Why do Alcoholics Like Alcohol?

The question in addiction treatment isn’t “why should you quit using?” The critical question is what using does for you. If drinking had no upside then it would be easy for anyone to quit. Early in recovery, the benefits of alcohol may not be conscious. All the benefits are buried by the negative consequences that drinking caused. The consequences that bring people to treatment are clear. The benefits that alcohol gave the person are forgotten, temporarily. So treatment becomes focused on paying attention to remembering all the bad things that alcohol caused in a person’s life. This a huge mistake.

After a while, the memory of the benefits of alcohol come back. Benefits like how drinking temporarily seemed to help with depression—it actually makes it worse. Or how it helped get rid of boredom, anxiety, or stress. The memory of the ways in which alcohol once helped the person deal with these problems come back. They come back, and they trigger emotions and thoughts to try to get the person suffering them to drink again. That is how relapses happen.

The memories of the things that make alcoholics like alcohol usually catch people by surprise. They have spent their time in treatment or AA talking about how alcohol had ruined their lives. They are not prepared to face the temptation of the memory of how good it was once, and this memory and the emotions that it brings gets them to use again.

Therefore, effective treatment and effective relapse prevention have to be directed to identifying, challenging, and reframing the hidden beliefs and memories of how alcohol once helped a person, and then became their worse enemy. The memories and feelings of how bad alcohol was are never the cause of relapse — the memories of why alcoholics like alcohol do.