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