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The Emotional Roller Coaster of Addiction

This post looks at some of the emotions of addiction — in the addict and in those who are in relationship with the addict/alcoholic.  Addiction enters through the person who is using but flows through to everyone in the addict’s or alcoholic’s life.  This is because of the abuse pattern (see previous blog entry). While all people around the world feel the same emotions, we will look at those emotions that are always a part of the addict’s or alcoholic’s life.  We will then look at the emotions of those people who are in the lives of the addict/alcoholic.


We all know what it is like to feel shame and an absence of belonging (I’ll call it nonbelongingness).  Yet, not everyone suffers from identifying with that shame and nonbelongingness. Those suffering from addiction or alcoholism, however, do!  You will not meet an alcoholic or addict who does not struggle with shame and nonbelongingness.  You will, however, meet people who struggle with shame and nonbelongingness who are not alcoholic or addicted.  Shame develops from the consistent judgments of not being/doing good enough and more.  That shame then sets the stage for the person to feel like no one is going to like or want them.  Because that shaming and nonbelongingness are an integral part of the abuse pattern, the person identifies with them in order to survive the pattern.  Now, the internal rejection/judgment keeps them from reaching out and, ultimately, is the basis to the using/drinking alone. The absence of acceptance is a part of the continual perception that they are not good enough (shame). Although individuals will feel the gamut of emotions, these two emotions are consistent in the abuse pattern.


The anger is the third emotion common to all alcoholics/addicts.  Again, we all feel angry at times, but the alcoholic/addict struggles with the anger.  Why? Because anger is a secondary emotion. So, for the alcoholic/addict it is the expressed emotion on behalf of the shame, nonbelongingness, and loneliness.  The greater the pain of those primary emotions the greater the intensity of the anger.  Because the anger is a secondary emotion, it is the most prevalent or visible.  It is also a critical feature in the abuse pattern.


For those who choose to quit drinking/using but avoid addressing the foundation of their alcoholism/addiction (referred to as a dry drunk), they do not get the opportunity to address the emotions or impact of judgments and are left with the anger.  They appear angry to others and, at times, do not understand why they are perceived that way.  They tend to be judgmental of others, judging those who use as weak and remaining fiercely committed to the responsibility to choose not to use.   Hidden in that is the judgment that if they use a substance they are weak.  That judgment then strikes the shame which in turn can elicit the anger/rage, consequently keeping the pattern that underlies addiction and abuse alive and well. In general, they tend to choose to not drink/use to meet the expectations of the main culture.  As a result they take on the judgments of the main culture and become resentful of their situation.


So, we just addressed the key, or central, emotions of the addict/alcoholic.  Now, let’s look at the emotions of those who live with or love the addict/alcoholic.  Because of the abuse pattern, the substance enters through the addict/alcoholic but affects everyone in their world.  Consequently, the other person (called other) more often than not feels a similar set of emotions.  Why? The use of anger rather than it’s expression.  Let me explain.  If the addict/alcoholic feels anger as a result of their shame and perceived judgments AND they do not know how to express their anger (because most of us don’t) then they use their anger.  The way people use their anger is by creating in the other the very emotion that is causing their anger.  For example, if the addict feels shame because they have hurt the other then, in anger, they project their shame.  Throwing it into the other person.  The other then receives it and identifies with it and defends against the feeling of shame.   So, the shame (or whatever emotion dominates the addict) becomes common to the relationship with the other.


Why does the other take it personally?  Because they care and believe or hope that they can do something that stops the addict from using.  The abuse pattern (as described in the previous post) keeps the other thinking that if they can just do “X” that then, maybe, things will stay good and sober!  It is that thought that keeps them open to the addict/alcoholic and, consequently, allows the venom of the verbal attacks from the addict/alcoholic to enter and be taken personally.


So, is this co-dependency? Yes.  The other who allows the apology or endless promise because of the hope that one day…, is inadvertently a part of keeping the pattern alive and so we say they are co-dependent.  We also say they are co-dependent because they are affected by the substance as well as the pattern.


It is painful to be the other in relationship to an addict or alcoholic.  The helplessness and the hope are an exhausting set of experiences within the other.  They end up suffering as much as the addict/alcoholic because of these plus their belief in the person who is addicted/alcoholic.  They know the person beyond the addict/alcoholic. So, they know the beauty of the person uncovered from that wet blanket of substance.  It keeps them working hard to get that person back and/or to rescue that person from addiction before addiction wins and takes their life.


It’s a constant battle.  It is exhausting.  The more exhausted the other gets, the more they succumb to the pattern and so it goes.  It is why the friends of the other get frustrated and exhausted and can eventually give up!  The pattern can extend that far  because addiction is THAT powerful! It has the power to destroy not just the users’ lives, but to devastate all who care for them. How do we stop the cycle? I will address this in my next post!!



  1. Well written and very insightful article.

    Comment by jody cohen —

  2. Very knowlegable and helpful post Thank you!!

    Comment by Karen —

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Kristen Bomas, PA
398 Camino Gardens Blvd., Suite 104
Boca Raton, Fl 33432


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