Are alcoholics really sociopaths?

Old 11-09-2010, 10:46 PM
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Are alcoholics really sociopaths?

I found the following sociopathy traits based on the checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare. As I reviewed this checkout I found a scary resemblance to alcoholics, especially to my dry drunk husband. Review this checklist and see if the traits of the alcoholic in your life doesn't resemble a sociopath.

Common features of the behavior of sociopaths:
Glibness and Superficial Charm;
Conventional appearance;
Manipulative and Conning;
Grandiose Sense of Self;
Pathological Lying;
Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt;
Shallow Emotions;
Incapacity for Love;
Need for Stimulation;
Living on the edge;
Verbal outbursts and physical punishments;
Rage and abuse;
Promiscuity and gambling;
Callousness/Lack of Empathy;
Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature;
Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle;
Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them;
Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them;

Profile of the Sociopath
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims. Feels entitled to certain things as "their right." Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests. A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way. When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises. Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them. Alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others. Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

**************************************** *********

Are alcoholics really sociopaths?
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Old 11-09-2010, 11:40 PM
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I also have read a great deal about sociopaths and etc...I am fascinated by the humanities esp psychology & sociology.

If I understand correctly most sociopaths have a certain type of controlling nature that makes them less likely to be alcoholic.

It's the clustering of symptoms that define any diagnosis.
Some alcoholics may be but not all are, seems to be the most logical answer.

I wondered for a very long time whether a particularly troubling alcoholic in my life was sociopathic. I think I would tend today to incline more towards borderline personality disorder.

I do think most alcoholics have strong narcisstic traits.
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Old 11-09-2010, 11:56 PM
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Most are not..until treated for alcoholism there would be no way to tell. you can't get any accurate psych diagnosis while in active untreated addiction because the drug/alcohol behaviors mimic alot of other diseases..bipolar, sociopathy,borderline personality,etc. Therapist thought my AD may have been bipolar...nope..just an addict in her addiction...she sure looked like like she had a mental illness though...
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Old 11-10-2010, 12:39 AM
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Common features of the behavior of sociopaths:
Glibness and Superficial Charm;
Conventional appearance;
Manipulative and Conning;
Grandiose Sense of Self;
Pathological Lying;
Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt;
Shallow Emotions;
Incapacity for Love;
Need for Stimulation;
Living on the edge;
Verbal outbursts and physical punishments;
Rage and abuse;
Promiscuity and gambling;
Callousness/Lack of Empathy;
Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature;
Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle;
Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them;
Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them;

A lot of these are bipolar traits as well. I guess it depends on your perspective.
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Old 11-10-2010, 01:03 AM
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Sociopaths and antisocial disorders are clinically that way it is thought since childhood. Most cold and calculated murderers would classify as sociopaths. That is the level of seriousness of a condition it is, not your garden variety addict or alcoholic. Are there some who have drinking and drug problems, maybe but a classic sociopath would be someone like Jeffrey Dahmer. It isn't a diagnosis taken lightly or handed out lightly.
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Old 11-10-2010, 03:21 AM
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Monster post on 'the addict' and 'the sociopath' guys, but there if anyone does want a read :P

Disclaimer first, *I'm not a psychologist by any means; this is just my opinion.*

The characterises of a sociopath overlap into many 'disorders' or psychological profiles, but I think the defining point is that many alcoholics, at least the ones I know, display those traits because they're alcoholic and many of these characteristics are also alcoholic traits or behaviours (eg. developing pathological lying over the years).

I think a difference between behaviour and motives needs to be made. Sociopaths are able, without alcohol / drugs, to 'switch off' their conscience or consciously manipulate their own sense of right and wrong to get what they want without experiencing shame / guilt. Alcoholics (generally) often feel huge levels of shame / guilt which fuels many of the behaviours or characteristics described in the sociopathic profile (eg. paranoia, rage). Alcoholics often drink to 'block out' their conscience, then - in turn- their drinking and behaviours they indulge in to acquire alcohol and because of lacking inhibitions *because they're drunk / drinking causes them to repeat / continue those behaviours.

As i grew up, I showed less and less, then no regard for laws / rules / social convention etc. People believed I had grandiose notions about myself – I of course disagreed. I didn’t believe I was ‘above’ the law...I simply decided to live, as I saw it, ‘beyond’ the law. I was very aware, from a young age, of the difference between ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘can’t’ ; people would say ‘You can’t break the law’...this is, of course, wholly untrue.

Noel Gallagher once said: ‘When your father beats you within an inch of your life, yet you are still alive, when you regain consciousness you stop fearing anything– [thus] you realise you can do anything.’

I made my own rules very literally. Outwardly, it seemed I was the most confident, fearless and ‘wild’ girl out there. Consequently, instead of being disliked and despite being accused of being cruel, people were attracted to me, even when I treat them with utter indifference.

...I got described as a sociopath -not diagnosed, but described- by numerous doctors throughout my teens. Maybe I was, as I said; I am not a psychologist and even if I was we cannot diagnose ourselves, controversially.

Certainly, I was told I was intimidating and domineering, but that, like most things, is a matter of perspective; I was accused of being domineering and intimidating by people with their own psychological profile and who in themselves felt intimidated or that they hd been dominted by me. In my (conscious) mind, I was just making sure ‘they’ (people generally) knew that I did not care at all who or what they were, as long as they knew if their life or actions in anyway affected mine that I would,like a ship in a storm hitting a rock, not be the thing that broke if we collided. And like a rock, in my mind, I was static; ships found and hit me, not the other way around. Again, there is no objective truth, even in hindsight, some people would disagree with that. Some people would say I was the ship and they were the rock.

Speaking about my own feelings / thoughts though -

When I realised as a very young child that poverty is real, war is real, that adults don’t know everything and instead saw that they acted out of fear, lack of control, neurosis etc ...I was repulsed and, ironically I realise now,I was terrified. Consequently, I began to see myself differently. I didn’t see the person I became as one of ‘those people’, I guess I didn’t want to, so my reaction was to simply try make sure anyone who ‘started’ with me was quickly aware that ‘I am not a victim, you won’t hurt me and you can’t...because you are nothing, to me. ‘

And if I hurt anyone then that was their problem – if you choose to be weak enough or let people hurt you / be vulnerable then you also accept the possible (and very probable) consequences – that you will get hurt. You’ve no right to complain because you made that choice. I never hurt intentionally; way I saw it, I acted ‘cruelly’ to open people’s eyes (in my mind) to the fact that they were victims because they chose to be...that they, just as much as me, used people. I simply used people openly and honestly. They, being weak, used people like a knife to cut themselves, then cry about it to feed their neurosis and be a victim. Thus, I was either being the knife they craved or being the eye-opener to make them realise that’s what they were doing. –Hence being accused of grandiose delusions about my own self worth, which –in turn and characteristically- I shrugged off as ignorance, being, as I was, wholly aware of my utter insignificance.

But my point is, yes, I treat the world and everyone in it with indifference...BUT I did that BECAUSE the alternative was to feel constant overwhelming empathy and just pain that I couldn’t do anything...

Broken down and in hindsight, it is pretty simple, or can be expressed simply considering the complexity of the human psyche: Nihilism was my reaction to the human condition and indifference was my reaction to nihilism.

BUT I did feel emotion – too strongly. I did feel empathy – too much of it, and that is WHY I appeared to be a sociopath, ironically and why I think many alcoholics / addicts are accused of being sociopaths. And I am constantly tempted to revert to being that way because I am all too aware of my own weakness, my own fear, my own humanity.

Does that mean all those accused of being sociopaths are? Or that all addicts are sociopaths or that no addict is because it is being an addict which fuels them to develop or display sociopathic characteristics? Or that the ‘sociopath’ is wrongly defined? Or that there’s another, a ‘better’, word to describe the above character? Or that you can be a sociopath and recover? Or that, like people say of the addict, sociopaths forever battle against being sociopathic?

Well, that’s what the study of psychology is, and personally where I’ve gotta’ quote what black said...

Originally Posted by blackstrat6 View Post
A lot of these are bipolar traits as well. I guess it depends on your perspective.
I was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I eventually got ‘clean enough’ to sieve out the behaviours / moods etc of being an active addict.

These days, my ‘character’ is unrecognisable from what it was – I am constantly working for simultaneous charities. I choose to live below the poverty line in order to at least try to give what money, time and skills I have or can attain to help out anyone who asks for a hand. I’m described as ‘too tolerant’ or ‘too patient’ and frustrate people by being ‘too open minded’ and ‘too forgiving’. Yet, I’m still accused constantly of ‘plying Devil’s advocate’...I hope I always am.

I agree with black; It’s always a matter of perspective. I’m still, by definition, a nihilist and I still don’t see ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the world. There’s what a person can do, can’t do and, essentially, what they choose to do. I think what a person chooses is all that matters in that it is all that makes them and the world for them...and that opinion has never changed for me -back then or now. Whether people wanna’ call me sociopath, bipolar, junkie...idiot,*shrugs. Whatever.
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Old 11-10-2010, 03:31 AM
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Sometimes. Alcohol will shut off the part of the brain that manages the conscience and decision making, and addicts will go a long ways to sacrifice their sense of right and wrong if it hinders getting high.

I think a couple big differences are: alcoholics can act as they do but still be capable of feeling remorse or a sense of wrong-doing, whereas someone with anti-social personality disorder does not at all. Also, in alcoholics those traits are tied to use, but in sociopaths it's simply a chronic condition.
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Old 11-10-2010, 04:42 AM
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I think alcohol is sociopathic.
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Old 11-10-2010, 04:52 AM
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What an interesting thread. Whether someone drinks or not, the fact is there are people out there that have little empathy for others. They can be our neighbours, workmates, partners, parents, siblings and children.

I've spent time in the past researching sociopathy, narcissism and other anti-social personality disorders trying to come to some type of understanding as to why the people I grew up with and have attracted into my life behave the way they do. Even though sociopaths are controlling, they often turn to alcohol and drugs and can become addicted to substances. It's also a misconception that all sociopaths are serial killers. Sociopathy along with every other type of personality disorder is on a continuuom, from those who exhibit the traits mildly to the other end of the scale, which are the malignant sociopaths/psychopaths (the ones that kill and torture). I've read that at least 20% of the population have some type of anti-social personality disorder!

Today, talking to a friend, we spoke about personality types and how they may affect someone with alcoholism. And really, when someone is still drinking, it's like trying to work out what came first, the chicken or the egg? In our discussion, I brought my father up as an example of one type of alcoholic and my XADFH as another. My dad is what you might call, 'a garden variety alcoholic' (sober and in AA now, thankfully). He did act inappropriately when he was drunk and overstepped boundaries that should not have been overstepped and can be critical when not working the program. But he wasn't the yelling, abusing, physically violent type (that was my mother) and on my dad's side of the family, most of the men have been alcoholic but also gentle types. My XADFH on the other hand, can be quite pleasant, cheerful etc when not drinking (still exhibiting lack of empathy and control issues though) but violent when drunk. This, I believe comes down to the personality or the individual as well as how the alcohol affects them. Just my two cents worth....
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Old 11-10-2010, 05:30 AM
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If you go to Dr William Silkworth's site, and read some of his other papers than the ones that were put in the Big Book under "The Doctor's Opinion" you will find that in several papers he wrote over the years, he mentions that alcoholism can 'mimic' many other mental illnesses.

As a recovering alcoholic for many years now, I can honestly say that during the 'practicing' of my disease I did exhibit signs of being a Sociopath, as have many of my sober alcoholic friends, however, I do not believe the percentage of sociopaths in alcoholics is any higher than in the general population.

As a matter of fact I believe it is less.

However, I can agree, that during the 'throes' of their drinking careers, alcoholics, at least some of them can exhibit traits common to a sociopath. They can also exhibit traits common to Bi-Polar, Chronic Depression, etc

Alcoholism can and does 'mimic' other 'mental illness.

J M H O from observation, discussion, and working with other alcoholics.

Love and hugs,
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Old 11-10-2010, 06:05 AM
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Dear Acdirito,
I read your post just now.
I found the post troubling to say the least.
While very few of these traits apply to me or any alcoholic that I have met in AA, I had no trouble seeing the contempt, hostility and self-righteousness in your post.
Thank you for reminding us addicts about the challenges we face as we strive toward recovery. This is why no-one in our families or friends is qualified to manage our recovery. It would be hard for a lot of people to recover in the presence of such utter disdain. Having said that, I am not saying that your addict was not in fact, a sociopath.
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Old 11-10-2010, 06:09 AM
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I find it troubling that so many alcoholics don't recognize that their "disease" does indeed mimic many of the things on that list. That total and utter lack of empathy is all part of it.

Read the stories here and in the f&f of substance abusers to see over and over again where addicts and alcoholics will do whatever they want whenever they want and damn the consequences to any and all around them.

I see absolutely no contempt, hostility, self-righteousness, or disdain in acdirito's post - only an honest question about the reality of living with an alcoholic.
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Old 11-10-2010, 06:27 AM
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I have to agree with Still Waters. I don't see Acdiritos post as contemptuous, hostile or self rightous. I binged alcohol when I was younger and I'm all too aware that if I don't work a program, I will continue to attract active alcoholics into my life or possibly turn to the drink myself because as a ACoA, I'm aware I have the spiritual malady. I too have looked at these sociopathic characteristics as well as Narcissism, bi-polar etc in an desperate attempt to make sense out of the insanity of living with an abusive alcoholic. I have also wondered whether I'm dealing with a sociopath, alcoholic or both. I've also read that alcoholism can mimic personality disorders/mental illnesses. As I said before, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? At the end of the day when you're living with someone who exhibits these traits, it's a living hell, a nightmare, the pain is indescribable.
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Old 11-10-2010, 06:35 AM
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I feel contempt, hostility and self-righteous indignation toward my AH all the time. Isn't that part of what we are "recovering" from? It's a process like any process -- forward, back, rework this, master that . . .recovering As must be prepared for the spectrum of recovery in this forum and F&Fs will keep working their own program. We hope.
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Old 11-10-2010, 06:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Hollyanne View Post
I read your post just now.
I found the post troubling to say the least.
Please take what you like and leave the rest.

If any of the content of this post triggers you, please take a few deep breaths and walk around the block.

I am a recovering alcoholic. I also exhibited some of these behaviors. Reading this post reminds me how thankful I am to be in recovery. These are the behaviors I choose to avoid for the remainder of my life.

When I read and post in F&F forum, I try to remember that the members here have lived with unacceptable behavior. Behavior that I too was capable/guilty of.

However, I also was on the receiving end of such behavior from my partner. While in this area of SR, I try to share my experience, strength and hope based on my experience as a recovering partner of a 14 year marriage to an alcoholic.

I strive to identify with my fellow SR members as we support one another in recovery.
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Old 11-10-2010, 06:54 AM
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Thats a real definition of sociopath you've posted there!

here's a more basic one i found:

a person whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

So yeah drunk or sober the alcoholic at the very least displays characteristics of a sociopath...they can change if they get face to face help, are willing and ready to go to any lengths to change and do what is suggested by whoever is trying to help them!

The guilt and remourse felt by an alcoholic is all self is that really guilt and remourse?! I don't think it is the same as most non-alcoholics experience those emotions...e.g. non-alcoholic may feel guilty for an action and then look to rectify it, alcoholics feel the guilt but generally apportion blame elsewhere...just my experience:-)
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Old 11-10-2010, 07:13 AM
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I think the most likely explanation is that some sociopaths may also become alcoholics, but, judging from my own experience, not all alcoholics are sociopaths.

My AW has OCD, and displays some weird obsessive behaviors... like buying men's cologne by the case and hiding it in the closet. She has lied to cover up her drinking, but is selfish only in the fact that she's not willing to give up the alcohol, despite what it's doing to the family. Otherwise, she's generous to a fault.

She has been irresponsible with money, but never abusive or prone to rage.

I suppose it's possible that prolonged alcoholism could drive certain people toward sociopathic behaviors, but it seems likely that it would vary with each individual.
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Old 11-10-2010, 07:34 AM
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When I first came to SR back in 2007, I posted the very same post. No lie.

The truth is, over time, I came to understand a few things, and a few things about this still rattle around in my head.

Here is what I have come to know about my A, who while he was an active drinker exhibited all those same behaviors.:

---His whole family are pretty narissistic. One brother escaped the family right out of high school and went into psychology, learned a lot, and is kind of a confidante for me now. He acknowledges that his family has some "quirks" in the personality disorder department. He feels strongly that many of the behaviors were learned, and can be unlearned, or chosen.

----The active alcoholic in my A is a different person, the alcohol actually alters brain routings. He was unfeeling, desperate at times and did do things, anything to get what he needed, to keep his matrix of denial in place, to ensure he could get and have his drug without obstruction.

---My A was able to be warm and feeling toward people in his life that did not pose a threat to his addiction upkeep. He had relationships with women, with friends in which he was not playing a game, so to speak. He did have it in him. I PLAYED A THREATENING role in his dynamic. He treated me badly because I loved him and had the goal to get him away from alcohol, which essentially made me an enemy.

After learning all the things that I listed above, I came to one major understanding that has been repeated here at SR by many of the wiser and more advanced detached posters. And it is this

---If you are experiencing treatment from a person in your life that makes you wonder if they are a sociopath, and they are drinking, not drinking, under stress, not under stress...does it really matter? If you are experiencing it that way, then you are dealing with it whether they are a sociopath or not. the question is, do you want it? Is it right? Is it fair?

I have read a few of your posts, and you sound like you are in need of a loving person, one who can help you. It sounds like your significant other, while not drinking, is still not providing you with safety or love the way you (or any person) would deserve.

I imagine it is tough, since you are in a position of need, and maybe your financial status is too tangled to just walk away from him. Maybe you need him for things that are inherent, but he is emotionally not roviding, and that sounds absolutely true.

I wish you luck. I hope that you can find the strength to walk away.

My situation is hard, because mine is sober, but not working his program. 6 weeks sober, 3 weeks out of treatment. He is warm and loving, he is responsive to communication. But..he is troubled, and he is not that utilitarian to have around, yet.
Sometimes I feel like it would be better to not have him here at all, then I would be alone, but I would not have to field all the resentment towrd someone being there, but not helping.

This is my experience. I hope it helps. Bless you.
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Old 11-10-2010, 07:59 AM
  # 19 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 1,175

I just read more of the posts...

Hollyanne, I ride a very precarious line on the fence of what you are saying, but, your defensiveness is something that I think you may want to look at as a mirror.
When someone posts something here, they are looking for feedback.
My A came out of treatment, not working his program, and I am scared...Us F&F do not know exactly how to act.
I have been accused of being too empathetic towrd my A by my family, friends.
I see your point in that you took offense, because you are working hard on something, there, in yourself. It is big work for you. The addict that I deal with is much the same way. It is big work! You ahould be proud and gald for yourself, but addiction has a dimension to it that is inescapably inherent: selfishness. It is there, it is true, and it cannot be helped. I feel that is because it is so hard for the addicts in our lives to reach out and do more than they are able. I do not judge that as wrong, it is just there. But, it is selfish by nature.
My A wants his actions as an addict to be erased, he wants to start new, he wants a lot of accolades and his mother keeps telling him no one gets a prize for just living like a normal person, doing what the rest of us have been doing while you were on a ten year bender.

I guess I want to acknowledge your defensiveness, and to say that I know how hard your work is. It is also hard work for those of us who love and live with addicts. There are questions to be asked, things to wonder about. This post was not an attack. It was a ponderance.
Yes, recovering people have a great wall of obstacles to overcome.
I feel that your response is a gift to you, showing you where you need to focus your work. I don't know if you hurt a lot of people in your active addiction or not, but many of us have experienced great pain from remaining in a dynamic with an active or recovering alcoholic.

No one should be "managing your recovery" but you.
You may be doing that, but maybe her situation is different.

I made a choice to give my A the 'clean slate' he asks for. But I will not go forward without remembering what I will not tolerate. I can give him the space to move forward, to change, to Manage his recovery, and I will not deem him a sociopath, I will not remind him daily of the past hurts...BUT if they re emerge, I will have the choice to respond and to make a counter action.
Alcoholics are not the only people who suffer from their disease. It is a family disease. That is why alanon, and SR forums for F&F exist.
Please read some of Acdirito's posts and get a sense of what she is dealing with. She is not dealing with you. She is dealing with someone else.

Great thread, thanks
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Old 11-10-2010, 08:01 AM
  # 20 (permalink)  
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 344
I think we drive ourselves crazy trying to diagnose the drinker, and I want to know what that craziness falls under when we label IT.
Oh yeah...codependency...focusing on somebody other than us.
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