THE PERSONALITY OF ALCOHOLICS

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Personality is complex. A part of it changes from day to day, with alterations in mood and as a response to events or to people; such variations are evanescent. A more enduring part of the personality is made up of beliefs and attitudes which are not readily alterable; this is the side of someone that other people describe when discussing him, and which he knows as himself. This part is capable only of very slow change as he takes on new responsibilities or undergoes great emotional experiences. An even deeper part of the personality contains the drives and motivations which give the self its impetus. Many psychologists consider this core to be immutable.

To an observer, an individual’s personality is manifested by his behaviour; it consists of the total of his characteristic actions and reactions. Abnormality of personality consists of an excess or a lack of a quality, such as assertiveness, common to us all.

Intuitive appraisals of personality, such as we all make when summing people up, are very different from scientific assessments. In day-to-day life our own feelings enter into our judgements of personality. The psychologist aims to eliminate this subjective element. He may do so by isolating particular traits of personality, such as sociability or aggression, and measuring their degree in different people. Or he may consider the total personality of those people he studies, and attempt a systematic classification of them into recognized stereotypes.

We can study the personality of alcoholic patients but we cannot say how much our findings are applicable to all alcoholics since it is only a minority that get to be examined by a psychiatrist. There is no single alcoholic personality. Nevertheless psychiatrists dealing with alcoholics recognize characteristics which occur frequently, either alone or in combination and it is these which we shall now describe.

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