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Understanding Alcoholism and Fear

I believe that fear is the engine that drives alcoholism.

During the height of my drinking, fear controlled my life, and I used alcohol to try and control the fear. I couldn’t tell you exactly what I was frightened of; it wasn’t spiders or the dark. It was deep terror that pervaded every thought.

Fear is a universal experience. Everybody feels fear. Very few of us talk about it. People rarely open up about what really scares them, which is extraordinary, because we’re all scared of more or less the same things.

Here are the most common fears we share:

  • Rejection
  • Being vulnerable
  • Loneliness
  • Other people
  • Not being good enough
  • Not being loved
  • Speaking in public
  • What other people think of us
  • Someone seeing who we really are
  • Failure
  • Success
  • People laughing at us
  • Looking stupid
  • Other people finding out we’re frightened!

How many did you recognize?

There are many more, but this list serves as an example of the core fears most people experience. I would boil these fears down to two dominant ones:

  • I’m not good enough, and therefore,
  • I won’t be loved.

Fear becomes the default setting for an alcoholic. They live in fear constantly, are frightened of the world and are constantly trying to find ways of dealing with the fear. In order to understand alcoholism, we must understand how alcoholics react to fear and how it can come to dominate their lives.

Fear is such an unpleasant emotion that we want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. So we tend to choose whatever solution works the fastest. We often make the big mistake of choosing something that is ultimately destructive. However, because our need is immediate, we are unable to consider long-term consequences. If we are frightened, we want it to end NOW!

Here are some common methods of dealing with fear:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking drugs
  • Cigarettes
  • Overeating
  • Gambling
  • Moving jobs/house
  • Buying things you don’t need
  • Meaningless sex
  • Taking risks
  • Inappropriate relationships
  • Ignoring facts
  • Doing anything to avoid being alone
  • Complete denial
  • Getting angry

Most of us have not been taught healthy strategies to cope with fear so we mask it and anesthetize it.

The truth is that we will never be free from fear. As long as we continue to grow as human beings, we will experience fear. However, what we can change is how we react to it so that it no longer disables us. Recovery can give us healthy coping strategies to deal with overpowering feelings and emotions.

Fear can manifest itself in many ways, and in relation to alcoholism, I am referring mostly to the hidden fears. These are the fears that no one ever really talks about, because they’re scared to. These are the disabling, all- encompassing fears that drive a person to seek relief in drink.

When a person’s drinking is progressing, the thought of having to deal with their fears makes the idea of quitting so hard. They usually haven’t told anyone how they feel, because it’s almost impossible to put the concept into words. But they are scared. Even when they know alcohol is destroying their lives, they are terrified of coping without its support. They believe that alcohol is the only thing that is helping them deal with their fear.

If the alcoholic doesn’t find a better way to manage fear, they will either return to drinking or simply replace alcohol with another substance or unhealthy behavior.-Veronica Valli

Understanding this, and supporting the alcoholic to find new ways to deal with their fears, is an essential component to recovery from alcoholism. I believe that if the alcoholic doesn’t find a better way to manage fear, they will either return to drinking or simply replace alcohol with another substance or unhealthy behavior. Because fear is simply too overwhelming to ignore.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, take action and find alcohol abuse and addiction treatment options in your area.

Veronica Valli has worked as a therapist and life coach specializing in addiction for over ten years; her experience includes working with young people in the criminal justice system, primary care adult treatment and private practice in London, UK. Learn more at

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