Saturday, 25 April 2015

Moderation. Is it possible? Part 2

Day 55. Since I wrote Moderation. Is it possible? I found a fabulous insight into the topic in Caroline Knapp's 'Drinking, a love story,' so I thought is was a subject worth revisiting.

Knapp explores the neurological and physiological reasons behind alcohol addiction. Don't panic, I'm going to explain this in easy terms so that I can unserstand it properly, as well as you!

She explains that when the brain is 'excessively and repeatedly' exposed to alcohol (that'll be me then!) its natural systems of craving and reward are screwed up.

When we drink, our brain's reward system is artificially activated, and it produces dopamine. Dopamine is the brain's 'feel good' chemical. Over time, the brain susses out that it's producing far too much of the stuff, so it compensates by kicking into reverse gear and actively decreases our base levels of dopamine.

That's why, over time, drinkers feel more and more depressed, and start to believe that only alcohol will make us feel better. We're not actually wrong. Drinking enables us to produce dopamine again. What we fail to understand, however, is that it was drinking that caused the problem in the first place.

Effectively, we reach a tipping point where alcohol stops being the solution and starts being the problem.

The good news is that as soon as we stop drinking our brain gets back into balance, and starts producing the happy hormone again all on its own. In fact, in the beginning it can overcompensate. A bit like a rubber band pinging back into position, it initially overshoots. This is why ex drinkers experience the 'pink cloud' stage, followed by a series of ups and downs as our brains struggle to find equilibrium again.

The bad news is that by now our brains have been hard wired to believe that alcohol equals pleasure. Years of our dopamine levels being controlled by alcohol have, in effect, created the 'wine witch' in our heads. And the only way to shut up the wine witch is to not drink.

Knapp uses the best analogy I've heard to explain why alcohol addicts can't drink 'normally' again - that of cucumbers and pickles. She says that you can stop a cucumber turning into a pickle, but once it is a pickle it can never be a cucumber again.

If you're reading this thinking 'am I a cucumber still, or am I already a pickle?' have a look at 'Am I an alcoholic? Part 2' and try Bill Wilson's moderation test. If you find it impossible, over a decent length of time, to stick to drinking just one small drink a day then it is probable that your brain chemistry has already gone haywire. You have, in effect, pickled it.

I know this all sounds a bit depressing but, on the upside, it shows that you are NOT weak willed or pathetic. You are dealing with powerful physiological forces that 'normal drinkers' don't have to face. It is not your fault - it's the fault of the drug.

Plus, there are physiological reasons why you're feeling miserable (if you are) and you will get better. In fact, once we sort out our bain chemistry we should be able to feel as good as we ever did after a large glass of vino all the time!

Have a great weekend, all you fabulous pickles,

SM x

Related Posts: Moderation. Is it possible? What's so great about moderation anyway?

19 comments:

  1. I am fully aware that I can never drink alcohol again. That word 'Never' is quite a scary prospect but moderation is also not an option for me. I find it amazing how quickly we forget all the negative experiences we have had with alcohol and seem only to remember the good times, the boozy partys, the socialising, even the drinking alone didn't seem so bad. I can see why people find it so easy to relapse.
    Last night, I dreamt I had relapsed and woke with quite a panic and a dreadful feeling of guilt that I had lost my quit.
    Dreams like that reinforce my belief that I am on the right path for sure because that feeling of guilt was real and tangible and persisted for a few minutes after waking.
    Today, I have the house to myself, so I intend to have a good spring clean and clear out. Time to get rid of some muddles and de clutter the house.
    Have a great weekend SM. This pickle is signing off x

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    1. You go Tallaxo! Tidy house, tidy mind, and all that. Love SM x

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  2. Hi sm that all makes complete sense doesn't it a very apt post today as I'm feeling "blue" for absolutely no reason at all even though I've had a lovely relaxing day with lots and lots of fresh air and exercise ( nothing to strenuous of course that I think would send my body into complete meltdown / shock ;-) have a great weekend x

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    1. Hey Kags! Hope you're feeling happier today! Remember that you often felt blue when you WERE drinking - in fact probably more so....

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  3. Sobriety delivers all that alcohol promised.
    Rx

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  4. I'm happy to consider myself a pickle. Believing I was was weak willed or broken kept me drinking. I was so good at controlling my food and exercising excessively. How could I be an alcoholic???

    I just needed more rules. That never worked. The compulsiveness of my own behaviour scared me. Loss of control.

    I guess that's why acceptance and freedom feels so good. I am just me. And every day this me males the most of my interesting and inspired life!

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    1. Me too Anne! I am usually so good at control. I find being able to understand the science really liberating x

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  5. Great post SM. it makes sense when you put it like that. Guess I'm a pickle too :(
    A x

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  6. Love the pickle analogy. Have been trying (for years) to justify moderation. It never works for me. Day 59 today. Love your blog SM x

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    1. Welcome lushnomore! Great name! You are just 3 days ahead of me. Let's stick together x

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  7. Thanks for this SM - so interesting to get a bit more of the science behind this, and an explanation for why I keep on trying to moderate and failing miserably. My brain's seriously trying to trick me into feeling denied (despite reading Allen Carr and Jason Vales take on it). Also interesting that this helps explain about the "wall" period after the pink cloud - a stage that scares me a bit. If I can approach it as a phase it might help. Better face the fact I'm a pickle. Definitely a dill pickle. Thanks for your blog.. despite failing recently I've been reading daily and you're helping me get to what I need to do x

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    1. Spooky, Red. I was thinking about you just last night and hoping that you were still with us! You are NOT failing - you are just working on getting your head in the right place. You will get there when you're ready (red-y) SM x

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  8. Here in the southern U.S. We have a brand of pickles I love. They are called Wickles ("wickedly good pickles") and they are sweet and very spicy. I love them. I love pickles really and eat them whenever I get a chance. I have had quite the attitude towards stopping all alcohol, like I keep telling myself that if I can stop for a week/30 days/whatever that maybe another 7 or another 30 won't be so hard. It's nice to know now what's going on in my brain that makes it so difficult. And I don't mind thinking of it like a pickle (cuz I will just be my own Wickle). Onwards and upwards. I need to read that book and the other ones you've mentioned. Southern Emily.

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    1. I love that, Southern Emily! We can be Wickles together ;-)

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  9. Hello. I like to think that those of us who make fast shortcuts to dopamine production (first the alcohol stimulates it, pretty soon just the idea of alcohol does too) are simply quicker off the mark than those who naturally moderate! Look at our brains go!! 40 for me today (again...) Reckon understanding those faulty connections exist is helping. Still, no complacency here, my track record isn't pretty.

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  10. Good post. I am regular reader of blog related to yoga, spirituality and meditation etc. I enjoyed this post. Keep on posting.

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