Alcohol Abuse

Maladaptive Behavior of Alcoholics

alcohol addictionLife is full of challenges and people always wanting to avoid dealing with them. Unfortunately, success is only available to those who are able to deal with such challenges. Challenges may have a discomfort for a little while, but they do have a useful purpose in our lives. They give us the opportunity to learn and grow, which is the ultimate point of life. Human development is impossible without challenges. It is how innovation and inventions are made. Therefore, challenges should not be viewed as a pitfall for humanity. On the contrary, challenges do a great deal of service to humanity.

It is unfortunate that many people lack this view about the challenges they face. They resist and find shortcuts to solutions which more often than not leads to further discomfort. In such situation, people turn to alcohol or substance abuse to escape the pain of challenges. The beginning of adapting such behaviors is marked by an impression and feeling of escape which is only but a temporary reprieve. The risk of exacerbating the situation is very high. Addiction is quite easily developed. These risk behaviors that people turn to for relief are referred to as maladaptive behaviors.

What is maladaptive behavior then?

Maladaptive behavior is derived from adaptive behavior, a term used in psychology and special education. Adaptive behavior is behavior that helps a person cope with situations in their environment with success and without interfering with the lives of others. It usually relates to the everyday things a person does and completes. It is kind of similar to life skills. The purpose of adaptive behavior is to achieve a constructive outcome regardless of the behavior a person chooses to engage in. you may find that people engage in non- constructive and disruptive social behaviors on the account of attaining this so called ‘constructive purpose’. Now we can deduce that maladaptive behavior is a type of dysfunctional and non-productive behavior used by people who suffer from anxiety or alcoholism to cope with the condition. However, the relief only lasts for a short while and the behavior becomes pointless. Simply put, maladaptive behavior is counterproductive behavior unsuitable for a given condition.

alcohol addictionMaladaptive behavior could be illustrated with this example. Suppose you have anxiety and unrealistic fears. The obvious choice would be to avoid situations that cause anxiety for you to reduce your anxiety. In the short run, this behavior seems effective. Unfortunately, you may find that the long-term is marked with more anxiety. Alleviating anxiety is all about facing fearful situations and learning to deal with them. Therefore, avoiding these sort of situations only does the trick for a short while but turns out to be counterproductive.

Many behaviors that are regarded as moral can actually be maladaptive. As seen in the example above, avoidance and abstinence is seen as a perfect way to cope, when actually it makes things even worse.

Abnormality or mental dysfunction is often detected through exhibition of maladaptive behavior. There are many examples of maladaptive behavior such as:

  • adaptation of children with cerebral palsy in using their limbs, mouth and teeth to adapt to their environment.
  • people who are unable to voice their needs may turn to communicating with the use of signs or throwing tantrums to make their desires known.

Maladaptive behaviors are commonly observed in people with anxiety, panic disorders and alcoholism.

Why do people choose maladaptive behavior?

Faulty logic: people take up maladaptive behaviors because it seems reasonable to them.

An appearance of working: at the beginning, maladaptive behaviors do seem to work. It is possible to find a shy person turned confident and sociable because they turned to substance abuse for a confidence boost.

Imitating others: one problem with humanity is our need to always follow what others are doing. When we see other people engaging in maladaptive behavior to cope with a similar problem that we are facing, we are tempted to follow them as well.

Willingness and acceptance: though maladaptive behavior has negative repercussions, people still engage in them because they are very willing to sacrifice their long run for a short term of relief. The driving factor is that such people feel bogged down with life and just choose to give up.

Examples of maladaptive behavior

Some maladaptive behaviors are:

  • Substance abuse
  • Attention seeking behaviors through gross and excessive behavior
  • Power seeking behavior such as undermining authority figures and rebelling
  • Converting to anger as a means to vent out frustrations which may lead to violence
  • Withdrawal and isolation from the world
  • Work-holism as an escape of dealing with the pressures of life
  • Revenge behaviors where an individual feels the need to punish the people he/she thinks are responsible for the problem they are facing
  • Exercise addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Gambling addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Self-injurious behavior e.g. head banging and self-biting
  • Verbally inappropriate behavior

What are the dangers of maladaptive behavior?

Misery. Maladaptive behaviors cause a lot of misery for people who engage in them. Their earlier position is made worse when they decide to use maladaptive behavior

Lack of a solution. Maladaptive behaviors do not solve the underlying problem. They do not deal with the root cause. This means that the problem a person is facing will always be a cycle of misery and hopelessness.

Damage. Maladaptive behaviors do not just destroy lives of the people who engage in them but their families, friends and society in general. It becomes a social problem rather than just a personal problem.

Missing out. Unwise behaviors tend to keep people away from beneficial and worthwhile activities. Those who engage in maladaptive behavior have no place for things that benefit them because they do not provide the kind of instant gratification that they want.

Maladaptive Behavior of Alcoholics

Statistics tell us that alcohol-dependence is the most wide spread psychiatric disorder. It has disastrous effects on the body’s systems especially the brain. Cerebral deficits have been attributed to cause impaired performances in a range of cognitive abilities. Simply put, the brain relates to behavior. Alcoholism is associated with interpersonal, cognition and emotional deficits. These emotional deficits frequently lead to an increase in social problems because of an inability of adapting social interactions. For alcoholics, these interpersonal deficits actually augment the need to cope with more consumption of alcohol.

In other studies, alcoholism is associated with anxiety and depression. With such disorders, alcoholics have misconstrued views about themselves and their social lives. Inevitably, this leads to maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. Alcoholics have three maladaptive self-beliefs which are:

1.) An excessive high standard for social performance

Since alcoholics are regarded as failures in life, they always have a misguided feeling that they should always have something interesting to say.

2.) Conditional beliefs

These maladaptive self-beliefs are concerned with the consequences of performing in a certain way. For example, alcoholics may be drawn to think that if people get to know them they will not like them.

3.) Unconditional negative self-beliefs

These are generally negative attitudes towards self. E.g. I am unlikeable. The intensity of this belief correlates with the frequency and strength of avoidance behaviors, ruminative thoughts and anticipation processes.

Conditional and unconditional self-beliefs are to the extent of the level of depression. So these self-beliefs are want contribute to emotional disorders that alcoholics battle with. They flow into their interpersonal lives as well.

What leads alcoholics to maladaptive behaviors?

If you have been around or seen any alcoholics, there are three things that they greatly struggle with which increase their risks in engaging in maladaptive behavior. They are:

  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Reduced self-efficacy
  • Increased self-stigma

Alcoholism in itself is a form of maladaptive behavior for people suffering from mental disorders and other kinds of issues. However, there are maladaptive activities that alcoholics engage in. They include:

Substance abuse

It is one of the frequent forms of maladaptive behavior. Since alcoholics are already addicted to alcohol, slipping into other forms of drug addictions becomes so easy. Alcoholism comes with a host of medical conditions such as anxiety or depression. Self-medication and abuse of drugs is seen as a reprove of these conditions. Later on, the damages from the substance abuse outweigh its benefits. What is even more unfortunate is the level of denial that this people exhibit. Alcoholics are so used to the idea of self-medication and hang to that idea. Before they let go of the self-denial, they will be already addicted to other substances. Alcoholics can become addicts to over the counter prescriptions, prescription drugs for mental conditions and hard drugs such as narcotics, opioids and stimulants.

Attention seeking behavior

Alcoholics have self-esteem and self-awareness issues and are always engaging in self-seeking behavior even when that behavior is undesirable. These behaviors are:

  • bragging about personal achievements and skills
  • physical and emotional bullying
  • abuse of power and authority
  • the need to always sort out people’s problems and be seen as a rescuer
  • turning everything into a big deal with them as the epicenter
  • manipulation of loved ones to intentionally create problems
  • creation of non-existent health problems for attentions-sake to loved ones or the internet
  • false confessions
  • acting as the person who is always busy to be viewed as a hard worker
  • poisoning the minds of others
  • false claims of being sexual abuse victims
  • manipulation of people into attacking them and claiming to be the victims of such attacks
  • dominating conversations
  • dressing in an attention-seeking manner whether in sexy clothing or highly unflattering clothing
  • taking clothes off in a public place

Converting to anger

This is one of the maladaptive behaviors mentioned earlier on. Alcoholics tend to have an aggressive issue which quickly escalades to violence especially when they are highly intoxicated. They turn their frustrations into anger because alcohol impairs the perception and thought of a person. Since they are in denial, alcoholics cannot deal with their issues. They disassociate themselves from their problems venting their frustrations on others. They express their frustration through anger which is never helpful.

Sexual promiscuity

Sexual promiscuity is another maladaptive behavior that alcoholics use to get relief from their addiction. Research shows that regular alcohol consumers are more likely to engage in sexual promiscuity than non-alcoholics.

Verbal inappropriate behavior

Alcoholics develop a maladaptive behavior which can be referred to as “verbal diarrhea”. They exercise name calling, swearing, screaming and abuse. It is known that alcoholics can be quite abusive for no apparent reason.


Whether it is with their bosses, spouses or parents, alcoholics tend to do the opposite of what is required of them. They are rebellious and lack the urge to cooperate with instructions.

Maladaptive behavior of recovering alcoholics

The recovery journey of an alcoholic can be brutal. From the severe cravings and shakes to sweating. It is not surprising that many alcoholics fall off the wagon during recovery especially if they lack family and social support. The recovery journey may feel long and strenuous and alcoholics think that they are not making any significant progress. The alcoholic begins to experience discomforts and consequently adapts to maladaptive behaviors. They become stuck in the recovery journey and hooked on another unwise activity. The only way to wean themselves of such behavior is by facing their alcoholism head on. Even if an alcoholic manages to wean themselves off their maladaptive behavior, they may struggle to get the most out of their recovery.

The Effects of Maladaptive Behavior of Alcoholics

  • Alcoholics put their health in danger
  • Alcoholics are unable to develop lasting and meaningful relationships
  • Some behaviors are damaging to other people such as bullying
  • Destruction of families and homes. This often leads to divorces and broken homes
  • Psychological and emotional health of the family members is compromised
  • Maladaptive behavior is ineffective creating a cycle of never ending problems

How to Deal with Maladaptive Behaviors of Alcoholics

AlcoholismAs mentioned earlier, alcoholics have severe interpersonal deficits they always feel they need to feel with more alcohol. It is these alterations in their emotional lives that often constitutes the predominant relapse factor in mid-term subsistence. Therefore, it is very crucial for alcoholics to deal with emotional and interpersonal alterations during their recovery period.

How to Detect Maladaptive Behavior in an Alcoholic

There are tell signs that show up when an alcoholic begins to be active in maladaptive behavior. Look out for these traits:

  • Preoccupation with the behavior
  • Diminished ability to control the behavior
  • Building up tolerance to the behavior. The behavior becomes needed in more intensity to get the desired gratification.
  • Experiencing withdrawal when the behavior is avoided
  • Adverse psychological consequences begin to appear when the behavior is avoided
  • Compulsive engagement in the activity
  • Denial problems
  • Hiding the behavior from family
  • Blacking out during the time they engage in the behavior
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem

How to Treat Maladaptive Behaviors of Alcoholics

Maladaptive behaviors are just like addictions that need to be treated as soon as possible. Failure to do so results in adverse effects for the alcoholic. The options for treatment are:

  • Behavioral addiction residential treatment programs. During these treatment programs, the underlying psychological issues that led to the addiction to maladaptive behaviors are dealt with. The structure is similar to that of treatment of substance abuse treatment programs. For alcoholics with a drug addiction, the process is the basic, detoxification, medication, behavioral therapy and aftercare. More than these, behavioral treatment programs offer motivational enhancement and cognitive behavioral therapies. Such programs focus on helping alcoholics develop new and healthier ways of dealing with daily stressors.
  • Another treatment option is the outpatient behavioral addiction treatment which follows the same outline of the residential behavioral treatment. The difference is that outpatient treatment is given daily or weekly in the beginning of treatment as the treatment sessions become less frequent with observable changes in behavior. After treatment completion, the patient maintains a regular visit to receive ongoing care.
  • One on one counselling is also a way to help alcoholics dealing with maladaptive behavior. There are specifically trained behavioral health counsellors with knowledge in behavioral addiction therapy. The purpose of private counselling sessions is really to understand the driver of developing maladaptive behavior and underlying emotional issues. Sometimes, it can involve trauma therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy which focuses on the elimination of unhealthy behaviors and replacement with positive ones. CBT teaches new behavioral patterns while focusing on the motivations behind behavior than concentrating on the physical aspect of such behaviors.
  • Alcoholics with maladaptive behaviors can also be treated through group therapy. In this sort of therapy, patients attend sessions with two or three other patients who are also in the quagmire of maladaptive behavior. Such group sessions allow patients to share experiences that are common to the other patients. Moreover, patients understand that they are not alone in the addiction and recovery process. A few things covered in group therapy are denial, relationship problems, identity crises, stress etc.
  • 12 step recovery programs are also beneficial for alcoholics with maladaptive behavior. These programs are well-structured for working out behavioral addictions.

Every behavioral addiction treatment program is tailored for the specific maladaptive behavior that an alcoholic is battling.

Avoiding maladaptive behaviors of alcoholics

The proverb ‘it is better safe than sorry’ is very relevant to this situation. Maladaptive behavior should be avoided at all costs and this is how it can be done:

  • Individuals must make decisions to deal with their life’s problems and on life’s terms whether the situation is favorable or not. They must be ready to face any discomfort coming their way and overcome the obstacle.
  • Individuals must develop effective coping strategy. Why effective? Because effective strategies make their lives easier. A coping strategy is a tool that can be added on to other tools which can help them cope with anything that life hits at them.
  • Individuals must be open to advice and criticism in the same measure. People are bound to talk, whether to encourage or discourage. Allowing the negative comments to affect them will always derail their lives. In the same way, positive words will always go a long way to motivate and encourage. Moreover, they should be ready to listen when others observe their maladaptive behaviors when they are unable to realize.
  • Individuals must develop emotional sobriety. This means developing enough maturity to deal with life without avoiding some situations. Emotional sobriety keeps people from falling into the trap of maladaptive behavior
  • Individuals should engage in mindfulness meditation. This allows them to increase their self-awareness and are able to easily tell if there are being drawn towards maladaptive behavior
  • A journal could be used to keep track of any wrong steps that they may have taken. In this regard, they can assess their progress and evaluate whether they are headed to the right direction.
  • A therapist can help such individuals in identifying any maladaptive behavior and offer professional guidance to get out of that rabbit hole and get back on track.
  • Engaging in different fellowships can prove effective in helping people deal with maladaptive behavior. There is indeed power in numbers and companionship of people struggling with the same issues. Furthermore, the 12 step fellowship programs help people to desist from falling into maladaptive behavior.
  • A change in mentality and attitude is the backbone of dealing with the challenges life throws. These challenges should be seen as opportunities for growth and development rather than as personal attacks. Human potential is only realized with the overcoming of obstacles.

alcohol addictionIt is important to find a treatment for people with maladaptive behavior through behavioral therapy to alleviate their underlying alcoholic condition at to give them a better life. Alcoholics easily take up maladaptive behavior because they have a falsehood that they are in too deep to get out. What they do not realize is that they are making their conditions worse than they were.

In conclusion, maladaptive behavior is real and is affecting the lives of alcoholics, their families and the society at large. Everyone falls victim to such behavior. It is therefore important to deal with it at its roots before it becomes a full grown tree that will require constant axing to fall down. It is possible to help alcoholics not just from alcoholism but from maladaptive behavior as well. The time is now.