Saturday, 9 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #4: You'll Be Happier

Right now that probably sounds counter intuitive.

When I first quit drinking, my thoughts went along the lines of Aarrrgghhh! I'm never going to be properly happy ever again! Mainly because any image I had in my head of 'true happiness' involved a glass of vino.

Example: SM at her wedding with glass of champagne, SM watching sunset with Mr SM and a couple of cocktails, SM relaxing on sun lounger in glamorous location with chilled glass white wine etcetera, etcetera.

It's only looking back now that I see that I was only properly happy after the first glass or two of vino, and by glass number three things would start going downhill again.

I was actually suffering from low level depression, although it crept up so slowly, and I was so used to it, that I thought it was normal.

The link between alcohol and depression is a long established one.

Alcohol is a depressant. We think it's making us happier, but all it's doing is depressing our controlling behaviours like judgement, planning, reasoning and self monitoring.

Over time, constantly imbibing this depressant leads (unsurprisingly) to depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

In his NHS clinic specialising in alcohol problems, Dr Rao sees people in their 60s with subtle alcohol related brain damage after a lifetime of casual drinking.

‘I always say to my patients ‘Your brain is affected a lot earlier than your liver’, he says. ‘Before we see the cirrhosis we see depression and problems with impulse control, moodiness, problems making complex decisions, say with finances and their children or spouses might say ‘Oh that’s just so-and-so being a silly old bugger,’ so the problems are missed.’

(If you'd like to read more on alcohol related brain damage then here's a fabulous article from the Wall Street Journal, sent to me by Eeyore - one of my readers, not the donkey).

The good news is that much of the damage can be reversed within six months, but - according to the WSJ article - repair is less probable after the age of fifty. So don't hang around any longer!

The other issue with alcohol and depression is it becomes a vicious circle.

Often people say "I don't know if I drank because I was unhappy, or I was unhappy because I drank."

Actually, both are true. You drink because you're unhappy, which makes you more unhappy, so you drink more. It's like a whirlpool of unhappiness and booze sucking you down into the depths.

If you've been drinking at least three times a week, you've probably forgotten what 'normal' feels like. That's because it takes two or three days for the effects of alcohol to leave your system, so you're either drunk, hungover, or in low level withdrawal. Your poor brain is never in equilibrium.

Also, drinking messes with our dopamine levels.

Dopamine is the 'happy hormone.' When we drink, our brain is flooded with dopamine, making us happy. BUT when we drink a lot, regularly, our brain reduces the levels of dopamine it produces naturally to compensate.

This means that when we're not drinking we feel bad, and adding alcohol only takes us back to 'status quo.' Effectively, our 'happy' becomes a sober person's 'normal.'

For a few months after I quit, I felt like I was on a rollercoaster (see my post Sobercoaster). I was constantly up and down.

Then, at around six months, it seemed like a fog was clearing, and I felt happier than I could remember ever feeling with a glass in my hand. Not a manufactured happiness, but a bone deep contentment, and a real appreciation of the small things.

(see my post: Smile and the World Smiles With You for an example).

As well as feeling happier because you've fixed your brain chemistry, you'll also find that many sources of your previous unhappiness have just disappeared: no more stress and guilt about what you said to whom at that party, no more anxiety about being a bad parent, and no more irrational drunken arguments with the husband, for example.

So don't worry about never being happy again when you quit drinking. You've forgotten what happy really fees like. But you're about to find out.....

Love SM x


  1. This is do important for people to know! It probably won't happen right away and there will still be crap days but there will be moments of real extreme happiness! 8 months in and life is so much better. At 6 months still doubted it but it's true xxx

  2. Wow this is brilliant! Can totally relate. I'm at the 6 month mark and have started to experience genuine joy and happiness sober. Some days I still get triggers but not for too long as I'm pretty much an expert in distracting myself and I try to avoid any drinking situations. I do have a big chocolate addiction now though but oh well! :)

    1. Huge congrats on 6 months Diana! Re: the chocolate thing, I recently bought a nutri-bullet, so now whenever I have a sugar craving I make a fresh fruit smoothie. Give it a go? Xx

  3. I love this blog and it's inspired me. Today is Day 6. And adding this to your blog is quite a big thing for me.
    I started doing dry January before it was fashionable. I look forward to it (a relief in fact from the drinking). I’ve never found it particularly difficult, probably because Feb 1st was waiting round the corner. Every year I have decided to ‘moderate’ come February, by March I am back to ‘normal’ – for me a double G&T and half a bottle of wine a night, probably with a couple of alcohol free days a week, but not always and socially always more. Last year I thought I ‘might’ continue after January – but in the end didn’t last the full month.
    So much of what you write resonates. Like you, I often drink secretly and have a husband who can make one glass of wine last all night, in fact when we ‘share’ a bottle I probably have more than him. He thinks I should be able to moderate.
    This year I started dry January on the 4th – but this time, more than ever, I feel I really do want to stop completely. (I know I still sound a bit tentative). And now I have discovered your blog which I find inspirational – so maybe I can do it too????? And the postman has just delivered Jason Vale’s book!
    I would say I have been high-functioning-alcohol-dependent since my mid-30s. I am 55, until recently a university lecturer, I would say I am an achiever I have a doctorate and have written books - but ...
    In brief that’s my story.
    Thanks for replying to my email. Repeating some of what I said there, here, is my way of going 'public'- in a safe supportive environment.

    Thanks so much for writing the blog – and good luck with your journey.

    1. Hurrah for you, Dr C. We're all with you, so please keep reading and posting. Let us know how you get on with Jason. Big Hugs, SM x

  4. Hi SM - yep - I'm definitely happier without the booze. Day 6 - tick. Have had another successful sober dinner with friends (took my own AF beers etc) - feeling strong. Happy sober weekend SM and everyone else. Love SFM

  5. This weekend our family took the radical step of adopting two rescue cats.. I believe it's statistically proven that owning a pet and nurturing something can make you happier... I could not have contemplated having "one more thing to look after" before this point.. Now I think I'm more excited than the kids... Long live cat litter! :-D