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September 23, 2012 5:33 AM   Subscribe

Why do I keep attracting alcoholics?

I have had the same scenario play out twice, about three years ago and then again, about 9-10 months ago: new roommate and new boyfriend enter my life around the same time. Both roommate and boyfriend turn out to be alcoholics. Drama, broken trust and heartache (for me) ensues, with both the boyfriends and the roommates.

I've effectively solved the roommate issue by getting my own apartment, but it seems the guy I had date #3 with last night is quite a boozer. We went to dinner and he suggested we stop by a party at his friend's house for a drink, where he proceeded to get plastered in short order. I called a cab and went home. There will not be date #4. I may be overreacting re: alcohol, but at the very least, his behavior was totally inappropriate.

I am not the child of an alcoholic; in fact, my parents were teetotalers most of my childhood, and both of my parents and both of my siblings have attitudes toward alcohol that I would consider to be cautious-to-healthy.

I am not an alcoholic. I enjoy alcohol and even getting drunk once in a blue moon, but having been up close and personal with several alcoholics, I do not have the urge or dependency on alcohol that they do, of that I'm certain. Alcohol can be in my apartment for weeks without giving it a second thought, I can have 1-2 drinks and think nothing of stopping at that point.

I don't think I have a co-dependent personality. (I slogged through "Codependent No More" after a breakup several years ago; didn't apply to me at all.) Despite this, I feel like I'm attracting them in some way, because this seems to be a pattern.

I am wondering if there are personality traits or broad characteristics that alcoholics are drawn to? Or is alcoholism just more prevalent in this age group (mid-twenties to early thirties) than I realized? Are there any tell-tale signs of an alcoholic one can seize upon early, when meeting someone for the first or second time? Basically, AskMe, help me wise up in terms of spotting an alcoholic!
posted by peacrow to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
first or second time? Basically, AskMe, help me wise up in terms of spotting an alcoholic!

I think you're doing just fine! On date 3 you realized he is socially inappropriate with alcohol and are calling it quits. Seems good enough to me.
posted by liketitanic at 5:45 AM on September 23, 2012 [25 favorites]

I wouldn't read too much into meeting two alcoholics at once two times, three years apart. It sounds like coincidence to me.

Yes, there are a lot of alcoholics out there; this table puts the 18-29 male rate at almost 10%, and the same age female rate at about 5%. Seems high to me. (The table is about 10yrs old, but I would be surprised if it had changed significantly).
posted by insectosaurus at 5:48 AM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you've got it backwards. I suspect YOU might be initially attracted to certain personality types that are more likely to be substance abusers. Maybe looking at the kind of people YOU are attracted to and why YOU are attracted to them might help YOU solve this issue. Start taking responsibility and stop trying to make the issue about 'THEM'.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:49 AM on September 23, 2012 [19 favorites]

The great thing here (I'm for real, not being silly) is that you know an alcoholic when you see one. This will save you a lot of heartache. It's saved me a lot of heartache. As for a pattern, I don't know. If you've had healthy relationships with non-alcoholics, then I wouldn't worry about this so much as file it away under things you now know.
posted by skbw at 6:06 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Every person like this that I have attracted has commented on how "safe" I feel to them and how much they "like my energy." Being compassionate (in my case) is not the same as being codependent but it can attract people who don't know the difference. They are usually pretty surprised when it turns out I do set healthy boundaries and/or leave.
posted by availablelight at 6:09 AM on September 23, 2012 [17 favorites]

There are a lot of people out there with serious drinking problems. So, it's not surprising that you'll run into some of them some of the time.

Also, they tend to be very charming because they connect with people on a level that's not cognitive. Their own cognitive abilities are quite soggy a lot of the time, so they have plenty of use of the gut-level faculties as it were.

I thought you were going to say you'd gone on to live with these people for years at a time. Instead, you cut them off when it became clear they had a problem. The fact that you sometimes meet people with problems only proves you exist, it doesn't mean anything is wrong with you too.
posted by tel3path at 6:32 AM on September 23, 2012 [12 favorites]

Plus, what availablelight said.

There are few circumstances in which it's productive to confront people about bad behaviour so I either let it slide or work around it. You know Patricia Routledge's "Kitty" character, who asks herself "what would the Queen Mum do?" It's kinda like that. I also do show genuine compassion for them when appropriate, which unfortunately may raise hopes for some of them, but I can't do anything about that.

And then manipulators think,"Excellent! She has low self-esteem and I can walk all over her!" and nonmalicious people with problems think,"hey, she isn't giving me all the resistance and crap that everyone else does! Finally I've found a nontoxic person who understands me!" Unfortunately, they have found a nontoxic person who understands them. They don't get that this is why I don't stick around.
posted by tel3path at 6:37 AM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

There will not be date #4. I may be overreacting re: alcohol,

Nope. You are not. Set your own limits and don't apologize for doing so.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:00 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of people out there with serious drinking problems. So, it's not surprising that you'll run into some of them some of the time.

Yeah I'd say it's just a run of bad luck. I have bad alcoholism in my family and so I was expecting you to tell some story like "Well he was drinking every night but not that much..." sort of apologia but really it sounds like things are working out fine. I just flat out ask people if they drink a lot or are social drinkers or whatever. A lot of times people who are heavy drinkers aren't aware (or don't admit) that they are like this but being clear about your own boundaries makes this their problem to deal with and not yours.

Many of the alcoholics I've met are quite charming, lack the usual social inhibitions thanks to alcohol, and are often what I'd describe as "fun" at least right off the bat. As someone who is unconventional in other ways, this is appealing to me and I think I pick these people as often as they pick me, so I've had to really watch it in terms of how far involved I get with people who have problems in this regard.
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 AM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Start taking responsibility and stop trying to make the issue about 'THEM'.

You are absolutely right. I had another cup of coffee and re-read this and thought, "Gee, I'm doing a lot of blame shifting here!" I fully admit I am totally responsible for with whom I entangle myself.
posted by peacrow at 8:42 AM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

"Went on a couple of dates" isn't really entangled. Roommate IS entangled, but I'm guessing you had to find a roommate based on only a slight acquaintance with the person, so we'll let that one slide. Really, I agree that it sounds like you're doing OK, and heavy drinking and alcohol dependency is very common in that age range.
posted by anaelith at 9:02 AM on September 23, 2012

Where do you live? I grew up with a pretty similar background; my dad was a public health educator who specialized in substance abuse, and my mom was from a rather formal small-town family, so they split a beer maybe once a week. But we live in Wisconsin, where the drinking culture is just... wow. Even the positive aspects -- the kinds of bars with great food, sponsoring your softball team, easy to bring your kids or parents -- get a little overwhelming when you realize how much time people spend there.

I got together with my husband specifically BECAUSE he mentioned that his mom had been an alcoholic, and consequently he was very conscious of his drinking. The guy I'd been dating, and with whom I was still a bit entangled at the time, was a heavy social drinker who did his best to gaslight me into thinking that I was the one with the problem, and that there was in fact no such thing as drinking culture.

So think about the environment around you and the environment in which these guys grew up. Their idea of "normal" and "heavy/problem" drinking may be very different from your own. I'm not saying some of these guys aren't alcoholics, but you are likely way more sensitive than strictly necessary.

BUT, and this is a big but from someone who has been there: you are 100% entitled to be strong in your beliefs and what makes you comfortable. DO NOT let anyone put you down for saying, "You know, I'm not comfortable with the number of drunk people around here," or having a discussion before you go to an event about how much both of you plan to drink -- and sticking to that.

You need to assert your needs early on, and do it clearly. Remember that if you say something like, "I'm a light drinker," some people will take that to mean "two beers and a shot, three nights a week." Better to say, "I like hanging out, but I rarely drink more than a couple of drinks maybe once a month, and usually only if I'm out at a concert."

Above all: this is a matter of respect. It doesn't matter what they say or do with alcohol (much). It DOES matter how they treat you and respect your beliefs. If he does what he says he'll do, great. If he stays pretty sober but whines about it and tells his friends what a killjoy you are, that is unacceptable. You deserve respect in all things.
posted by Madamina at 9:22 AM on September 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

Along the same lines of what PorcineWithMe and jessamyn are saying, it might be useful for you to think about what all these people have in common besides their drinking problems. That is, what behaviors attracted you to them in the first place? Were they charming, exuberant, fun, uninhibited, etc. in certain ways? And if so, maybe those behaviors triggered certain feelings in you -- maybe it was really flattering to feel included by someone so charming, for example.

This is totally not a way to blame yourself, of course, but just to think a little more directly about what buttons you might have that are inclined to get pushed by certain people or certain behaviors.
posted by scody at 11:19 AM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the responses so far. They are helping me parse this situation out a little better. I'm just feeling a bit discouraged, especially since the guy I went out with last night seemed to have a lot of potential otherwise. But they all have. All five of these people have been charming, intelligent, well-educated and I admired them very much for their "up by their bootstraps" type ambition. That makes it even more discouraging in some ways.

But we live in Wisconsin, where the drinking culture is just... wow. Even the positive aspects -- the kinds of bars with great food, sponsoring your softball team, easy to bring your kids or parents -- get a little overwhelming when you realize how much time people spend there.

Buffalo. I wondered if it had anything to do with location, but I am from Pittsburgh, and I'd say the drinking culture is similar. I also wondered, at the risk of sounding classist, if it was a socio-economic thing; I was raised solidly middle class and both roommates and all three guys were either raised poor or blue collar and "made good". Now that I think about it more, both of my roommates* and both of the guys I was in a relationship with had at least one alcoholic parent.

*Someone upthread said these coincidences happened 3 years apart; in reality, they were more like a year apart. I hit it off with the first roommate and chose her out of half a dozen potential roommates. I dated the first guy off and on for 18 months and we only broke up because he moved cross-country. The second roommate was chosen out of necessity, but the second guy I dated... I fell hard and fast and we dated for six months. I was miserable because of his drinking the whole time and I'd like to think I would have dumped him eventually, but in actuality, he got around to dumping me first.
posted by peacrow at 12:05 PM on September 23, 2012

I also wondered, at the risk of sounding classist, if it was a socio-economic thing; I was raised solidly middle class and both roommates and all three guys were either raised poor or blue collar and "made good".

The answer is that it has a socioeconomic aspect to it. Because the middle class is still teetering on the edge of poor/blue-collar, they have a conscious need to avoid or be inconspicuous about alcohol in order to avoid falling back into a world where drinking culture is the norm or to avoid being seen as having working class "markers" of drinking culture. (of course there are plenty of alcoholics among the middle, upper-middle, and upper classes, but it "looks" different than what you're describing)

Could it possibly be that you're drawn to and comfortable with people who remind you of your parents, who themselves were raised poor or blue collar and "made good"? If so, remember that your parents were the exception who had to make a special effort to adopt a new set of adaptive behaviors, and that not everyone from their background is able to do that. Making the logical leap from "oh, these people 'made good' just like my parent" to "these people are as stable and as isolated from social problems as my parents" isn't necessarily a valid one.
posted by deanc at 1:15 PM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some of us just really like alcoholics, for the reasons you mentioned- a lot of them are charming, enthusiastic, intelligent, creative, funny... That's why I go to Al-anon. If I didn't go to Al-anon I'd have to cut all these people out of my life for my sanity, and I'd rather keep them around.

I refuse to date them, though. My Al-anon-fu is just not that strong.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:50 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Where are you meeting these people? Are you hanging out in pubs? Are they lying about their drinking preferences on OkCupid? Are your friends setting you up?

If they're lying, you can't really hold yourself responsible for choosing to date the wrong type. If your friends are setting you up, ask more questions. And as for pubs, that just might be the wrong place over-all (that's not to say that all people who hang out in pubs are alcoholics).
posted by deborah at 2:09 PM on September 23, 2012

How long have you been in Buffalo for? I grew up there, now live in the Pacific NW, and think there's a huge cultural component to it. There's a lot of boozing going on in B-Lo.
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:56 PM on September 23, 2012

There's "made good" and there's "IS good." Which kind of sounds like a value judgment, but in some ways, it is -- if someone's being an asshole, hell yeah I'm going to judge them!

My husband came from a blue-collar (factory and trades) background where substance abuse was pretty much a given. One of the things that attracted me to him was the way in which he discussed his mom's drinking and how he was making a conscious effort not to follow in her footsteps.

I was talking to someone about "dealbreakers" in a relationship the other day and mentioned how, before meeting my husband, I'd been adamant about what I wanted: a well-educated, financially solid guy who had no history of substance abuse in his family and had a great relationship with his parents. My husband was none of those things (at least, not educated in the traditional sense), but I realized that he had all of the end-result qualities I'd hoped to find by setting out those criteria: intelligence, care with money and spending, vigilance about overindulgence, and a lot of caring and compassion for those around him.

So think about those end results, instead of the way you think you might get them.
posted by Madamina at 11:12 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with what availablelight said 100% -- that kind of semi-functional/manchild, inebriated youth culture is huge on Cleveland's west side.

My two cents: that behavior sounds impulsive and immature. Perhaps there are other signs, which manifest themselves when these types of manchildren aren't in party-mode.
posted by vkxmai at 1:02 PM on September 24, 2012

Wait, wait. I'm not sure how class and regional issues play out in the OP's particular situation, but, really, there are rich alcoholics all over the country. In every city, town, and hamlet of this great nation! Marx can explain a lot of things, she says jokingly, but more seriously, don't let any class trappings distract you from the real problem, namely, drinking too much and driving everyone around batty.
posted by skbw at 5:52 PM on September 27, 2012

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