Boozy to Butterfly

Why It's So Easy to Become Alcohol Dependent

March 23, 2021 Episode 2
Boozy to Butterfly
Why It's So Easy to Become Alcohol Dependent
Chapters
Boozy to Butterfly
Why It's So Easy to Become Alcohol Dependent
Mar 23, 2021 Episode 2

This week Emily discusses four reasons it's so easy to become alcohol dependent and why everyone is susceptible. So if you're thinking there's something "wrong" with you or you're "not normal," listen in to hear her rebuff this detrimental self-talk. She also shares some tips and opportunities to create sustainable change and how to love a drink less or sober life. 

Looking for support on your stop overdrinking journey? Head over to https://thisbrainofmine.com/stopoverdrinking to sign up for my free 10-day training course. 

If you're ready for private coaching, email me at [email protected]

Show Notes Transcript

This week Emily discusses four reasons it's so easy to become alcohol dependent and why everyone is susceptible. So if you're thinking there's something "wrong" with you or you're "not normal," listen in to hear her rebuff this detrimental self-talk. She also shares some tips and opportunities to create sustainable change and how to love a drink less or sober life. 

Looking for support on your stop overdrinking journey? Head over to https://thisbrainofmine.com/stopoverdrinking to sign up for my free 10-day training course. 

If you're ready for private coaching, email me at [email protected]

Boozy to Butterfly: The Sober Coach

Episode 2: Why It’s Easy to Become Alcohol Dependent

In today’s episode I want to talk about why it’s so easy to become alcohol dependent. I use the phrase alcohol dependent loosely though because you may not be willing to admit that you might be alcohol dependent. So, I want you to know, It’s not a bad thing. In fact, only you get to decide what’s good or bad for you in your life. I like to think of good or bad as the results I’m getting. What’s my outcome? Do I like this outcome or do I want something different? If I like my results then I’m good with my actions; however, if I don’t like my results then something needs to change. So if you’re a drinker and you’re absolutely content with your results then regardless of how much you’re drinking, it’s not a problem if it’s not a problem for you. Even if others in your life are telling you there’s a problem, it’s not a problem until you personally don’t like your results. Well, one disclaimer here…as long as you’re not harming others with violence or drinking and driving or other flagrant harmful acts.

Now, I like to say alcohol dependent rather than alcoholic and addict because those labels are designed to shame you whereas alcohol dependent has truth. And this just means you become dependent on alcohol to cope or socialize or whatever you’re using alcohol for, just like people become dependent on other things whether it’s anti-anxiety medication, an emotional support pet, or a co-dependent relationship. It can also mean you’ve tried to quit or cut back and haven’t succeeded. It can mean you drink at home by yourself out of boredom. It’s drinking more than you’d like and not having success at drinking less. If the words alcoholic and addict are floating around in your head, consider changing your language to dependent. 

So, I’m going to discuss FOUR reasons SO many people are getting caught in this trap. Whether you’re just on the cusp of realizing you can’t just walk away from alcohol as easily as you’d like or whether you’ve been to rehab and through AA and you’re feeling hopeless, I think this is an important topic. because from that initial moment where you’re starting to question your drinking to someone who’s been through the wringer trying to break this habit in multiple ways understanding these fundamental processes that lead to alcohol dependence can alleviate some of your frustration and anxiety. And by relieving some of that pressure, you have a greater chance for success at your goal. As I like to say let your frustration lead to education. 

So let’s start with reason #1: shame and the need to feel better. Shame and feeling ashamed is so prevalent that you may not be aware how much you’re carrying around. But you may also be highly aware of how much shame you feel. Shame is the feeling that there is something wrong or bad about you. This feeling inhabits your being in the very early stages of wanting to change your drinking habits. 

In fact, it starts before you even try to quit. as I spoke about in my first podcast episode, the labeling used in the drinking culture like alcoholic and addict create shame. If you even remotely have trouble quitting or cutting back on drinking these two labels start to seep into your brain. And when they do, that’s the beginning. The spiral has started just from accepting these terms into your consciousness. Then you start to think why can’t I just drink like a normal person? Again, inferring you’re not normal and there’s something different about you in a bad way. 

You may also have done something stupid under the influence of alcohol and started your own character assassination from those actions. You may feel shameful for something you’ve done, or even something that may have been done to you. Now I’m going to take a brief sidestep here and explain that you are not your actions especially under the influence. Your cognitive brain isn’t even in control when you’re drinking so you will make decisions you wouldn’t normally make. So to judge yourself as if you had full conscious control when you made that stupid decision is not an apples-to-apples fight, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. But beyond that, your actions come from feelings and emotions and your thoughts create those feelings and emotions. You are not your thoughts; you SELECT which thoughts you want to believe. You can CREATE thoughts you want to believe. But they are interchangeable and not at the core of who you are, so no need to carry shame based on actions. It’s more helpful to take them as lessons.

So, I’m not suggesting you block the feeling of shame. I am of the opposite opinion; I try not to block any feelings but I do question the validity. I do evaluate the source of the feeling or emotion and consider the source. If I agree with that feeling without question, then I’m agreeing with the source (and their perception) and not developing my own opinions or thoughts. So consider educating yourself and evaluating if this feeling helps you make the changes in your life you want to make. 

Now, I know you know thoughts and feelings, like shame, would be considered negative feelings. They’re uncomfortable, they hurt your soul, and they wound your self-image. So what happens when you’re feeling down, you want your coping tool, alcohol. Whatever your crutch is (whether it be alcohol, food, porn, overspending) you’re going to desire more of it. When you feel bad, you want to feel better so you want to drink, not because you’re an alcoholic but because it’s your crutch or buffering tool.  Some people reach for sweets or start shopping online but you do this to feel better. 

You get caught in this overdrinking web to adjust your emotions and filter out the negative feelings and thoughts. Now alcohol is a little different from the other buffering methods because of its psychoactive nature, but they’re all serving the same purpose, to provide immediate relief to an unpleasant state. Unless you had very evolved parents or went to a very progressive school, you weren’t taught how to deal with unpleasantness. You weren’t taught that discomfort is okay. 

Our society is focused on happiness 24/7. I just want to be happy is what people say. When little Susie cries, she gets a sucker and we say don’t be upset. We don’t let Susie experience sadness, or not getting immediate gratification. We bottle feelings up and sweep them under the rug. We don’t have difficult conversations that need to be had because we don’t want to deal with unpleasant emotions. So, we drink the pain away. We drink the unpleasantness away. We drink the discomfort away.

So question your feelings. Do you believe you’re a bad person and should be shamed for your actions or shamed for using alcohol as a coping tool? Should you be shamed for not having learnt innate coping skills? How many people are really this evolved? And if you really believe you’re a bad person, is residing in that shame helping you create a better person out of yourself? How is it helping you? Shame is not going to create motivation. Shame is not going to create the good vibes that will entice you to create sustainable change. Let’s move on…

The second reason it’s so easy to become alcohol dependent is a lack self-worth and self-love. This is closely tied in with reason number 1; however, it’s also very different and a whole other opportunity to create sustainable change. So how does this happen? How do we lose our self-love and self-worth. The simple answer is not simple…it happens a million different ways but again comes back to what you’re believing about yourself. What you’re making thoughts and actions mean. 

When you try something and don’t get the results you seek, as a human, you make that mean something about you. You make it mean something negative about you. We make everything about us, right? That’s the ego…it’s very important so it thinks. In fact, you may have had others telling you, you’re a failure, or worthless. Commercials even place unrealistic imagery in your mind to sell you a product whether it’s alcohol, makeup, or a car. There’re so many external sources coupled with our own damaging ego telling us we don’t measure up. 

And when you try to quit or cut back drinking and don’t succeed the first, second, tenth, 100th time, you’re a failure. If you tell yourself you’re not going to have that drink tonight and you have it, you’re a loser, you’re worthless…that’s the negative self-talk. You lose trust in your ability to succeed and you don’t believe you’ll keep your word with yourself so you stop trying.

You start to see all the things you do wrong and all the places you fall short and your view of yourself becomes very negative. You stop seeing the amazing gifts in your life and all the accomplishments you DO achieve every day. You question if you deserve your loving partner, if you deserve a healthy lifestyle, if you deserve to have good friends. Look, if you don’t love yourself and appreciate the miracle you are…you’re going to abuse yourself. You’re going to punish yourself. You’re going to push good things away. If you say I hate myself you’re also going to grab that bottle and drink it. If you don’t feel worthy of good things, you’re not going to make good choices. If you don’t feel worthy of love, you’re not going to act lovable. You’re going to believe you don’t deserve the most out of life. That you don’t deserve better. 

Be your own advocate and start to reject the expectations of others and the inadequacies handed to you every day. Use every free tool available on the internet and start building that self-worth and self-love. Join my free, private Sober Candor Community on Facebook and other free forums and find people who are uplifting and real about life and not just posting their wins. I give you permission to love yourself and think you’re a badass. You are not required to criticize yourself, believe the worst about yourself. You get to decide what and how to think about yourself. Liberate yourself from your internalized oppression.

Moving on to number three: conditioning, or programming, or associations. We’re born little empty vessels. As we interact with this world our brain literally starts forming associations, changing shape, building connections. Your brain is electric and malleable and your knowledge is attained through your senses. Through hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting. You’ve been programmed. Beyond the five senses there is a sixth sense, intuition (or wisdom GPS)…which is your internal wisdom but that’s for another episode. For this episode I want you to understand that your beliefs and reality were shaped by your interactions in this world. Everyday your brain is different than it was the day before. It’s constantly changing and adapting. 

And one of the ways alcohol dependence develops is from these adaptations or associations, also known as conditioning. When you couple alcohol with an activity, a feeling, a circumstance, repeatedly, your brain learns to expect these two to now go together. So if you drink every night at 5pm when you walk in the door from work, your brain will remind you at 5pm when you get home, it’s time for a drink. If you drink when you sit down to watch TV or get on social media each evening, your brain will remind you that it’s time for a drink. If you drink when you’re lonely and bored, your brain will initiate the desire for alcohol when you’re lonely and bored. It’s amazing, necessary, and shitty all at the same time.

Conditioning not only comes from your own conscious coupling but from imagery, marketing, and associations with events. Those beer commercials showing smiling, happy people are selling happiness. Those whisky and wine commercials showing sophistication are selling well sophistication and class. Your brain takes note. You see this imagery enough and you believe it, automatically. Those images stay stored in your brain ready to be recalled when you’re looking for happiness or sophistication. Think about how long these images have been in your mind though television, movies, as child at holiday gatherings, everywhere, your whole life. 

And once you initially get past the horribly nasty taste of alcohol to that buzz, your brain likes it. So you take the bait and become a drinker. You start drinking at parties and then you start drinking at casual social gatherings and then you start creating reasons to drink. 

From there, all it really takes is a bad year, a bad relationship, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, anything small can start you on this path of alcohol dependence. Every drinker is on it at all times! Now, it can be gradual too, especially if you find yourself in social circles that covet drinking. The bottom line is the more you drink and the more often you drink the more dependent anyone will become on alcohol especially if you don’t have intermittent dry periods. 

The conditioning and programming in your mind becomes very set. It becomes very strong the more often you repeat these patterns. And all this means is that when you try to change the habit, it’s really hard. It’s really uncomfortable. Your brain is shooting desires and drink urges your way like bullets. It’s screaming like a toddler when you try to quit overdrinking.

Now remember I said the brain is malleable, though, which means it can be changed. Every day it changes. I’ve found there’s really two ways to break this conditioning: 1) you can learn to sit with the discomfort and not give it the alcohol which eventually leads to deconditioning the association. But this one is tough a) because of the discomfort and b) because you likely have more than a handful of associations built with alcohol. Or 2) you create new associations without alcohol that are MORE pleasurable than the activities WITH alcohol. I believe #2 is the sustainable, enjoyable way to live. When you create a life you love, you no longer care about subsidizing your vacancies with alcohol because there is no vacancy. There’s no room at the inn. So dig up those old passions, hobbies, and interests and start creating alcohol-free activities that you love and enjoy.

The fourth and final reason I want to talk about today is the tolerance factor. Everyone has heard the term tolerance but I’m not sure everyone actually knows what’s happening here. You probably know the higher the tolerance the more you have to drink to get the same buzz or feeling from alcohol. So when you started drinking you didn’t have to drink much to get drunk or feel a buzz… in my day the term was a light weight…not sure if it’s still the same. Anyway, it’s important to distinguish that even though you have to drink MORE to feel the same buzz this does not mean that you have to drink MORE to disrupt your cognition or your logical thinking. This still deteriorates on that first drink just like the first drink you took as a kid. Your thinking is impaired regardless of whether you feel fully impaired or not…they’re two separate things. 

You build a tolerance to alcohol because your brain down regulates the concentrated dopamine to lessen the impact to your system. Concentrated dopamine, which is in alcohol and sugar and plenty of other sources, is not natural so the brain tries to take care of this rush by minimizing it, which actual works against you because with repeated drinking you now need more alcohol to feel the same way. So eventually it takes two to feel the same effects as it did one and then it takes a bottle and then two bottles; however, your brain is still impaired with that first glass. Even though you don’t feel the buzz from alcohol, the actual cognitive impairment is still there.

Now if you don’t shoot out of the canon as a daily drinker and keep this routine up daily, your tolerance builds over time. So you might build a little tolerance in college and then if you become career-oriented or shift out of that college atmosphere your tolerance may lesson for a while. As you get older and life starts to wear on you, you may find yourself returning to drinking more to deal with life’s challenges. You might take another break to have kids and then they’re born and you find yourself reaching for alcohol to cope again. But eventually what will happen is when those breaks become farer and fewer between and you’re drinking more frequently on repeated occasions. You’re building a tolerance, requiring more alcohol to feel the same light buzz, you’re conditioning your mind to expect alcohol, and you’re starting to feel like you need it because rather than being taught to unwind naturally or deal with emotions, alcohol has stepped in pretending to have all the answers. It’s easy. It’s glamorized. It’s widely accepted. It’s your friend. It’s fun! The picture is perfectly painted for you to just step right into alcohol dependence. It’s like the Instagram page where only good pictures and pleasant moments are shared. But there’s a whole mess hidden back there that doesn’t get talked about.

So when you start to feel like you’re drinking too much and quit or cut back, you’re really set up to lose. And then that thought creeps in that there’s something wrong with you and your self-worth and self-confidence takes a hit. Next comes shame and feeling down on yourself ripe for you to crave your coping tool, alcohol, which leads to “proof” that you have a drinking problem. It’s a nasty little cycle. 

To recap, as the gaps or breaks from drinking narrow and disappear, your tolerance increases requiring more alcohol for the same buzz. The more alcohol you consume, the more dopamine you’re getting and the more conditioning and programming your brain is receiving. With this high amount of alcohol in your body (despite not feeling as drunk as you would if it was your first drink) you start to make some really questionable decisions, do stupid things, say stupid things and you realize you’re drinking too much. When you try to quit or cut back, it’s hard because of the regularity and repeated pattern with which you’ve been drinking. Your body wants that dopamine. It thinks it’s necessary for survival because that’s what dopamine tells the brain. It sends you cues like desire and cravings even though you consciously don’t want to drink. It feels awful, you may even start experiencing physical withdrawal. And this desire and difficulty in your goal leads to questions like am I an alcoholic, am I addicted, do I have a problem? Shame sets in creating awful mental anguish and doubt about WHO you are. Now you not only want to drink because of the conditioning and dopamine withdrawal but because alcohol has been your coping mechanism and now you feel anxious and scared. So you drink to wash away the mental anguish reinforcing your thought that you have a drinking problem.

It’s really easy to become dependent on alcohol and it’s not so easy to overcome it. I mean it is but it takes education and work to uncover your story. In 100% total honesty, the best place to start is a dry period. The more dry days, weeks, or months you can build into your life, the more you can lessen alcohol dependence. Build a life you love without alcohol, have alternative hobbies, activities, and social groups that don’t revolve around drinking. Find ways to unwind and relax without the need to use alcohol. The more you can build substitutes into your life, the less you’ll want it.