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Does It Matter Why I Became an Alcoholic?

Is There a Definitive Answer?

Photo from the Author's Files of him and his Dad

When I was nearing the end of my drinking days, I began to consider whether or not I was an alcoholic.

Although I was in therapy with a Social Worker, meeting for the standard 45-minute session every week and trying to understand why I was having frequent panic attacks, we never did get to the bottom of it.

It was when I went to the Alcoholism Council of Greater New York for free sessions with a Certified Alcohol Counselor that I began to see clearly what my real problem was. I had become an alcoholic.

Naturally, I wanted to know why. And how.

Maybe you’re wondering about that also.


My Dad drank. How often, how much, and how it affected him, I don’t really know. It was very regular, maybe daily for many years.

I do know that he’d frequently get a little slurry with his speech after a few drinks.

Unlike me, he would often have some drinks, get to feel the way he wanted to feel, and then stop for the night.

Once I started, I didn’t stop for the evening and then spend hours not drinking. I’d drink until I fell asleep/passed out/crashed. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I wrestled with the question as to whether or not my Dad was an alcoholic or not.

For sure, my Mom and my sisters are not alcoholics. And while there was a smattering of alcoholic history in my family, it was in the distant past.


I was looking for somewhere to place blame. It was a lot for me to shoulder and to comprehend what had happened to me, and to deal with my new reality of understanding that I needed to learn how to stop and to stay stopped.

I had to pierce through a lot of denial.

I also did not want to accept this development. I wanted to bargain and find a way to wriggle out of this.

But, as I went over my drinking history, it became clear that I’d crossed a line many years ago, and that it had started a downward spiral. And that I would continue downward were I to keep drinking.

As far as taking responsibility, well, I’d become a professional at skirting responsibility. Vague apologies and changing the subject or disappearing were skills I’d acquired.


As the fact of my alcoholism became clearer and clearer to me, I realized that it made no difference how or why I’d become alcoholic in terms of what I needed to do about it.

And what I needed to do was to accept it, and to work hard on my recovery.

I learned how to express myself honestly and openly in the outpatient program at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. We stayed together as a group for two and a half years. It was powerful as we developed a bond and came to trust the expert, caring guidance that our counselor gave to us.

Trust. Trusting others, and learning to be trustworthy. That was a huge part of the transformation into a new life.


Of course, it’s been important to understand the impacts from my early life and my drinking days, and how I played into and built upon a lot of negative influences.

I had to change the culture around me, and my opinions of what I appreciated and respected. For example, I stopped seeing Keith Richards as a crazy role model and started to see him as a human with bad problems and a lot of talent and good fortune. I didn’t want to live his life.

I made new role models. And I developed a new vision of the life I wanted to live.


Once I realized that what mattered was the fact that I’d become an alcoholic and that I needed to deal with that, I let go of the concerns about how and why it had occurred. I stopped wondering about my father’s drinking in terms of how to define it. That was his business.

This freed me to understand that responsibility and accountability are remarkable aspects of life. I had spent so much time trying to shirk responsibility and just “get by,” and this had robbed me of the positive feeling of satisfaction for really showing up for life.

I learned that I’d crossed over an invisible line into alcoholism, and learning how to deal with that was the most important thing I could do.

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