Why Are Alcoholics So Mean to the Ones They Love

The relationship between alcoholism and anger is legend. Alcohol abuse can instill a false sense of grandiosity, power, and superiority that often results in angry outbursts. Being at the wrong end of these outbursts can be very painful, as many loved ones of alcoholics can attest to. Alcohol seems to steal away the person you know and replace him or her with a nasty facsimile, bent on hurting you emotionally or even physically.

So, why are alcoholics so mean to the ones they love anyway? What is it about consuming alcoholic beverages that stokes such wrath? While it is very hard to not take these angry outbursts personally, it does help to see the bigger picture. Think about bar brawls—alcohol and anger seem to go hand in hand. The alcoholic becomes desensitized to his or her own obnoxiousness, with decreased inhibitions and a penchant for loud, abrasive rantings.

Interestingly, not all alcoholics are prone to this anger. Some are quite docile, drinking in isolation until they pass out, meaning no harm to anyone. But individuals who have difficulty controlling anger when sober are easily triggered after downing a few drinks; with poorly developed anger management skills shining ever brighter the more they drink.

To understand why are alcoholics so mean to the ones they love, it is essential to first grasp the simple fact that people tend to be most cruel to those closest to them. Why is that? There are a few explanations for this phenomenon, including:

  • People lash out at their significant other as a stress release, feeling safer doing so versus lashing out at someone on the road or at work. The loved one becomes basically a whipping post of sorts for pent up frustration—usually over an issue that has nothing to do with the recipient, and alcohol stokes this.
  • Some people stuff their emotions, not verbalizing feelings of discontent or frustration with the relationship. They may feel uncomfortable approaching their partner with their true feelings, but while under the influence of alcohol they become emboldened, and let their feelings loose.
  • People with a drinking problem may outwardly seem to be in denial about their problem, even with evidence of mounting negative consequences. Just underneath the surface they often feel shame and guilt about their alcoholism. When intoxicated, these emotions bubble up and manifest in anger and rage, many times directed toward a loved one.

Living With an Angry Alcoholic

People who are closest to the alcoholic take the lion’s share of the abuse. Children of alcoholics become anxious and fearful, never knowing what to expect each day from their parent. Spouses of alcoholics walk on eggshells, constantly trying to avoid triggering the next angry outburst, or worse, physical attack. The emotional damage done to loved ones of alcoholics due to misplaced and unpredictable anger is significant.

These family members go about their days, weeks, months, and years feeling confused and frustrated, wondering why are alcoholics so mean to the ones they love? It makes no sense. But for the families and spouses of the alcoholic, it is important to seek out professional help. If the alcoholic is physically abusive, the behavior should not be tolerated, and steps should be taken to find safe housing. Until the angry, abusive alcoholic is willing to receive treatment for their disease, they should not have access to their family.

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism

When the time comes that the alcoholic is ready to enter a treatment program they will participate in a variety of different therapeutic activities. Rehab will begin with a residential detoxification, where the residual toxins from the alcohol are expelled during a supervised process that takes about one week. Once the individual has stabilized, they will be ready to engage in therapy.

Psychotherapy is the core treatment element in most alcohol rehabilitation programs. Psychotherapy will be provided in both individual one-on-one sessions and small group sessions, and often focuses on making important behavioral changes. Most rehabs will address the challenges that alcoholism has wrought on the client’s spouse and children by providing couples counseling and family therapy. Anger management and conflict resolution are other recovery tools that are often taught in rehab, both of which will help the family going forward. While in treatment, that important question–Why are alcoholics so mean to the ones they love?—is addressed, which helps begin the healing process for both the alcoholic and their loved ones who have suffered verbal or physical abuse at their hands.

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