On an alcoholic prick

I was talking to a friend about why I cut an “alcoholic prick” out of my life. She responded that it was unfair of me to call him a “prick” because he is an alcoholic and alcoholism is an illness and he’s had a really rough life. She said I was being moralistic about an illness.

I was really irritated by her comments – I found them really moralistic, actually. I know those things, and I wasn’t making like, a commentary on alcoholism. And I also know that this person has consistently been an inconsiderate prick to me – and I don’t mean just being non-committal, frustrating, inconsiderate, etc. I mean some level where I’ve cleaned up for him, been shouted at by strangers for his behavior, felt like his human trash can, etc. I’ve come to think he’s not just an alcoholic, but that he’s an alcoholic AND an entitled prick.

But my mind still goes around and around and I do have guilt and questions – and my friend’s comments upset me. I’m not sure how to frame my question to you. But I’d like your broad thoughts.


If your friend thinks it’s unfair to characterize this guy as a prick because he’s also an alcoholic, then she doesn’t understand the disease model of addiction.

Yes, alcoholism can be considered a disease. That’s one way of looking at it, but alcoholism in no way excuses a person’s shitty behavior. Neither does having had a really rough life.

A prick is a prick. This guy sure sounds like a one. It’s okay for you to say it, and it’s okay for you to cut him out of your life. Quit feeling guilty about finally not being a doormat. While you’re at it, tell your friend that if she’s not gonna be supportive, then she should shut the fuck up.


31 thoughts on “On an alcoholic prick

  1. hm says:

    Gonna assert here that while, yeah, environmental factors certainly come into play, some people are gonna be dicks.

    Hard living, a difficult childhood and addiction may nurture that quality, but based on knowing folks with these circumstances who don’t become miserable shmucks, I tend toward thinking that they’re that way naturally, and because they’re dicks, they now have something to blame it on.

    Your other friend sounds kinda like a dick, too.

    • Strangely Rational says:

      “based on knowing folks with these circumstances who don’t become miserable shmucks”

      Hate to say it, but that’s faulty reasoning. People are individuals, and they bring entirely different sets of personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and experiences to the table.

      Tendencies towards drug addiction can vary widely based on genetics, access, and trauma. I gave the example below of my husband, who was severely abused as a child and self-medicated his PTSD with drugs and alcohol. That’s a vastly different situation from someone who spent a lot of time partying and has built up a physical addiction. Underlying causes are critical, because the amount of time and effort one has to spend on it determines how difficult or “easy” the addiction itself is to address. And what other characteristics may be present.

      It’s the same thing with other issues, like weight loss. Some people can lose it quickly, while others may not be able to even if they do the exact same things or more.

      It’s just never logically correct to say, “Well, so-and-so did it, so you can too!” Unless so-and-so has exactly the same brain, experiences, and circumstances, you have no way of knowing that.

      • hm says:

        I mean, it’s vague and anecdotal but not exactly faulty. It’s also not the crux of my argument, and I feel like you’ve totally missed the point.

        I’m sure your husband is a great man, but I’m not talking about your husband.

        To be clear–my assertion is that circumstances do not necessarily cause prickish behavior, and that while bad things happen to good people (and maybe they act out based on a set of coping mechanisms and traits,) bad things also happen to bad people.

        Far too often I feel like we’re expected to forgive bad behavior based on someone’s circumstances. I am friends with people who have had traumatic experiences (and the end result of these experiences being opioid and alcohol addictions,) and yes, they have made some bad choices (the things that you expect with these kind of lives.) They do not, however, lash out or mistreat me. This is not tolerable behavior. I will give you everything, and understand you to the best of my ability–but I will not allow myself to be mistreated because of someone else’s circumstances.

        When it comes to addicts, I’ve never met a person without a story. Hell, I don’t think there’s a person out there with out a story. We all handle traumas differently. I am personally and acedemically aware. That doesn’t mean you can personally accept abuse, or are obliged to forgive abuse.

        Yeah, it is dumb to say that because so-and-so did such-and-such you can also do it.

        That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that at some point you become accountable for your actions despite your past and that those you damage are not obliged to continue to be abused.

  2. Becky says:

    As a point of debate, with no particularly solid investment in the point: perhaps it was that the way it was presented made “alcoholic” come across as though it was being used as an independent insult. Consider: had you called him a “gay prick,” or a “fat prick,” or something similar, the objection might be that rolling those characteristics into the criticism suggests they’re also a defining flaw. Of course, there’s a lot more nuanced debate to be had as to whether alcoholism is fundamentally tied to shitty behavior, and whether calling someone an alcoholic with critical implications is more valid than gay/fat, etc.

    There’s also the sort of existential argument: do alcoholics have the requisite agency to truly be in control of their behavior? Are they missing some crucial neurological structure or system that allows people who aren’t alcoholics to more effectively manage impulse control and sensation-seeking? Is alcoholism a disease or a structural abnormality? Or is it a shitty behavioral pattern dependent on conditioning? Is it a conscious choice? So on, so forth.

  3. Strangely Rational says:

    It’s a tough question, because alcoholism can turn a really wonderful, sensitive, loving person into something completely opposite. I know, because this is what happened to my husband when he became an alcoholic back in college. And now that he’s sober, his true self is back.

    I think it also bears considering that alcoholism is frequently a symptom of another disorder and constitutes self-medication. In my husband’s case, it was complex PTSD from severe child abuse. I would challenge anyone to go through that and not have major problems with social functioning.

    So I generally think it’s more accurate and useful to judge the behavior rather than the person. An alcoholic may or may not be innately a prick, but it’s certainly fair to say that he’s acting like a prick. In that moment, the behavior is all that counts. The behavior is what you use to decide whether you can tolerate being with that person or not.

    If you are being treated in an unacceptable way, then you are perfectly free to extract yourself from the relationship. Nobody should be criticizing you for that. And based on what you’ve been through, nobody should be criticizing you for how you refer to the relationship or to him. People who’ve been traumatized by an addict get a pass.

    Personally, I would like to see a general social attitude of compassion for people who are deep into addiction because demonizing them only makes the problem worse. But you’re too close to it to be held to this standard. I know – I’ve been in your place. You have to find healing yourself first, and any compassion can come later (if ever).

    I hope that your friend is supporting addiction recovery in some way (donating, volunteering, advocating, etc.). If not, she has no business getting on a high horse about it.

  4. D says:

    I don’t feel like you need to justify dropping a friend who makes you feel shitty. That alone is a good enough reason to not have their negativity in your life.

  5. :) says:

    I love this. This may not be your case at all but I know a few alcoholic pricks too and most of the prick things they do have fucking nothing to do with alcohol or their dependency on it. I also know alcoholics who aren’t pricks at all in any sense of the word, even regarding their drinking.

  6. Mike says:

    I struggle with this same issue with a person in my life who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. My emotional spine has been repeatedly severed by the shrapnel from her bomb belt rages.
    Thinking of selling my house, quitting my job, and going into my own little witness protection program to get away from it.
    It is a terrible illness, but do they not still have free will? Are they not aware of the things they are doing and saying? Seems counter-productive to give them a pass on all their shit. But I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

    • Z says:

      This is definitely something I’ve wondered in the past, about BPD and all the other personality disorders. If there’s something fundamentally fucked about your personality (as implied by the name), at what point is the disease separable from who you are as a person?

      • E says:

        No no no no no no no.

        “Personality disorder” (particular in reference to BPD) does not mean that there is something “inherently fucked up” about a person’s personality. It just means that the issues aren’t necessarily mood problems as much as they are pervasive behavioral problems (some could argue that behaviour = personality, but I digress)

        I’ll focus on BPD here, as it’s the one that is probably most deserving of a rebrand. The core problem with BPD sufferers is that they have trouble regulating their emotions. This is for a number of reasons, but could mainly be chalked up to these following things; their brains are built in a way that they a.) experience emotions more deeply, particularly negative ones and b.) have a decreased capacity to control them; they were raised in an environment in which they weren’t taught how to properly express emotions and so have bad/maladaptive coping skills; past trauma (it’s very common for BPD sufferers to have histories of physical/sexual abuse in the home). BPD also tends to be co-morbid with things – anxiety, depression, substance abuse and eating disorders to name a few.

        So the better term for BPD would be something like ” emotional dysregulation disorder”, and there’s a push to change the name of it for the express reason that the current title is totally misleading. People will BPD are still *people*, they’re just people who find it more challenging than the average person to control their emotions. It’s the same way a person with an anxiety disorder has trouble controlling their anxiety.

        BPD is actually both extremely treatable, with as much as over 50% of people who seek treatment no longer showing symptoms after five years, and quite common (10% of people admitted to inpatient facilities have BPD). So to say that a person with BPD just plain old *is* their illness is down right insulting.

        As for you Mike, I don’t know your situation but I can’t help but bristle at your labored and melodramatic war time metaphor about spine-severing shrapnel and your friend who is, apparently, an emotional I.E.D. If you’re someone is honest-to-fuck harassing you to the point that you want to move states, call the cops.

        But to be honest a part of me thinks you’re exaggerating. You still, by the way, have a right to cut yourself off from this person. While its true that she really isn’t in control of her reactions, the same way a person with anxiety can’t help having panic attacks, you’re perfectly entitled to distance yourself as an act of emotional self preservation. Perhaps attempt to shepherd her towards some help before you leave, but by all means, eradicate this presence if it’s affecting you.

        Just please, everyone, stop acting as if people with BPD are completely monstrous balls of volatile emotion. That is total nonsense. It’s a media influenced generalization that’s actually really harmful.

        • Oldest sister says:

          Thanks for this informative comment. Although she’s never been formally diagnosed that I know of, my little sister seems to have many BPD-associated behaviors and emotional experiences. It’s exactly as you say, the experience of negative emotions (especially fear of abandonment, and fear of humiliation) can be overwhelming to her and in those times she lashes out or does things that are shockingly melodramatic and inappropriate. On the positive side, she is also sincere, charismatic, musically gifted and strives to be a good person. Over the years I have tried hard to support and guide her as best I can, but other times I’ve had to distance myself for long periods for my own well being. I wish she could get good therapy with DBT but so far has not, with cost being a big reason. And, yes we grew up with domestic violence and abuse, as well as at times severe financial insecurity, and I’m sure that has played a major role in her emotional-regulation difficulties and my own anxiety.

        • Thank you for posting this.

          My husband is diagnosable for BPD based on the DSM criteria. He is also diagnosable for PTSD with psychosis. There is so much crossover in symptoms that it’s difficult to distinguish between the two.

          That my husband does have PTSD is supported by the fact that he has severe, long-term trauma from childhood (it’s pretty chilling), and he has resulting nightmares, panic attacks, and recently flashbacks. It causes psychotic episodes in which he goes into rages, turns into a totally different person, and says horrible things. He honestly cannot help this in any way. At least anti-anxiety meds have made a big difference.

          The question is whether he has BPD as a comorbid disorder. I don’t know that we’ll ever have a firm answer.

          I agree that there are terminology issues with many disorders, so I hope they change it. I hope they do the same thing with schizophrenia, which my husband had as a misdiagnosis for a decade, because there are so many negative and misleading connotations that come with that name. At least they’ve already dealt with mine (bipolar).

  7. Jenny says:

    I have two friends who struggle with severe alcoholism. It’s very frustrating. However they’re also two of the sweetest, kind hearted men I have ever met. That’s why I’m still their friends. Alcoholism doesn’t equal prickism.

  8. Mary says:

    Coke, please clarify for me why you said, “alcoholism can be considered a disease.” It is a disease, as demonstrated by the AMA, APA, and other credentialing boards across the world. They way you worded the sentence gave me pause because, to me, it sounds like you have other thoughts about the nature of addiction. As a licensed therapist, I work with clients struggling with alcoholism and addiction on a daily basis. I believe that it is so important to help classify addiction as a disease and to remove the stereotype of addiction as a moral failing. Thoughts?

    • The Coquette says:

      My choice of words (“can be considered” as opposed to “is”) was deliberate because in addition to the disease model of addiction, there is also the life-process model of addiction. The disease model is the culturally dominant way of thinking about addiction, so I totally understand you throwing a red flag on my phrasing, but as a therapist, you might find it nice to have the life-process model in your back pocket for clients who need treatment but don’t want to be stigmatized as having a disease. Either way, I agree with you 100% that we should remove the stereotype of addiction as a moral failing.

  9. J Lynn says:

    “Life process model” — thanks for that Googlable term, Coke. I’d heard in a passing sort of way critiques of the AA-dominated and -influenced approach, but didn’t know there was a named umbrella concept that synthesized those critiques. (Other than the harm reduction approach, a different animal.) Digging into Stanton Peele’s web site now. If nothing else it’s a fascinating “history of ideas” on the subject over the last 40some years.

  10. Mellifluous says:

    My grandfather died of cirrhosis, two uncles were both drunks and both my brothers were addicts. My oldest brother is already dead from his addictions. To suggest that addiction and alcoholism has affected my life would be like saying if you jump off the roof you might hit the ground. I’ve yet to meet an addict who wasn’t also a prick and a liar. I don’t care how precious they appeared to be the 10% of the time they were sober and on their way to get their next fix. They were all pricks and selfish, narcissist assholes when it counted.

    You can all say it’s the disease that made them that way, but the truth is they hold the cure right beside that little box that holds the disease. Right inside their little choice box. I have no tolerance. None.

    To the OP: That little guilt trip you’re feeling is your co-dependency siren screeching at you to work a little harder and he’ll be a better person. That thought is just as stupid as it looks in writing, by the way. Nothing you do, nothing you’ve done and nothing you will ever do will stop him from being an alcoholic prick. Move on. Drop him like a hot potato and flip that other friend off as you’re walking out the door. Maybe they can hunch the leg of co-dependency for a while if they’re so sure his disease just needs a little more understanding and care. Or not. Just walk away. Quickly.

    • J Lynn says:

      I’m sorry your family members have let you down … And probably repeatedly, I’d guess. I know what that’s like. Sometimes addicted and dysfunctional people save their very worst behaviors for their families, where they think they can get away with it. Just like a domestic abuser never hits his boss, only his wife.

    • Lin says:

      Agreed. I’ve known several addicts, some close friends and relatives, some only casual acquaintances. I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable enough to assert whether the addiction causes the behaviour or the behaviour causes the addiction or any other chicken/egg variations, but something is fundamentally screwed up about their brain’s reward system and it turns addicts into destructive, intolerable people that care about nothing but their next fix.

      And more and more often I see people (both addicts and enablers) try and excuse this intolerable bullshit and exonerate the addict of responsibility by harping on how it’s a disease, or because they had a shitty childhood, or because their father died, or whatever.

      OP’s friend is an alcoholic prick because he is a prick who is an alcoholic and he is a prick /because/ he is alcoholic, from the sound of it.

      Everyone’s self-medicating for something. Not everyone is a prick, and not everyone implodes their own relationships and life over a substance.

    • CynicalGrey says:

      I am sorry your family has let you down. While my family had some drunks that conveniently forgot their agreements when it came time to get school clothes, I never had to watch my family die from their addiction. I am also very thankful to my friends and few family members who supported me through my self medicating of depression and grief with alcohol. Some would have called me an addict. Others knew I was seeking to cope the best way I knew how after losing my one positive care taker and being assaulted by my sister. I am lucky I have incredibly gifted and intelligent friends that saw the signs of grief more readily than I could and wouldn’t let me hide away.

      Fortunately, I’m also not a shit bag, only played at one when I didn’t allow myself to feel my feelings long enough to choose a healthier way to process the emotions (crying and writing music has done more for me than booze ever has). I’m sorry your family were self entitled assholes who did not seek help. I am also disappointed in those quick-to-label fair weather friends.

      But hey, my experience isn’t the same as everyones, and I’m not an alcoholic prick, just a sad person that needed to be reminded that they were worth more than the next bottle of booze. Ultimately, you’re only responsible for yourself and your actions, and it’s that understanding that differentiates between an asshole and a clenched fist.

  11. Ashley says:

    People are always accountable for their actions. Dx are useful in understanding why people do what they do and in helping them cope, heal, change their behavior, or otherwise move forward but they are not catch all excuses for shitty behavior.

    • I think it’s really important to make a distinction between an excuse and a reason.

      When it comes to addiction, there is no excuse for the poor behavior. There is a reason for it, however, and the reason isn’t always choice.

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