Art Therapy and Alcohol Abuse

A Personal Perspective

Alex contacted me when he heard that I did art therapy with people who are dealing with chemical dependency issues. He wanted to explore the underlying issues around his drinking, which he'd been struggling with since his teens. Now at age thirty five, he had begun to get steady work as an actor, and supplemented his income teaching drama at a local community center. All through the years of sporadic work and financial uncertainty, he was a heavy drinker but didn't consider himself an alcoholic because he only drank wine, and felt he could stop anytime he wanted to. However, just as his career was starting to fall into place, his wife of five years asked for a separation because of his increasing verbal abuse to her when he was drunk. While he was aware that he used alcohol to cope with anxiety and to feel more social, he had not been aware of the impact that it was having on his relationships and was terrified of losing his marriage. Right around that time, the director of a play he was in, commented on his drinking, and he became frightened of destroying the career he had worked so hard to build. He quickly discovered that he was not able to stop drinking on his own, and began to attend A. A. meetings. His sponsor recommended therapy as a means of further exploring the issues that were coming up.

Alex was intrigued by the idea of art therapy, and was especially interested in exploring why he had been feeling so depressed since the time he had stopped drinking, four months earlier. We began a project that used chalk pastels on colored paper, to begin to explore the unfamiliar and frightening emotions that were underlying his depression. By letting the visual images that he created guide him, he found himself continuously drawing a moonlit ocean with a lone sailboat on it. In making associations to the picture, he said that it reminded him of how lost and alone he had felt when his mother died of cancer when he was fifteen. He realized for the first time that his alcohol dependence began in the aftermath of her death, and that he had never really grieved, but spent the rest of his teen years "essentially numb". He began a series of water color impressions expressing the pain and loss that he kept from himself, and that this new sobriety was bringing to the surface. As he continued to use art therapy to explore a myriad of cut-off emotions, his depression lifted, and he found that he was able to tolerate the full gamut of human emotions without drinking. To his surprise, the more he was able to risk painful feelings, the more he was able to experience joy as well.

Previous art experience is not necessary.


Eating Disorders
Men & Weight Issues

Chemical Dependency

Alcohol Abuse
Drug Abuse

Mood Disorders


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