It's Not Just About Not Drinking

Q: Take a drunken horse thief and sober him up. What do you have?
A: A sober horse thief!

Q: Take a drunk, or an addict, sober/clean him up, what do you have?
A: A "dry" drunk/addict, still angry, dishonest, blaming, manipulative, scared, full of self-hatred, controlling, confused, resentful, and even more irritable because we took away the drug that helped to cover all of these feelings!

The "dry" drunk is just as difficult to live with as the drinking alcoholic, often more so. (By now, I hope everyone realizes we can interchange the words alcohol and drugs, alcoholic and addict). Why more difficult? When the drug is removed, voluntarily or forcibly, we are left with the real and raw person. The old pain, usually from childhood, surfaces. Without adequate tools to deal with old shame, fear, resentment, and anger, and the additional shame, fear, resentment and anger accumulated in years of drinking, drugging and wreaking havoc in adulthood, the dry drunk becomes irritable, restless, and discontent, and takes it out on everyone around him.

This is when real recovery can begin. Recovery is a process of looking at oneself, becoming honest with what we see, and deciding what parts we want to keep and what we want to change (the word amend means to change). We get to work toward being the person we were meant to be. When we take away the mind altering substances and processes, we get to become conscious and look at ourselves. No one can do this alone… not even you, my reader, who is insisting, "I can do it myself, I don't need no stinking meetings." Nope, no can do. Cannot change all alone and without help. An alcoholic alone is in horrible company, even a non-drinking alcoholic who has yet to change is not comfortable in his own head. The messages he gives himself are negative and repetitive. He is unable to see himself in any but the old way. His brain is stuck in old thinking; his behavior is based on old ways of looking at himself and others. This is why they make lots of recovering alcoholics who help each other see everything, including themselves, in a new way. It takes someone who has been there to truly see, and to help another see, who he is and what he does. Where are these recovering alcoholics who are ready, willing, and able to help someone beginning the journey of recovery? Hmmm. Maybe meeting together in a secret underground society to help each other maintain sobriety and encourage a new way of life.

Some people want additional help from professionals. It is always appropriate to seek help from a therapist, as long as the therapist does not collude with the alcoholic to use therapy alone and avoid meetings with others like him who have found recovery. Only another recovering alcoholic can completely, in his gut as well as his brain, understand and help by sharing his own experience. If it is working for him, it can work for you.

Some people in early recovery may go to a doctor; no problem as long as said doctor does not prescribe mind altering drugs, like tranquilizers (alcohol in pill form). The whole point of recovery is to become alcohol and drug free, not substitute one drug for another...duh! I am not talking about antidepressants, antibiotics, medications for other diseases...just don't get sucked into believing that a doctor knows anything about your disease of alcoholism. He or she probably does not, and may sabotage your recovery unknowingly by giving you alcohol in pill form. (All the while, of course, trying to help.)

Others may go to religious counselors for additional help. Great! They may find that this help is very consistent with the 12 step programs. Church, Synagogue, and religious counseling can be a terrific adjunct to recovery. Most people find they need more than just religious people; they need others who have been where they have been; they need to be in groups of people with similar stories of drinking and drugging and recovery. Whatever you choose, if you want to stop drinking and drugging, at least attend some 12 step meetings and listen. Pry your mind open for a few hours over a week or two, go to several meetings, and see what other recovering alcoholics and addicts have to say about their own discovery in recovery!

Contact AA, NA, and Alanon in Steamboat at 970-879-4882, or go to and click on #11 (Singletree-Winter Park), to find Steamboat meeting list.

Dr. Obrecht is an M.D. addiction medicine specialist, the only one on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Her office is in Steamboat Springs and she does consultations and referrals to anywhere in the country.


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