The Selfishness And Self Pity of Recovering Alcoholics

Alcoholics are renowned for being stubborn people who could use a healthy dose of modesty. Being humble is not on their radar. There is no standard template that defines ALL alcoholics, but they do share many qualities, most of which they’d be advised not to brag about. The most compelling character trait of most alcoholics is their selfishness. I’m speaking of selfish behavior that occurs before they do something about their drinking.


Selfishness and alcoholism go hand in hand since being alcoholic means you have total disregard for others around you. Alcoholics are beholden to no one or no thing except their next drink. They will sacrifice everything to see to their dependency and continued intoxication is their only goal. The longer this behavior is out of control, the worse it gets. This means leaving collateral damage in their wake such as broken relationships and families, financial ruin, poor and damaged health, lost careers and a future that is bleak with no prospects.


Someone once say that alcoholics tend to mature much slower than regular people while they are drinking. In fact they tend to stay fixed at the age they were when they experienced their first drunk. What other explanation for the bizarre behavior exhibited by heavy drinkers besides the chemical reaction facts?


Being selfish in recovery can actually be helpful when its purpose is to keep one focused on the mission of sobriety. However an alcoholic, particularly in early stage recovery, must make an effort to avoid the common defects of character they exhibited during their active drinking days – specifically about selfishness, the kind of behavior that makes you angry when things aren’t going your way. If being deprived of alcohol makes you bitter, (and it will) your tendency will be to take your frustrations out on those around you.


A recovering alcoholic has only one thing to be focused on and that’s their sobriety. Having said that, you have to think of those around you. Don’t be so focused on remaining sober that you let your emotions get the better of you. Yes you are going to feel physically lousy and jittery, and bitter with a short fuse. This is a good time to start displaying some remorse for your previous behavior. Instead of carrying a chip on your shoulder the size of Rhode Island, try presenting that side of you that has been absent for some time.


Be the person you want others to believe you can be – the person your spouse married and your children were proud of. If you hurt certain relationships, try and repair them. Don’t be afraid of asking for forgiveness if you wronged someone. This process of redemption will help you more than them. You will know who is deserving of an apology and the process of making it is what will benefit you. You may have much to make up for, as your life was out of control and you were selfish. Little else can have such a devastating effect on relationships as constant selfish behavior. You had an excuse, not a good one but grounds for your bad conduct. Those that need assuaging should receive it and this will help the process of regaining lost trust.


Self pity is for wimps. Period. You put yourself in the position you now find yourself in. No one held a gun to your head and said start drinking and don’t stop. Self-pity in recovery is natural, but is quite destructive and serves absolutely no useful purpose. It simply shows more perceived weakness by the perpetrator and a severe lack of confidence and inability to deal with adversity. It also represents a person’s idea that they are somehow a victim of their circumstances (in this case alcoholism), and they are somehow justified in feeling sorry for themselves and deserving of sympathy from others.


It does not set well when other alcoholics are heard making excuses for their abusive drinking, and in recovery accept no responsibility for their conduct. They behave the same way sober as they did when they were drinking excessively. How can they expect to improve emotionally and admit their actions were misguided in order to achieve healing? They can’t.


Enabling by others can have a disastrous effect on the individual in recovery. By offering sympathy to these self pitying, character deficient weaklings you are only setting them up to fail. A person in recovery is not only healing their physical body, but also their emotional state of mind. They will need to stiffen their spine for their future life free from alcohol when they will need those skills that may have been dormant for years in order to begin rebuilding relationships, careers and maturity. They need to start acting like emotionally stable adults they are.


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18 thoughts on “The Selfishness And Self Pity of Recovering Alcoholics

  1. I have recently separated from my BF of two and a half years, who is alcohol dependent and also takes valium daily to sleep (a habit that stretches back over 20 years, I found out recently). He is also a heavy smoker (at least 40 cigarettes a day). The irony is he that he works in mental health area and regulary treats people for addiction related problems. He is apparently a caring person, but has extremely low self esteem and reacted aggressively (verbally) throughout our relationship when I broached the subject of his drinking and pill taking (this mixture is potentially fatal) and its effect on our relationship. Promises to cut down on drinking and stop smoking have never been met or, after some initial effort, have lapsed. I admit that at times I have enabled his problems.
    He has had two disastrous previous marriages – not helped I would imagine by the aforementioned problems. In each case he has firmly placed himself in the role of victim to his (in his words) manipulative, neurotic and money grabbing former wives (he earns very well). I recently found out he was having an affair with a younger girl who works in the same area of mental health and split with him immediately. Phone conversations following this split consisted by insults directed at me (accusations of taking financial advantage of him – history repeats itself), lashings of self pity concerning him and incoherent rationalisation of his actions. On top of all this he told me the relationship he was (or still is) having “wasn’t even that serious” but if he feels like sleeping with young girls he will. He´s told me he’s now joined a gym, has cut down on drinking and is going to psychoanalysis sessions and is “on the way to recovery” (why is me telling me this?). I am slowly recovering from this sad episode, but really wonder if my ex is really capable of recovery and facing the very real, long term problems he has.

  2. I am tired of hearing alcoholics described as charming rogues. I left a well paid job because both my boss and a work-colleague were alcoholics. They displayed all the classic character traits: selfishness, jealousy, childish self-pity, mood-swings, memory loss (and false memories), vindictiveness… need I go on? Oh yes, and the shaky hands in the morning (I say “morning”, but they’d both weigh in late after I’d already done several hours of work on my own), followed by non-regulation extended lunch breaks at – you guessed it – the bar. Due to the stress of working with them, I was drinking so heavily I was in danger of joining them! Now I am stress-free and down to a bottle of wine with meals at the weekend. Poorer, but healthier and happier.

  3. I never knew that selfishness could be the core of alcoholism. I have long dealt with this issue in my life, by attracting drunken partners (thanks Mother!!) and now have come to the stage in my mid 40’s of realising a whole lot of issues about why I am attracted to these kinds. But what has eclipsed me all these years of relationships with alcoholics is that they were selfish and i was the enabling giver. Now I get it. They are truly takers in this life, and people like me are the givers. Thats why you normally see these two traits pairing up. I must be still looking for something when I feel I have to give give give all the time, especially to the takers. I remember once dating a man who was such a lovely sweet giver, like me. And I couldnt wait to end it. Now I know why. Its a long journey to discovering your inner mechanisms that attract you to the so called disease. BTW-I dont subscribe to the idea that alcoholism is a disease. I believe it is a behaviour. Maybe the discussion about whether it is a conscious or unconscious choice should be the focus. But a disease? No physical scientific evidence exists to make a causal inference there. Sure, there are associations, but I am going to rely on behaviourism in my understanding of this rotten destructive epidemic called alcoholism. So for the last year or so I have been silently employing the notion that my partner is just totally and wholly selfish. And all the signs are there. I have resigned myself to realising this fact, and just decided to google “alcoholism and selfishness” and now see that in fact there are others who have already made this conclusion. At least the penny dropped with me finally!

  4. my wife was an alcoholic from and early age, she lied cheated and even stole money from us, she neglected the wishes to stop drinking from me and her children, it wasnt until the children matured past her that we all could walk out and leave her as we did, she like her alcoholic rage was angry and threatening to us, we took away her dependant family, it was then after she started to realize the monster she had become, she went to treatemtn in florida, and has been sober for a year, but her mental state is still that of a child, her abilty to think in adult ways, show feelings emotions to both me and the family are very lacking, the kids and i still are in the same house we moved into and she ius still in her house, she cannot underdtand what is wrong or the adult need to want to repair or make things right with her family, the common sence, good judgemtns , passion , feelings tears etc are just not there, yes she is sober but still the same empty hull of a human being, its sad to see her like this and still watch the suffering from the children both over the age of 20 but still the years of pain and devastation she has done, repair for them is needed for them to try to enter into a normal relation ship themselves. theropy for them is a must, funny how the addict cant see what all they have done to those around them and try to make mends

  5. as a grown man i am tossed between my vows to god and my own needs to be happy, i have stood by her trying to be there for years but amd also trying to stay away from being a co dependant, its like i am a father figure to her, not a husband nor a lover

  6. I am just also coming to realisation that the Man I have been dating for the past 2 years has all the traits of alcoholisim but just not the drink ..he justifies his behaviour, blames me for everything, has deliusional thinking ..secretly believes hes a war hero constantly smoking, eating chocolate and drinking coffee. He is off alcohol for over 4 years but is not in a recovery programme behaviour is same… I am now getting out of this and hardening myself to him. Behaviour like this will never change unless the person sees the errors of his ways …so time to move on ..and find a person who will love and care for me as I know I am capable of great love for them…

  7. Hey. I think its funny its amost a sacrilege being angry at alcoholics, after so many things readen like “it’s not their fault”, “it’s a desease”, “it’s not them, it’s the desease”. But the truth is that, also, you read, most of the time, after what i have read and heard, it is only when the partner says “it’s me or the alcohol” when they get their asses up and move to recovery. So, how could that be a desease??
    I found the whole range of alcoholics treats disgusting: the self-pitty, the hand-shaking, the permanent manipulations attempts based on self pitty for hand shaking (“i hate that!”, he says). The loss of memory, the memory gaps, the lies, the alcohol stinking, the exagerated and associal behaviour, the cinism, the lack of hygiene, the stupid center-of-the-universe-complex. The cheating, the buying us for complete reards who doesnt know they lie. I hate everything. The way he says he needs me for recovering, and afterwards hides cans of beer he just bought in the middle of recovery.
    The incapability of realising for themselves: “i am only one more. i am not special. i am just another one, same as everybody else”. Whilst the rest of us fight, even under pressure, in stressfull lifes, they complain on their lifes. I cannot stand hem. I just agree in that they are totally selfish. Thats all. Nothing more and nothing less.

  8. I am very conflicted as I have been in a relationship with a very smart successful man who is a physician. Yet he finds any excuse to have a drink of wine or a beer every day till I get discussed then he stops drinking during the week or around me but once he is away from me he pours it I to him. He hides his life from me doesn’t Share much of anything of his thoughts or life. Conversations revolve around plans for trips together or events. Then I find myself reading his emails just to find out what is going on. Ive caught him in the past philandering with other women but denigns it. He makes plans for things days or weeks in advance and doesnt clue me in till the day of. He’s secretive lies and drinks to medicate due to some by polar tendancies.
    I’ve turned into someone that I do not like as a result of putting up with his behavior.

  9. Thank you for coming out and saying what no one else would say. I’ve lived with an alcoholic and drug addict through multiple stints in rehab and relapses and years of treatment for the last five years. I get so sick of hearing “he needs to think of himself right now” and “support him.” When has he thought of anyone but himself? His selfishness got us where we are now (the bottom, again) and now he’s allowed to be selfish in recovery too? Thank you for speaking the truth!

  10. As a recovering alcoholic, I feel much empathy for you all. It may be hard to believe, but it is a disease of the mind, body and soul… but, like many diseases, it can heal. I watched my mother murdered when I was seven, but didn’t begin drinking till I was 35 and continued to drink till I was 47. Everything I had worked at… was lost by the time I hit bottom, and I truly didn’t care if I lived or died.
    An alcoholic is not going to change until they decide they want to live. Most never get there, but some do. Save yourself. Sometimes we drunks can only see the light when all have left us.
    If an alcoholic is truly on the path of recovery, you will know. We can only get sober by hard, consistent work, and the results are wonderful.
    It’s a baffling disease, but miracles can happen. In the meantime…. WALK AWAY if you can. If they are on the road to recovery, over time they will prove themselves and work ceaselessly to make amends.
    Good luck to all of you and I am truly sorry you have suffered. Take care of you and if you need help, you may want to try al-anon.

  11. I am not a physician nor am I a mental health worker. I am, however, an alcoholic, who by the grace of God and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous will celebrate 30 continuous years of soberiety tomorrow.

    I have nothing but praise for the program and its followers as it was one of those who has interceded on my behalf on many occassions. Our fight is, as with all others, with ourselves. Alcohol is the most powerful drug that there is and has gone to ruin more lives than any other. We take the drug and the drug takes us…

    Personally, I feel that there needs to be a great deal more information and support available to the new person coming in to the program. This issue is always tenious as a new person is sometimes simply seeking a brief respite from their alcoholic self destruction and will soon wish to return to the haze.

    Like a newly released offender departing the stiff parameters of incarceration, alcoholics require a great deal of support coming out of the confusion. Do we feel sorry for ourselves? Sure we do…but that will fall away as we learn to walk again with our heads up and our hearts full. I have seen pure unadulturated love pass between a sponsor and a gratefull recovering alcoholic.

    From what I have read, alcoholism has its roots in depression. Most recovering alcoholics continue to experience severe bouts of depression, disphoria and many other clinical conditions relating to detox and withdrawl.

    These conditions may continue into sobriety as they are in fact the root of the alcoholism to begin with. If and when we turn seriously to this or any other program for help we must receive a proviso from someone that soberiety is just the beginning and that true maturation and stability will require constant introspection and self examination and that recovery takes time and that we are always in recovery. AA accepts and encourages the utilization of medical assistance through the use of professional workers.

    Some of the conditions we endure transpire during a time when we had no language and were capable of expressing their effect and repercussions only by emotion. I have discovered this through years of hypnotherapy. Alcoholism is a very treacherous master.

  12. This is specifically for Douglas and for anyone to else to comment on or urgently give me advice as I am in despair and don’t know where to ask – I’m in a relationship with an alcoholic for almost 8 months, who has been sober for 30 years now and is very active in AA, meaning he has to go to at least 3 meetings a week aside from sponsoring other alcoholics, which will take time from me and a future family if we get married. He has said that he is so much a better person now than he was when he was not into AA.

    Now we’re at a difficult time – to decide whether to end the relationship or not because he has told me that AA will ALWAYS be his priority, and NOT ME, because AA saved his life among other things, and that I will just have to accept that.

    He has said that his 1st marriage failed when he prioritized his wife and family, and not attending meetings or doing AA stuff as he should have and so he doesn’t want that to happen again. I could not make myself agree — If I’m going to be his wife – I should be his priority along with our future children, if any. I’m not an alcoholic and I don’t fully understand the disease and from the little that I know, I would not also deprive him of the benefits nor take AA away from him because that is what’s helping him; but to be told THAT doesn’t seem to make sense or even sound right.

    I am in love with this man but I am scared about the quality of our married life or how our family life would look like if he wouldn’t be home so many nights a week or maybe even when I need him, because AA is priority. It’s bad enough that he is a very busy man at work and have to go out of town some. Will I be raising our child by myself more often than not? Do alcoholics in AA really make AA their 1st priority over his/her spouse and children? Am I wrong to want to be assured I and his children are his priority? Am I being selfish?

    Enlighten me please. Thank you.

  13. Abby so nice to read what you just wrote. I too am a recovering alcoholic. 8 years now. I hurt alot of people with my drinking but thank God today through just doing the right things I have the most important people back in my life and the days of my drinking are rarely mentioned, and only to praise me for how far ive come.

  14. Regarding, Leigh’s comment above: 
    ‘Now we’re at a difficult time – to decide whether to end the relationship or not because he has told me that AA will ALWAYS be his priority, and NOT ME, because AA saved his life among other things, and that I will just have to accept that.’ 

    ‘Enlighten me, please. Thank you.’

    Leigh, you have hit upon the operative phrase, ‘Enlighten me’. To explain, a precept common to A.A. Members is the following, ‘The only relationship you have to worry about is that with your Higher Power!’ 

    Further, consider the idea that we are not human beings trying to become spiritual, we are spiritual beings having a human experience!

    While you may or not consider active involvement in a twelve step program, please consider joining your partner’s journey toward a more ‘enlightened’ way of being, toward a  fuller awareness of your shared spiritual path. Choose to align with him on this spiritual journey and you will both see your relationship with new eyes.


  15. I found myself another partner that is an Alcoholic. I have a family hx of the disease–my father, and my mother abused alcohol.. and I have in cycles ( years I have and years I have not).. or months, etc. I am almost 50 and finally realize that alcoholics are selfish.. period. For so many years I gave and gave thinking that my partner would love me more.. prioritize us… me more… I always felt like there was something wrong with me because he did not call,, failed to be on time.. was indifferent.. distant… Then I try another approach– the I’m busy,, cold shoulder.. for what? Why do I continue to fall in love with these type of men… and how can I break the cycle and find the love I deserve??

    1. Laura, thank you for your thoughtful and difficult comment.

      Oprah Winfrey, interviewing Marianne Williamson on her book, ‘Return To Love’, asked why she was constantly struggling with her weight (All repetitive dysfunctional behaviors.) Marianne said,
      ‘Until you accept the magnitude of your function, your unconscious mind will continuously put the weight back on. What you are looking for is a change in perception of who you really are. This is the miracle you seek.’

      Please understand that the alcoholic is at the effect of his dysfunctional behavior. And unless and until he realizes his soul or heart consciousness he will be condemned to perpetuate that dysfunctional pattern.

      Please consider this blog post from our new website. As well as consider using our free Journal to sort out these distinctions for you. Warmest regards, Michael
      Law of Attraction Journaling–The What, Why and How

      Students of the Law of Attraction understand that what we focus our attention on expands and becomes our point of attraction, whether wanted or unwanted.

      If we know this, then why are we not living the lives of our dreams?

      Perhaps the reason we are not getting desired results with the Law of Attraction is because we have not separated the heart’s desire from the ego’s desire?

      There’s nothing wrong with the ego’s will but it needs to be translated into the heart’s will to clear the way for true manifestation.

      For example, the idea of being rich, such as in, “I want to be rich!”, is not wrong in and of itself but it is simply not sufficiently translated or expressed to turn it into a desirable and therefore more effective point of attraction.

      Understand that your heart’s will is the same as your soul’s will.
      The ego’s desires, your conditioned mind that produces your current reality, is oftentimes a jumble of what’s wanted and not wanted.

      The key challenge addressed in Law of Attraction Jounaling is to discern (or rather un-jumble), at the heart level, the distinction between the soul’s desire and the body-mind–your self psychology.
      The work of Law of Attraction Journaling is to become clearer of your heart’s expression based upon the guidance of your ego’s desires–your ego’s thoughts, your self psychology, and that which is experienced from their thoughts.

      The Journal becomes your potter’s wheel–holding and connecting the disparate structures of soul’s will versus ego’s will.

      The Law of Attraction Journaling understands that your soul has a life purpose – intimately connected with your identity yet separate.

      Your soul has its own expression in your life. It has its process of unfolding. Your soul is available to bring wonder and delight into your life if only you will allow it.

      Your soul is waiting to play a bigger game, to open up to a bigger conversation. It’s part of another world awaiting your conscious connection to it. Your soul is your path to your true home in this life.
      The following quotes resonate the central idea inherent in the intention, practice and results of Law of Attraction Journaling:

      To remember the other world in this world
      is to live in your true inheritance.
      –David Whyte

      ‘The scent of a rose garden reached you.
      Otherwise, you would have no knowledge of these words.’

      Your current identity or conditioned mind becomes the vehicle or the fuel–the clay so to speak–for true Self expression. It is simply your psychic compost–your GPS.

      When your soul aligns with your true self expression, the Law of Attraction manifests your desires. Wellbeing is attracted and manifested. Prosperity is attracted and manifested. The joy of living is attracted and manifested. You know your Self as a creator.

      Using the Law of Attraction Journaling program, you discern and transform your obstacles into the energy of what is truly desired–your soul’s will for you.

      When you write down your thoughts and allow those words to resonate within you, discerning the felt sense of the thoughts, you permit your intuitive guidance to emerge.
      You know your Self as an aspect of Divinity, a Divine expression.

  16. I love an alcoholic. He has not drank in almost a year after being sent to detox at a treatment center for 4 days. As he talks about his recovery he says God came and took the want of drinking away completely while in detox. He has no desire for it anymore. I have been with Adam over four years…two and a half as an drunk and a year in a half in recovery. I couldn’t at this point tell you which time period was easier…or harder for that matter. There is just so much to deal with when you stop drinking…so many things that you avoided over time that seem to be waiting in line for you when you sober up. As a non-alcoholic I have a difficult time imagining how I would deal with it. So, I watch him go up and down now…without drinking…still self medicating with adderall and subutex that a doctor has prescribed him. But no therapy to speak of. I have put his recovery first…over our relationship everything else but I can’t seem to understand this rut that he seemed to have stumbled into. I hate adderall…I blame this for a lot of his inability to start him into a life. It seems to rev his engine up to high rpm’s however he never goes anywhere or does anything…he’s all talk and no action. This is a whole other level of addiction but addiction none the less. I would love so much to be able to not take it all so personally. I would like to look at him when he is all wrapped up in his addict behavior and say to myself…its okay…its part of the package…here is what to say to him or here is how to behave to get him to understand that this is not an acceptable way of life or thinking. Ive tried al-anon. Although its nice to hear such similarity amongst us all…I need tools. I need books and websites. I need training. I have a desperate need for full understanding. From both sides if that is even possible. A little backround about myself…I am a 38 old divorced mother of two. Adam and I met before my divorce was final. Many spiritual events took place in order for us to meet…things I didn’t realize until years later. I am supposed to be here. I am in this relationship for a reason. Leaving is not an option. God has joined us together. I don’t want to be told to move on. Its my choice to be here…A little back round about Adam…Drank without control for over 10 years…he is 33. No kids. Never married. In a couple serious relationships over his lifetime. Parents divorced when he was about 14 and he blames a lot of his drinking on that. He has a twin brother who is very similar. I would love someone to talk to about this. Thank you for allowing me to be open. Peace.

    1. Hi Trace,
      The good news is your partner stopped drinking but it does sound like he is using other substances to keep functioning. What is the long term plan of his doctor who is prescribing these meds? Do they plan to wean him off of them. This maybe a conversation you need to have. Also your support for him is really admirable but when you put his recovery above everything else, than it might not be. You need to maintain balance and boundaries for yourself. Being involved with an addict/alcoholic and also being part of their life in recovery is not easy. It comes with many challenges. The Al-anon meetings are really good, to help you detach from his behavior. You are not responsible for his addictive actions. Therapy is always a good choice to help someone heal more fully. Feel free to follow me on Facebook @malduanecoach or my website where I offer a lot of information for women and recovery coaching.
      Keep the Faith,
      Mal Duane

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