You can be a moderate drinker if you want to…

Someone recently contacted me saying that they have stopped drinking, but still think about being a moderate drinker. They asked me what the key was to remove every last desire for alcohol. My response (slightly reworded) is below. I thought it might be useful to share it.

I think the key is to remove every last vestige of seeing any pleasure in drinking. Remember, when you think about drinking you fantasise about it. It is literally that, a fantasy, not reality but some unrealistic fiction of what it ought to be like. The fact of the matter is if you want to be a moderate drinker you can be. Let’s say you want to drink two drinks, once a week, you can do it. After all no one forces you to drink apart from yourself, and no one can stop you drinking if you want to. So if you want two drinks once a week or whatever, you can do it. So why don’t you? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that you wouldn’t be happy having two drinks a week. If you are anything like me those two drinks would simply awaken the desire for more, so if you did have those two you would then be miserable because you couldn’t have more, or you’d have more and end up absolutely hammered again. So the reason you are not a moderate drinker is because you wouldn’t be happy doing it.

What you are probably fantasising about when you think about being a moderate drinker is having something that you can have every now and then, that will make you happier, relax you, make you feel good about life and give you some relief from your worries, but that you won’t then need to keep taking such that it leads to complete intoxication, hangovers, fatigue, self-loathing etc. Something that tastes nice, that you can do with friends, that will help you socialise and won’t ruin your sleep, and above all it is something that you can take or leave, that you aren’t compelled to keep taking even when it becomes apparent that it is destroying you and making you miserable. It sounds lovely, and if you ever find such a thing please do let me know, I’ll be the first to drink it with you! But the simple fact of the matter is that what you are thinking about isn’t alcohol. In fact alcohol does the complete opposite to all of the things I have described above; alcohol is the very antithesis of this. Alcohol never did provide any of those things, you were just fooled into thinking it did. The more you drink, the more you start to see the truth, and once known the truth cannot be unknown. Imagine a relationship where you were head over heels in love with your partner and believed they loved you. You were deliriously happy for many years. Then you found out they really couldn’t stand you, that they had never loved you and were cheating on you and mocking you behind your back, and in fact doing whatever they could to hurt you. Could you ever forget the truth and go back to them to get back to that period of happiness? Would you even want to knowing that it was all false? You might mourn the fact that you weren’t in a happy relationship and you might look for one. But in respect of that particular relationship I would think you’d only be too glad to see the back if it.

In fact giving up alcohol is so much easier because you can find that wonderful relationship elsewhere. There is something that will make you happier, relax you, make you feel good about life and give you some relief from your worries, but won’t lead to complete intoxication, hangovers, fatigue, self-loathing and won’t ruin your sleep. A healthy mind and body will give you all of these things, and it is something you cannot fail to get if you stop drinking.

At what stage do we become ‘Alcohol Reliant’?

You hear some extraordinary things in an open plan office. I’ve just overheard a holiday conversation between three of my colleagues. One of the ladies has two children, aged 18 and 20 (clearly not ‘children’ but I shall use the word because ‘issue’ or ‘offspring’ sounds a bit odd). Both children are still living at home but as you would expect they are starting to spread their wings, ready to fly the nest, and are becoming more and more independent.

Anyway what her and her husband have said to their children now they are growing (grown) up is that they are more than welcome to go on holiday with them (which they will pay for) but equally if they no longer want to go on holiday with their Mum and Dad then they don’t have to go along. I thought that was all very nice and sensible; no point forcing your children to go on holiday with you if they don’t want to, but equally it is very nice (if you can afford it) to keep inviting them along.

Anyway this year they are off on a cruise, so really pushing the boat out (ha ha). However neither of the two children are going along. Why? Because it is an American cruise ship, and they apply the American age restriction on serving alcohol, which is 21. So neither of them would be able to drink on board.

The conversation then centred about their decision not to go along as they wouldn’t be able to drink, with everyone agreeing that it is understandable, and the mother herself taking this position. I resisted making any comment.

To get things into perspective though this is a possible once in a lifetime holiday, fully paid for, and the reasons they wanted to stay at home was not to have the house to themselves, or arrange parties, but simply because they couldn’t drink on the holiday. And these weren’t two grizzled, three bottles of spirits a day drinkers, these are two young, up and coming students. There of course may have been other influencing factors in their decision not to go (such as having the house to themselves or having a party) but the point is that it was considered perfectly reasonable for them to refuse to go on the basis that they wouldn’t be able to drink.

Now I am assuming that these two ‘children’ do not have a problem with alcohol (or the conversation would have taken a very different turn) but it highlights the role alcohol plays in our society. It also, I think, demonstrates the age at which we become dependent on alcohol. They may not be dependent on alcohol to get out of bed in the morning or to deal with every aspect of their lives, but they are clearly dependant on alcohol to get them through certain situations, to such an extent that what should be very enjoyable once in a lifetime experience is missed out on because the drug they need to enjoy that situation is missing.

I remember doing a similar thing when I was younger. I can’t remember exactly how old I was but it was between 14 (because I had started drinking and smoking) and 16 (as I was still at school) and our parents took myself and my sisters to Disney World. I absolutely loved it. In fact there was only one occasion when I was miserable. We went to one of the few places you could drink alcohol (I doubt it exists anymore, it seems alcohol is now virtually unobtainable in Disneyland, but this was 25 odd years ago). It was an amazing place. It was done up like an old colonial gentleman’s club but many of the exhibits moved or did odd things if you watched them long enough. My Mum and Dad had a drink but I was too young, so I sat there miserable all evening. What an obnoxious little brat I was.

Societies’ view is that it takes several years to become addicted to drinking, however this is not how we should be looking at it. It is not a question of not-addicted / addicted, with a grey area in between. Rather it is a case of becoming addicted from the start, but only in respect of a very limited number of situations (like socialising) with the later stages being addicted to a far wider array of situations (like every weekend, evening, lunchtime, morning, second of consciousness, argument, setback, meal, etc). The earlier stage drinker is simply addicted or reliant on alcohol on far fewer situations, whereas the later stage drinker is reliant on alcohol on a far greater number of situations.

Alcohol and Our Emotions

Whilst I have tried to keep Alcohol Explained as short as concise as I can, sometimes I think I have dealt with some important points too quickly, and perhaps I ought perhaps have dwelled on them a bit longer to emphasise them. In particular the there is a key part of the Chapter on ‘Alcohol’s Effects on Emotions’ which I think could do with some amplification.

To summarise briefly alcohol is a chemical depressant, which means that it depresses or inhibits nerve activity. So if we are upset, angry, or sad, then a drink will depress these feelings with the result that, after a drink, we will feel slightly better.

However the depressant effect also acts on the limbic system which is a set of six inner structures in the human brain which is believed to be the emotional centre of the brain. It is believed that the function of the limbic system is to control our emotions and behaviour (and interestingly also believed to be responsible for forming long-term memories). When alcohol depresses the function of the limbic system its ability to regulate our emotions decreases, with the result that our emotions tend to run unchecked. This is why drunks tend to be overly emotional, be it angry, aggressive, sad, self-pitying, argumentative or regretful.

So let’s now leave the science behind and look at a practical example. You have an argument with your partner and feel angry. You take a drink and feel better. The initial ‘boost’ (ie the deadening of the negative feeling of anger) is quickly countered by the brain which releases stimulants and stress hormones to counter the depressive effects of the alcohol. So you very quickly end up just as angry as before and need another drink to dampen the anger. And so the drinking continues.

You can probably already see the problem with taking a drink to relieve anger, stress, misery etc. The drinking has to continue for the relief to continue. However there are three additional problems that we need to factor in.

Firstly, due to the brain releasing a stimulant to counter the depressive effect of the alcohol, when the mental relaxation caused by the alcohol wears off we are not back to where we started. The stimulant’s remain with the effect that we are more uptight and stressed than before we started.

Secondly the mental deadening effect which provides relief from the anger dissipates far quicker than the physical intoxication. This is dealt with in the Chapter on ‘The Relaxing Effects of Alcohol’ which can be found in the 1st 5 Chapters (here) but suffice to say that we become increasingly intoxicated as we chase the fleeting feeling of mental relaxation.

The third problem is that the physical intoxication affects the limbic system, with the result that as we continue to drink our brains become increasingly unable to regulate our emotions (in this case anger).

The overall result of this is that we end up far angrier than we ever would have had we not drunk, which is a key point given that we only started drinking to alleviate the anger in the first place.

It helps to think about it with figures. Let’s say that your anger ranges from zero to one hundred, with zero being no anger and a hundred being as angry as you could possibly be. Let’s say your argument result in you being 10 points angry. One drink relieves 7 of those points so now you are only 3 points angry. However that drink also has an effect on the limbic system which prevents any anger being properly regulated, so although it removes 7 anger points due to it depressing the actual emotion, it adds 2 anger points as the limbic system is affected. So the net gain is that you are actually 5 points less angry than you were. At this stage you have gone from 10 anger points to 5.

Of course the mental relaxation effect of the drink (which has the immediate effect of dampening down the anger) all too soon wears off, so you quickly regain the 7 points of anger you have lost, however the physical intoxication effect on the limbic system does not wear off. So you are now 12 points angry (the original 10 plus the 2 you have gained as a result of the decline in the effect of the limbic system). So you take another drink and the same process occurs; you get a short terms relief of the 7 but a long term gain of the 2, so the short term effect of the second drink is to take you from 12 (the start) to 5, with the long term effect of you ending up at 14 points of anger. It is easier to see on the graph below. The height measurement is how angry we are, with it being the higher the angrier. The horizontal line is time passing. The even numbers are our taking a drink and obtaining some relief, with the relaxing effect of that drinking wearing off at the odd number, so the dips are when we have a drink and the peaks are the mental relaxation effect of the drink wearing off.

Each drink does provide us with an actual boost, but this is outweighed entirely by the effect on the limbic system with the effect that very soon we are far angrier then we were to begin with, even while we are actually ‘enjoying’ the ‘relief’ provided by the drink.

This actually makes perfect sense if you think about it, if you think that alcohol relieves anger, misery, frustration, etc, then alcoholics (who drink the most) would surely be the happiest people on the planet. Drunks would be the most calm and happy people, and those least likely to get into a fight. This is clearly not the case.

There is a very big difference between people drinking to relieve negative emotions (which they clearly do) and alcohol actually relieving negative emotions (which is clearly does not, in fact it does completely the opposite by greatly exaggerating them).

If you want to consider further the very important implications of this then you should re-read Chapter 3 (The Subconscious) which can be found here and consider it in relation to the workings of the subconscious. In particular consider the implications of the following:

Your subconscious mind will recognise that an alcoholic drink will relieve the feelings of anxiety and depression because the drink and the relief will be close together chronologically. You will take a drink and very shortly after this you will experience the relief. However, it will not associate the alcoholic drink with the cause of the anxiety and depression in the first place as it takes far longer for the anxiety and depression to accumulate after the final alcoholic drink has been drunk.

Exactly the same applies to alcohol’s effects on our emotions. The subconscious will only recognise the effect of alcohol relieving our anger, stress, upset etc and will not recognise the overall increase in these emotions accumulates far more slowly. This is how we can end up in this very strange situation where we all know that alcohol makes people far more emotionally unstable, yet we still all ‘instinctively’ reach for a drink to relieve our anger, stress, upset, etc.

Craving

Since I’ve stopped drinking I have found my appetite has changed considerably. I deal with this in Alcohol Explained in the Chapter on Drinking and Obesity so I won’t repeat it here, but suffice to say that the food I want to eat now is usually fairly healthy, whereas the food I used to want to eat when I was drinking was almost exclusively rubbish. However I still do get the occasional craving for a takeaway or fast food, and when I do I am usually inclined to indulge it; they are so occasional that indulging them hurts neither my health nor my pocket.

The interesting thing about craving for food though is that it works pretty much how you would expect it to work. You crave the food, you eat the food, the craving ends. Indeed if you overdo it it’s not just a case of the craving ending, but it turns completely around and turns into revulsion. If you are craving a certain type of food and eat too much of it, it can end up repulsing you.

However with alcohol (and indeed any other drug addiction) it doesn’t work like this. If you crave alcohol or any other drug and you take it, you don’t end the craving; as soon as the effect of it wears off the craving starts again, and usually the return to craving is almost immediate. This is because when we are craving a drug we are craving the feeling that the drug induces in us, and this feeling is transient and fleeting. It passes all too quickly and needs another dose to replace it.

So if you crave a drug, and take it, you’ll achieve nothing because you’ll still crave it after you’ve taken it – there is no number of doses than can end the craving. As the old AA adage goes, one drink is too many and a thousand is never enough. Indeed if you have been through a few days without your drug then you are over the physical withdrawal and taking the drug not only doesn’t remove the craving, it greatly exacerbates it as it adds they physical withdrawal to the mental craving.

Think of a craving for alcohol as a fire burning within you. And what happens if you throw alcohol on a fire? It doesn’t put it out, it just makes it flare brighter.

Holiday

Firstly apologies for the lack of blog posts recently. I am actually on holiday at the moment, and those of you with young children will appreciate that ‘holiday’ does give rather the wrong impression. In fact it is one of the more hectic two weeks of the year.

We’re staying in an all inclusive resort. Last night I was queuing at the bar for two glasses of milk and a glass of red wine (none of which were for me needless to say) and the chap in front of me in the queue was showing the typical restlessness of the drinker who had been waiting just a little bit too long for his next drink than he is comfortable with. Nothing most people would notice, just constantly looking around, shuffling his feet, taking out his phone to look at, putting it away. Just generally restless. I was watching him out of interest and while he was being served I contunued to watch him.

His kids got the usual slush puppies, he ordered a fairly standard round of drinks, then asked for a glass of neat vodka, specifying a glass, or not just a shot or two but a full glass.

I sympathised with him. I’ve been there. You’ve had dinner so the drinks are taking too long to take effect, also the queue for the bar can be agony and also probably your spouse is keeping a close eye on what you’re drinking and is probably fairly vocal about it as well. So you add a little extra something while you’re at the bar to keep you jogging along.

But when I say I sympathised with him I mean he really did have my sympathy. I felt truly sorry for him. I mean, can you imagine the quality of spirit being served in an all inclusive resort in Bulgaria? Can you imagine drinking it warm and neat? It was making me feel sick just thinking about it. Can you imagine how he felt when he woke up and 4 in the morning to lie there awake and scared? Can you imagine the too long wait for him until he could start drinking again the following day, when he could once again anaesthese all that anxiety left over from the previous drinking and feel ‘good’ again (and that ‘good’ feeling just being the feeling I experience now all the time that I no longer drink)?

For me this summed up the reality of holiday drinking.

Using Alcohol To Deal With Your Problems.

I was thinking recently about the alcohol withdrawal and why it is so overpowering. Everyone faces problems in their life. Some big. Some small. Some in between. We tend to have more of the smaller ones, and less of the larger ones. Smaller ones might be paying a bill, querying a charge on a credit card bill, completing a tax return. Large ones might be relationship problems, redundancy, financial problems, serious illness, the loss of a loved one. The smaller ones are almost just irritants, annoying little things that have to be done. The larger ones are more overpowering, and by overpowering I mean they can require more energy to deal with, sometimes more energy than we feel we can muster. They tend to be things that we often we feel we can do nothing about.

So we have these problems, ranging from minor, to very serious. Let’s, for the purpose of this article, them give them a scale of 1 – 10, with one being the least serious and 10 being the most serious.

Let’s also assume that a normal mentally and physically healthy person will be able to deal with all the problems up to, say, 8 or 9, with their being unable to cope with only the most serious of problems (which we hope are relatively few and far between).

What the alcohol withdrawal actually does is to prevent us from being able to cope or deal with problems we would otherwise tackle with little or no consternation. The very serious withdrawal of the late stage alcoholic will leave them unable to cope with any problem, right down to severity 1. A more medium withdrawal will leave you unable to cope with say any problem exceeding a 7. All this is arbitrary and for illustrative purposes only but hopefully you are getting the idea.

This was certainly the case for me. When I was drinking I would go into work at the beginning of the week on a Monday or Tuesday (or even a Wednesday after a particularly bad weekend) and I would be incapable of doing anything but the most basic of tasks. For the vast majority of things I had to do I would be like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. I was absolutely frozen, I just didn’t feel able to deal with them. However after a few days when the withdrawal had worn off I would be dealing with these tasks without batting an eyelid.

This is why the withdrawal is so powerful; it leaves us feeling unable to cope with life. It is a horrible feeling. But if you then take a drink you negate the withdrawal and again feel like you can deal with all but the most serious of problems. And that is why people with put the drink before family, friends, work, even their very lives. I think it is also worth mentioning here that what alcohol does is make you feel like you COULD deal with your problems, however when you are actually drinking you rarely do actually deal with any of them. It essentially just anaesthetises you to them. You tend to go through alternating states of being so worried by your problems that you feel unable to deal with them, to being ambivalent towards them, but you scarcely ever actually do anything about them, with the result that they tend to accumulate and become even more overpowering; after all even the 1s, 2s and 3s can be overpowering when we are not drinking if we are overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.

Essentially you tend to be either actually drinking in which case you have no interest whatsoever in dealing with any of your problems as the drink has negated your fear of them and hence negated your desire to do anything about them. Alternatively you are hungover in which case you simply don’t feel mentally able to deal with them.

It is also why many people drink heavily on a regular basis seem to have no physical withdrawal; it is not that they don’t have the withdrawal but their lives are such they don’t really have any problems, or to be more accurate all their problems are ones, twos and threes, so even with a severe withdrawal leaving them incapable of dealing with any problem over a 4, there is no practical difference. These tend to be people who are comfortable in their career in that they can do their job standing on their head, it presents them no real challenges (either because it is not challenging or because they have been doing it for so long that there is nothing new for them). They also tend to be fairly happy in both their family and financial situation.

This is also why finally realising and admitting to yourself that you have a problem actually exacerbates the situation. Alcoholism, problem drinking, whatever you call it is a problem 9 or 10 for the vast majority of people. It is bad enough dealing with it when you are at the top of your game but throw in a bout of alcohol withdrawal and it really can be overpowering.

Contributions

Some of you may be aware but this website went down recently and I had to rebuild it (thanks again to John S for putting me on to Goole cached pages and saving me I dread to think how many hours work). While I was putting it together again I began to look at it afresh. It is very ‘me’. I mean this in two ways. Firstly it mirrors my approach to things generally in that it is short, concise, and to the point. Secondly it is ‘me’ in that virtually everything on it is written by myself.

Having given it some thought I am of the opinion that it might benefit from being opened up a bit. To this end I wondered if anyone would be interested in submitting anything? It could be a personal story, experiences, thoughts, ideas, anything really. It doesn’t need to be related only to your experience of Alcohol Explained (although this would be most welcome), and needn’t even be alcohol related. If you would like to submit anything please send this to alcoholexplained@gmail.com or drop me a line via the ‘Contact’ section of the website.

Alternatively if you have any ideas about how the website could be improved, or other areas it could cover or deal with, or other things it could include, please do drop me a line to let me know.

Alcohol Explained for Non-Drinkers

Someone recently very kindly left a review on the US Amazon page for Alcohol Explained which I found particularly gratifying. Just to clarify I find every positive review intensely gratifying, as I have said more times that I care to remember I found Alcohol Explained very difficult to write and nearly didn’t bother. Every time I hear that it has helped someone I feel intensely gratified. It is a feeling that I find hard to put into words to know that people I have never met, from all over the world, have been through the same misery I have and found Alcohol Explained to be the key to release them from that misery; that my words have had such a positive impact on them. So why was this particular review so different? It was unique in one very simple way; it was left by a non-drinker.

 

When I wrote Alcohol Explained my main motivation was to put down what I knew in the hopes that it would help others. And it seems to be doing this. For many people it simply makes sense, it is like having an insolvable problem and suddenly being provided with a solution, or looking at an optical illusion and seeing it for what it is. But what I also hoped it would do, would provide an explanation to the non-drinker and non-alcoholic as to what the alcoholic is going through and why they continue to pick up that bottle despite the seeming insanity of so doing. Whilst I can see that the book makes sense to the problem drinker because they are able, from their own bitter experience, to see the inherent truth in what I write, I was never sure whether it would also make sense to a non-drinker, or whether they would think it was just a load of old rubbish (or at least be unable to judge the worth of the words because they have not experienced the state of alcoholism or problem drinking).

 

If the book does make sense to the non-drinker / non-alcoholic then it could have another very important function; it could be capable of reconciling those relationships that have been destroyed by alcoholism. If for example a marriage fails because of the alcoholism of one partner, it is never the case that the nondrinking partner ups and leaves at the first sign of trouble (and if they do then it is likely that the relationship was doomed to failure anyway). They try again and again to make it work and eventually give up because of the fruitlessness, the constant broken promises and irrational behaviour. There is no point in the alcoholic saying ‘this time it’s different, this time I’ve really stopped’ because they’ve said it a million times before and broken every promise they’ve previously made not to drink again. And if the offending partner does manage to stop for long enough that the other partner might actually entertain the possibility that maybe this time IS different, usually so much time has passed that there is no relationship left to redeem.

 

However if you can explain to the innocent party what has actually happened to the alcoholic, and how they now have the knowledge required to allow them to stop for good, you should be able to redeem that relationship before time ends what love is left.

 

In essence, if Alcohol Explained makes sense to non-drinkers then it has a far wider use than helping people to stop drinking. It can help others to understand the phenomenon too, to explain the seemingly irrational behaviour and, perhaps more importantly, convince the non-drinker that this time it IS different, that this time the drinker has finally given up for good, that the person they once fell in love with is still in there and this time they are shrugging off the shackles or alcohol for good.

The Problem With Accepting That You Have a Problem

You are probably expecting this article to be about the many and varied blocks people have when it comes to accepting that they have an alcohol problem; that they are alcoholic. It is not. In fact it is about the additional problems the individual encounters when they do finally admit they have a problem; that they are suffering from alcoholism. To explain:

The alcohol withdrawal can leave you feeling out of sorts (see Chapter 2 of Alcohol Explained), vulnerable and anxious. All in all it leaves us prone to depression and worry. The more we’ve drunk the more vulnerable and out of sorts we will feel, but the point is whilst it will make us more prone to be miserable, depressed and worried it won’t guarantee that we are miserable. Assume for the moment you’ve just woken up with a terrible hangover. You’ve had a huge row with your spouse / partner / children / parents (or whoever you usually row with when you’re drinking) but can’t remember the actual details of it, you’ve lost your phone / keys wallet / money, you’ve embarrassed yourself in front of your friends/ relatives / colleagues, you’ve woken up in hospital / a police cell / the gutter. I’ve no doubt you can all factor in your own individual worst case scenario but you get the idea. You’re already vulnerable to misery due to the chemical imbalance in your brain and are not mentally resilient enough to deal with even the smallest upset. The actual details of your situation are really enough to drive you over the edge. You really are going to be at absolutely low ebb.

Now assume you have drunk exactly the same amount of alcohol and are in exactly the same physical and mental state, only this time you didn’t leave the house. You wake up in bed, unadorned with bodily fluids. Not only did you not leave the house but you were home alone, made no phone calls, no social media posts, sent no text messages, your keys phone and wallet are exactly where they should be, you even have a vague recollection of taking all the empties out to a nearby local bin so you don’t even have them to deal with. You have the next week off work with no social engagements, the house is clean and tidy and you’ve just remembered you didn’t get round to checking that lottery ticket. When you do so you find out that you are the sole winner of the £160,000,000 jackpot. Again you can all factor in your own best case scenario but you get the picture. Even with the chronic hangover you are likely to be feeling fairly buoyant. I grant you, you won’t be feeling as happy as you would minus the hangover, but you will be feeling significantly better than in scenario one.

What I am trying to illustrate here is that the more perceived problems you have, and the more unhappy and dissatisfied you are with life generally, the more the alcohol withdrawal is going to drag you down. Everyone is going to have their own particular reasons to be happy and their own particular reasons to be miserable. These reasons will change, not only from individual to individual but will also change for each individual as time passes.

So let’s now take a hypothetical person, one who does not consider themselves to have an alcohol problem or to be suffering from alcoholism in any way, but they do have a range of other perceived problems. Let’s then mix in a moderately bad case of alcohol withdrawal. Just to highlight it with some figures let’s say the things that make them miserable generally amount to 60, the things that make them happy amount to 10, so overall they are 50 points miserable. Let’s then say the alcohol withdrawal exacerbates this miserable feeling by a factor of 10 so they are now 500 points miserable.

However let’s now take exactly the same person with exactly the same problems etc, but this time let’s pretend they have accepted that they have a problem with their drinking. So when they wake up they don’t just balance out at 50 points of misery, they have far more then this because of the worry about their drinking problem. This is made up of guilt that they are still drinking, shame that they are unable to control their drinking, worry about the problem and what they can do about it, etc. So this person is not starting with 50 points of miser, but at, say, 200. Then multiply up for the alcohol withdrawal and you end up with the misery of 2,000.

Of course it doesn’t just work this way for people that are unhappy. You may be a fairly happy person generally, but if you have admitted to yourself that you have an alcohol problem then you are going to be miserable because of this, particularly if you are waking up with a stinking hangover.

So if you haven’t accepted that you have a problem with drinking you wake up after drinking and just get on with things. If your life is generally fairly good then although you may be more inclined to be miserable you may not be miserable at all. But if you have accepted you have a problem then as soon as you wake up you not only have the withdrawal and whatever other problems you have, you also have the guilt because you ended up drinking last night, the fear that you are unable to stop, the worry about what is happening to you and why, and more importantly the feeling of self-disgust because you weren’t strong enough to resist yet another binge. So in admitting to yourself that you have a problem you actually create further problems for yourself if you don’t then stop. This in itself causes separate issues worthy of consideration.

Firstly it doesn’t take long for this misery the next day to permeate into the previous evening. If every time you drink you are faced with a real black depression afterwards then quite understandably you are going to start worry about this depression before you actually get to it, ie during the actually drinking session itself. So instead of drinking away and enjoying yourself you are going to be constantly thinking about the misery to come and worrying about it. And what do we do when we are worried about something? Why we take a drink of course.

So the first point to note is that when you accept you have a problem you are less likely to actually enjoy it when you are drinking, and the second point to note is that accepting you have a problem is going to cause you to drink more when you are actually drinking, which will exacerbate the misery the next day and the likelihood of doing something you deeply regret to add to your woes the following day.

This of course leads nicely to the third point which is that the more miserable you are the following day the more likely you are to take another drink to relieve the misery.

Finally people often do not just admit they have a problem to themselves, but to other people as well. In this case the chances are that there are going to be people relying on you not to drink who are going to be upset, disappointed, or angry that you have drunk. This is going to further exacerbate the misery during and after the drinking.

You may now be wondering what my point is here. Am I now going to advise everyone to pretend they don’t have an alcohol problem and just drink away? In fact this isn’t an option. Whilst deciding if you have an alcohol problem is a personal thing and can only be answered by the individual drinker, it is not within the power of the individual to simply come to the answer that suits them. If an individual accepts or even suspects that they have a problem with their drinking, it is impossible for them to convince themselves that they don’t. The factors covered here will apply regardless of whether you want them to or not. Although the question about whether any individual has an alcohol problem is subjective, the answer is not. Individuals may disagree over which particular set of behaviours count as alcoholism, but once they come within their own definition they cannot then escape from that. Of course their own definition may be vague, and their own position not entirely clear, but once they suspect or accept they have a problem they cannot then resile from that.

My point is that when we stop and are drawn back to drinking we look back on our drinking years with rose tinted spectacles (I deal with this in the Chapter on Fading Effect Bias). However what we also need to bear in mind is that the guilt free drinking we experienced in our early years is simply not something you can just return to. Drinking evolves over time and cannot turn back to what it was. Just as it becomes increasingly impossible to moderate, it also becomes increasingly unpleasant when we are actually drinking.

This may seem a depressing thought but as ever it is just a matter as perspective. There are many things in life we grow out of and discard as they cease to be of interest and / or use to us. I used to spend every spare moment on the Playstation, I have very fond memories of spending hour after hour playing Playstation games. I have still got a Playstation but I don’t play it as I just can’t get into the games anymore. For some reason I just don’t enjoy them. Maybe I no longer have the patience, or the mental agility, or the hand / eye coordination. But I don’t sit around bemoaning the fact that I don’t like playing Playstation games anymore. I just don’t play them and instead I fill what little spare time I have with other things, like reading, the increasingly occasional run, and getting beaten up by my 4 and 6 year old sons. In the same way when my wife and I first got married we had a very nice 2 bed house. Then we had our two boys now we’ve moved to a 3 bed. I have some very fond memories of our old house but there is no way I’d want to move back there. It is no longer right for us.

My point is that if you have stopped drinking don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can go back to how it was. Once it sours it sours. Once you see the defects you can never unsee them; like many things in life you cannot turn the clock back. But this isn’t a reason to be miserable, on the contrary like any change for the better it is something to enjoy and celebrate.

References in Alcohol Explained

Several times I have been asked about putting references in Alcohol Explained to back up the text itself. Originally I didn’t put references in because I had in mind the readership could include those suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal so didn’t want to clutter the text up. I wanted to keep it as clear, concise and readable as possible.

Having now been asked several times I have considered further but am still disinclined to put references in. Aside from the original reason there are several additional reasons for this.

Firstly while there are many facets to the consumption of, and addiction to, alcohol, and whilst the direct chemical effect is extremely important (indeed without it everything else would fall away – it is if you like the first link in the chain of alcohol addiction, without which all the subsequent links would not exist), the actual science behind it is quite simple. The brain has its own store of drugs and hormones that is uses to keep the body and brain working correctly. Introduce a chemical depressant and it will counter it with a stimulant. I don’t think you would really need a reference to this anyway, we live in the age of the internet, I have just done a Google search on ‘Alcohol Stress Hormones’ which lead to referencing right back to the original research. So whilst I appreciate that I could reference this by directing the reader to several actual scientific research to evidence the position, I am not sure that it is not just as easy for the individual to find this for themselves if they are interested.

Secondly many of the other facets are psychological. Psychological conclusions cannot, by their very nature, be stated to be absolute in the same way that a chemical or mathematical conclusion can be. I am very aware that for every study pointing one way, there is another study pointing another. Referencing something does not make a text any more reliable, it is simply saying that someone previously thought it to be the case. If you were being cynical then you can quite easily see how you   could reference any old nonsense if you were minded to do so.

Thirdly some things cannot be referenced, they are my own ideas. My thesis that the metal relaxation and the physical withdrawal run their course at different times is something I have come up with, and I am not aware of anyone having considered this previously. If they have then no doubt someone will point this out for me, but insofar as I am aware this is a new thesis and therefore cannot be referenced to anything.

Finally and perhaps most importantly the judge for whether this book is correct or not is not that there is a study to back it up, but whether it makes sense to the drinkers themselves. It is the drinkers themselves who are most familiar with the phenomenon of drinking and are therefore best placed to judge if what I am saying is correct or not. For example when I say that the physical intoxication and the mental relaxation run their course at different times, for most drinkers this is a lightbulb moment; a moment when suddenly the whole phenomenon of drinking and the tendency to become intoxicated suddenly makes sense. Or when I say that drinking disrupts sleep, and even one drink will prevent you from sleeping properly, drinkers immediately know this to be the case from their own bitter experience. Do you really need an expert to confirm the scientific basis as to why this is the case? Or can you know immediately that it is the case because it fits exactly to your own experience?

The point is that what we are concerned with here is cause and effect. As an example on the physiological side, the effects of drinking is that each drink creates a feeling of relaxation and confidence, followed by a corresponding feeling of anxiety and worry. Does it make any difference whether the anxious feeling is caused by cortisol, adrenaline, or norepinephrine? Or because “…GABA-A receptors move from the surface of the neuron to the inside of the neuron, where they are degraded…” (http://www.livescience.com/58990-why-drinking-alcohol-makes-you-sleepy.html)?

The true judge for Alcohol Explained this is not scientific research but your own experience. Someone recently left a review on the Amazon UK page for Alcohol Explained and said:

“In my opinion it could do with some citations where necessary to back up his ideas but his ideas seem credible despite this omission.”

I think this is the key. Are my ideas credible? If so then I have achieved my objective. Scientific research is evidence and explanation of the workings of a particular phenomenon, but the phenomenon of alcoholism and problem drinking manifests itself in human beings. If the concepts in Alcohol Explained make sense to those human beings then that, to me, is the most important thing.

If you do wish to delve further into the actual science then please do drop me a line and I will be happy to refer you to the various studies etc that I came across, but I am still disinclined to put references in the actual text of the book.