The Games Alcoholics Play

The Games Alcoholics and Addicts Play in Treatment

Eric Berne and Claude Steiner were psychiatrists around the 1960’s and 70’s, their main body of study was that people had certain life scripts which are called games. In modern CBT we call these life-scripts “SCHEMAS”.

Life Scripts, or games, are robust patterns of thinking and behaving. They do not change due to life circumstances. They are non-malleable: This means they are very rigid and will not change even when confronted with evidence to show that these games are causing themselves great harm.

One of the most difficult things about having these life-scripts/games is that we often cannot see them at play. They are in our blind spots and we may blame things external to ourselves or are simply completely unable to see how operational they are.

Eric Berne, through his work noted that Alcoholics and Addicts had a unique set of stressors that only people who were an addict or the family of an addict would experience.  Unlike the “worried well” alcoholics and addicts would suffer immensely due to these and behaving, always resulting in harm to themselves and those around them.

One huge part of therapy is acceptance there is a problem. 

Eric Berne and Claude Steiner, through vigorous study of thousands of alcoholics and addicts devised “The Games Alcoholics Play”.  This therapy book underlined hazardous and harmful thinking styles particularly unique to alcoholics and addicts.  

The idea behind Eric Berne’s therapy, TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS, was to help addicts recognize their behaviors which often result in the disengagement of help and therapy to go back into drinking and using.  Transactional Analysis can be difficult to understand to some people initially, but think of it like a script you’ve been given and you always read the words of the script. 

If you can imagine a robot that has been programmed to carry out a command, previous influences, childhood experiences serve as script for you to carry out certain behaviors.

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on

These are the Games Alcoholics and Addicts play in treatment:  

  1. Throwing it all away:  As a youth the addict or alcoholic is taught by various influences around them, that he/she was worthless. Then later in life whenever they are on the verge of accomplishment or have accumulated anything of worth, there is an impulse to throw it all away.  We see this in people who strip themselves of family, jobs, recovery, relationships by drinking and using – Throwing it all away
  2. Everybody is trying to deprive me:  This game is  often most common in those who have alcoholic/addict parents where an addict/alcoholic has suffered from childhood deprivation. Giving up alcohol or drugs leads to a feeling of deprivation; they may assume that therapists and family members are trying to deprive them. If they experience hurt they can sometimes feel they deserve to drink.
  3. Stamp Collecting:  This is a process of collecting pains and resentments in order to trade it for a free drink. Just as you would get a free coffee when you get six stamps,  addicts and alcoholics collect gripes and problems to trade in for a ticket out of treatment and go back to using and drinking. Sometimes known as the “fuck-it-bucket”, when the bucket overflows you’ve got a bucket full of fucks and your recovery isn’t getting one.
  4. Got it Made:   This life script comes from a decision not to drink or use again, it is based in reason and logic but it’s real manifest is to demonstrate to peers and therapists that the glass is already full and there is nothing add. It’s usually contradicted by reservations and The action is usually leaving treatment early despite peers and therapists. “I’ll do anything for my recovery, but I won’t do that.”
  5. Ain’t it Awful?: This is usually a game played amongst two people, by being overly negative with each other, remarking on everything wrong about their treatment. They discount the positives and focus on negatives. Being stuck in this position will make a person transition into a place of helplessness. This is almost always played on external matters, “Oh she’s such a bitch.” “This food is so bland”, “That guy is so rude”. “Oh well, the world sucks……. let’s get pissed.”
  6. Yes, but:  This is circular thinking, it’s acknowledging however it’s going back to a previous style of thinking. It is usually a blocking of defensive game. In rehab we need to be more specific and absorb what people have to say, by keeping our guard up who are we protecting? Eric Berne saw this as someone who is protecting their internal alcoholic.
  7. I’ll Show you: A bogus act of rebellion, you stick your fingers up to the system. In a teenager this is normal stage of development, but as you get older the only one who’s losing out is you.  
  8. Aw, What the hell: This is the third of “slip slogans”, this is part of childish ego state to be carefree, playful and loaded on drink and drugs.
  9. NIGYSOB (Now I’ve got you son of a bitch): A paranoid game where you look for the fault of others to see what they do wrong in order to persecute and justify drinking or using.
  10. Kick Me:  My behavior needs your negative attention, notice me for the wrong reasons and give me negative attention or kick me out.
  11. The Drama Triangle:  Three roles, victim, rescuer and persecutor.  These three roles come with hooks to hook people in and get them to abide to whims. In treatment these roles are to often escape treatment and go back into alcoholism and drug addiction.

All these games are played to WIN

The Grand Prize is to go back to drinking and using, if not instantly then within a short while.

-Written by Dylan Kerr

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