drinking”.

After repeated attempts to stop drinking, each failure can pile on top of the last. Feeling miserable about the state of things can lead to self-pity. Misery can also manifest into selfishness.

The majority of selfish behaviors in alcoholics are observably negative, but some behaviors are positive. A person feeling extreme guilt over their alcohol use might decide to give gifts to their loved ones. While this may be less harmful than anger or frustrated behaviors, it is still selfish.

Is Alcoholic Selfishness Permanent?

In a perfect situation, a person struggling with alcoholism will stop drinking and attend a substance abuse rehab. Treatment programs are important because they address how multifaceted addiction truly is.

Speaking to a counselor or an addiction treatment specialist can help people to recognize and address issues they may not have acknowledged before. Managing and resolving these issues can help a person successfully navigate sobriety.

Alcoholic selfishness does not have to be permanent. Putting in the work and finding better coping skills can help a person change these negative attributes. Alcoholic selfishness is also not a mental illness and it does not make a person a narcissist.

Alcoholic Selfishness And Dry Drunk Syndrome

When a person is able to stop drinking but doesn’t work to make lasting behavioral or emotional changes to themselves, it can be harmful.

Those that remain aggressive, selfish, mean, or continue to exhibit other narcissistic traits are often referred to as “dry drunks”.

These individuals continue to act how they did when they were drinking, but without alcohol. They can come off as angry, easily agitated, rude, and often judgmental.

Recovery takes work, and while quitting drinking is a very important first step, sobriety is more than just putting down the bottle.

Decreasing Alcoholic Selfishness

There are a number of ways a person can learn to be more selfless, especially in recovery. Addiction treatment specialists understand that selfishness tends to be common in addiction. Changing selfish behavior is an important part of the healing process.

There are self-help books that help outline how to change selfish behaviors. Many organizations advocate for a Higher Power to help them change selfish behaviors.

Whatever option, it is important to recognize the behaviors they intend to change and work towards doing just that. When a person sees the changes they want to make, working toward them can increase self-esteem and well-being.

Does Sobriety Help Selfishness?

Getting sober is helpful in the journey of recovery. Alcohol keeps a cloud over the mind of an addict, and removing that cloud can help them to see the issues alcohol has caused.

Once free of alcohol, a person may realize that their behaviors were self-focused and harmful to those around them. Changing those behaviors can start once the person has stopped abusing alcohol or drugs.

Addiction is a compulsion that causes uncontrollable urges. This type of behavior is often seen as selfish. Once free of the physical dependency on alcohol, the behaviors that follow addiction can be addressed.

Selfishness In Sobriety

Struggling with addiction can change who a person is, sometimes permanently. Even when they become sober, they may not be the person that they used to be. This can be hard for loved ones, especially if they assumed that their family member would return to the old version of themselves.

Not only can addiction change someone, but being sober can have unanticipated challenges. This may require a person in recovery to be actively self-centered. Being self-aware and focused can make the difference between sobriety and a relapse.

Understanding the new needs of a loved one in recovery can help everyone. A degree of selfishness may be required to help them remain sober. They are simply doing what is best for them.

For example, attending a support group meeting or 12-step program (such as Alcoholics Anonymous or AA) may feel like a requirement for staying sober. With additional obligations, such as picking up kids from school, or going to the grocery store after work, saying “I can’t do that because I have a meeting” can seem selfish.

To loved ones, it can seem like the newly sober person is using their sobriety or AA meetings to avoid responsibilities. This is not the case. In fact, the person is likely working hard to maintain sobriety, not intentionally trying to hurt anyone.

It may be important for loved ones to attend a support group, like Al-Anon, to learn how their role in recovery may affect their addicted loved one.

Addiction Treatment Centers And Selfishness

Most addiction treatment programs are capable of helping addicted individuals acknowledge and modify selfish behaviors. These recovery programs work with clients to develop treatment plans that will help them become healthy, clean, and sober.

Accepting that sobriety is an individual journey that affects the person and their loved ones can allow those involved to appreciate the level of self-care needed to succeed in recovery.

Contact us today so we can assist in finding a program that best meets your needs or the needs of your loved one.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on
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