Thu, 07 Jul 2005, 12:04
Around Christmas 1985 I had been sober for six or eight weeks and I got sabotaged with a rum ball. I didn't intend for alcohol to pass my lips but I greedily ate this delicious candy and realized half way through that I was in effect "drinking." Depressing. I was so proud of the more than 30 days sober that I had piled up one day at a time. I talked with a friend and I talked with Beth, and I decided that I was not going to re-set the clock because of a mistake. So I still count my sobriety, one day at a time since November 2, 1985.
This year I consciously raised a glass of champagne to toast my son and daughter-in-law at their wedding. I didn't set the clock back for that sip of champagne either.
But, abstinence is abstinence, and it doesn't feel good to rationalize around these moments. I don't know why I chose to tell this story today. Maybe it's because I'm feeling depressed and need to examine some of my behavior, positive and negative.
I am, as most people who know me will be able to attest to, not an alarmist. Heck, I still believe that a large number of studies about the dangers of product X or substance Y are heavily exaggerated. However, this study (MSNBC link) rings all too true:
WASHINGTON - Heavy social drinkers show the same pattern of brain damage as hospitalized alcoholics --enough to impair day-to-day functioning, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday. Brain scans show clear damage, and tests of reading, balance and other function show people who drink more than 100 drinks a month have some problems, the researchers said.
Reading the piece I wondered.... Who is drinking 100 drinks a month? And then, I thought back. To my college days. One hundred drinks a month, that's on average three a day. Five or more on the weekends, and you're all set for a sober day or two, and still remain in this category. Yepp, that'd be me. For about three years, this would adequately describe my drinking habits. Yes, I had my sober days, and even a sober week or two, when I was broke, but amended by all those night-long drinking sprees and party indulgences, I might have broken the 100 drinks a month easily in most months.
And then I asked around. Few of my friends actually hit the 100 drinks a month, but some a rather scarily close. Let's say you're half there. That's half the dose you need for brain damage. There's little out there, I'd get as close as this to, if I know it'll turn my cranium into mush.
As I said, just another thing to consider if you're thinking about quitting or starting it up, again.
Halley, funny that you mention it... I actually experimented a bit with drinking the last few weeks. I tried drinking a few glasses of wine with meals, tried drinking at a party and tried drinking by myself before bed.
Drinking with a meal didn't seem so bad, like you, I didn't feel very good afterwards, although I did indeed enjoy it. The end of the meal made it easy to stop the drinking then and I didn't have an urge to drink after the meal.
I had a few beers at a party and that was OK too, but I realized that I didn't really need it and drinking enough to make the drinking fun (if that makes any sense), would be more than enough and therefore too much.
The worst was drinking by myself before bed. I drank too much, felt like crap afterwards and didn't really enjoy it at all.
The worst thing that has happened since I started "experimenting" is that my sleep cycle has gone out of whack and I am having insomnia and feel tired all day. With all of my travel this sucks.
So on that note, I'm going to "quit again" with you Halley and apologize for not having disclosed this here earlier. I wanted to try to do a bit more "analysis" on these experiments before I blogged this...
You know, you are drinking too much, maybe you even fear or know you are addicted to alcohol? This is a weblog, a personal journal kept by a few individuals who are in the process of quitting alcohol, or have in the past. While we are always willing to help, there are local organizations right around the corner from you, who might be a better first step.
If you know someone, who is addicted, and would like to know what you can do, to help, read on down, I have some resources for you, too.
If you want to quit - do yourself, and your body a favor: See your doctor. Your primary physician is a great resource. And here's why:
- Your doctor is obligated to keep quiet. No gossip, no rumors. Just you, and him/her.
- Your doctor knows you. He can help you right now, right there. He can also help you, once you kicked the habit, to rebuild what is lost.
- Believe it, or not :), but you're not the only one who has this problem. Your doctor knows the resources that are available in the area, has heard good and bad stories about them, and will help you find the best, fastest, least resistance, way out.
If you don't have a primary care physician, you should get one. Who else will tell you, how much healthier you are, in a few weeks? :) If you've seen a doctor, find a group of people. The biggest, and best known, self-help organization is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I've assembled a few links below. AA is a faith-based organization, which might not be your cup of tea. If that is the case, ask your doctor for a local secular self-help group or recovery program.
Please understand, that we assembled this list as an initial step for you. Things on the Internet may change, or organizations may close or move. We're not experts in alcohol recovery, we're just someone like you, ready to kick the habit or hoping a loved one, will.
Alcoholics Anonymous is the best known Alcohol Rehabilitation and Recovery organization. There is an AA in virtually every town, so it's a very easily accessible program. AA is usually free (donations accepted), protects your privacy and openly welcomes new members. AA is a faith based recovery program, which does not (and can not) prescribe medications. It is also run by volunteer laymen, not professional counselors.
Friends and families of Alcoholics may find help and resources at the local Al-Anon/Alateen chapter. Like AA, both are free of charge (donations accepted), and use the AA twelve-step program. Alateen is also helping teenage alcoholics with tools and sessions designed for younger addicts. Al-Anon meetings are held in 115 countries. There are over 24,000 Al-Anon and over 2,300 Alateen groups worldwide.
Alcoholics Victorious is a Christian faith-based organization. AV uses the twelve steps like AA, but in a Christian, not spiritual, context.
A.R.T.S is a twelve-step (faith-based) program for artists.
JACS is the Jewish equivalent to AV.
DRA is a twelve-step program, but it also offers psychological disorder treatments. Psychological or psychiatric disorders are not seldom causes or supporting causes of alcohol addiction.
Preface: My personal vote for the "Quote of the Week": "[...] it's a lot easier to identify your demons and deal with them when you are lucid and by yourself than when you're drunk." - Joi Ito.
In the "more food for thought" group, let's take a quick look at the root causes (or "demons") for someone's dependence on substances, This is actually a very important topic, one that is addressed in all recovery programs I have looked at, even though each approach uses a different method, depending on its understanding of the root causes.
Quite often, when we discuss dependence, we are confronted with labels, such as "addictive personality" or "peer pressure". But what, exactly, does this mean?
An "addictive personality" can be explained in multiple ways. For some, becoming addicted or dependent, is a moral dysfunction, not quite like but similar to, say, lying, stealing, or being lazy. Others take a more secular approach, and try psychological explanations of the cause, all of which, in the end, wind up being summarized under "addictive personality".
FWIW, I don't viciously believe in addictive personalities per se. Using a substance to the point, where dependence develops, can have numerous causes, however, and I am willing to concede, that there might be such a thing.
Let's quickly go over the various schools of thought, addiction is associated with:
Addiction and Dependence as a Moral Dysfunction
This school of thought recognizes addictive tendencies and addiction as a "weakness" in any individuals moral system. One of the oldest schools of thought, it strives for recovery by implementing moral guidelines, support, and tries to foster a non-addictive lifestyle by re-organizing value systems and belief structures.
The School of Physiological Dysfunctions
When medical professionals first encountered the psychiatric effects of Syphilis on patients, a new school of thought, Physiological Psychology, was born. This school understands addictions as a result of actual physiological and somatic factors, such as imbalances in an individual's brain chemistry and metabolism. Physiological psychologists also spearheaded the research into self-medicating dependencies, in which an individual's addiction becomes an attempt to overcome another dysfunction. PP scholars suggest medical treatment and habit-reorientation as recovery strategies.
Physiological Psychology acknowledges the existence of certain somatic deviations, such as a hormonal imbalance, which can lead to earlier dependency and, ultimately, to addiction, if remaining untreated. Along these lines, another phenomenon, called "self medication" is worth examining. In a recent study (Harbert et al., 2002), a joint French-American research team concluded, that over forty percent of the surveyed individuals with a known dependence on alcohol, also suffered from mild to medium imbalances in hormonal levels in the brain, as opposed to only nine percent in a similarly sized control group. The two most prevalent disorders found are subsets of obsessive compulsive disorders and attention deficit disorders.
How does this fit into dependence? Simple - your metabolism has an amazingly accurate memory. Deficits are noted and remedies are learned from very early ages on. Once learned, remedies are sought out (or "craved") through somatic and psychological means. One example, quite widely known, are the cravings women develop during their pregnancies. The changing metabolism, as well as the need to satisfy new and developing requirements in the mother's body, trigger the cravings based on learned events.
A person suffering from mild ADD or OCPD may not be aware of the imbalances in its brain. Some of the great thinkers and developers of pretty much every century we have enough data to make a wild guess on, seem to have suffered from slight personality disorders, Einstein, for example, would today be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.
Once a substance, which may remedy or - in the brain's eye - positively influence such an imbalance, is introduced, the same effect we discussed with food above, comes into play. But that might not be all. Some might also witness external changes. The shy boy who finally manages to approach a girl and even flirt, for example, might trigger a proxy reaction in the brain, which notices the reward - positive feelings, "butterflies" - and associates the changed state - intoxication.
This is all not to say, that every drinker, and even most of the heavily dependent ones, are somehow afflicted with a personality disorder. It is, however, a possibility.
Society can be hardly held to a standard at which the inner workings of the brain are known and immediately apparent to the casual observer. It has, thusly, based on observation and trial, developed its own labels, such as the "addictive personality". In the end, it is important, how a remedy works, if it does, to paraphrase Hippocrates.
For those about to quit (we salute you), it is however important to understand the reasons one became dependant in the first pace. Sheer will-power, spiritualism, a regiment of living sober and staying away from the substance, can be very effective, yet it might lead to the development of substitute dependencies if the underlying cause remains untreated.
It is also important to understand the dependency cut-over, most addicts will experience. Once a dependency cut-over has happened, consuming the substance is no longer a means to self-medicate, it is entirely focused towards managing the status quo, not to improve it.
For the shy boy, maybe it's all better now. He's graduated from college, has a wife and a kid, and a very satisfying job. He still gets butterflies every once in a while, and his success serves as a powerful generator of all those brain chemistry changes he wants. For him, all would be well, if he could break that habit.
For others, attempting to recover from an addiction, may unveil the root causes again, leading to substitute habituation, such as a new addiction or dysfunction, if the root cause for the original dependency is not discovered and properly treated.
One thing that I brought up before we launched this site and I think is worth talking about a bit on here is that there's not just one take on all of this. I was talking about a bunch of my friends and that they all drink, or don't drink for very different reasons. This is important to keep in mind when talking about this because there isn't just one problem, nor just one solution.
In fact, this is extemely important to keep in mind when talking about "Alcoholism" if only because there's no (at least that I know of) accepted standard of what makes an alcoholic, what is alcoholism, or how to treat it. "You can't be a little bit pregnant" is an example that's tossed around a lot (not just here) as a way of saying "you can't just be a little bit of an alcoholic, either you are or you aren't." The problem, as I see it, with that is there's a set group of medical standards that can proove if you are pregant or not, but with alcoholism there's nothing that locked down. In fact, it's pretty much all opinion based, either a person thinks they are an alcoholic or they aren't, and/or his/her friends think they are an alcoholic or they aren't. There's still raging debates about if you can call it a Disease or not.
Personally, I think it is, but I'm not a doctor, or an alcoholic so my opinion on that topic doesn't really make a shread of difference.
The last thing in the world I want to imply is that I'm knocking AA or anything like that. It's a great program which has helped a lot of people, and I think anything that helps people on such a scale is a good thing. But it's not the end all be all, it doesn't have a 100% success record. I've had parents, family members, and close friends all join AA at one point or another, and they all talked the talk and every last one of them still drinks. But I think that points more at the person, see I've also had a lot of friends decide they are going to stop and they did. What I'm getting at is what works flawlessly for one person might not work at all for another. The same way that every single person who picks up a drink does it for a different reason, quitting is different for every person.
What I noticed is the people who said they were going to quit, and didn't, never really believed it themselves. They were expecting thing to just happen magically. The people who did quit, believed. They belived in themselves. Maybe the only thing that has a 100% success rate is a personal commitment. If you commit not to drink, short of you changing your mind and deciding to drink, you aren't going to drink. What I mean is that as much as whatever program worked for you, YOU worked for you. And if a program didn't work for you, it's probably more of you not working for you. Because you are the common thread in all of this.
I know this post is all over the place but it's just a bunch of things I've been thinking about. Be glad I didn't try to tie religion into all of this yet, that would be a mess. What I'm getting at, overall, is that this isn't Lord of The Rings and there's not One Ring to rule them all. Everything being said on this site is someone's opinion, even if it's being stated as fact. There's a different path for everyone, and it's up to each of us to find it for ourselves.
If you just wake up in the morning and don't do anything all day, by default, you don't drink. So not drinking is the basis that everyone starts with, and then you either stick to that or you start drinking at some point in the day. So, I'm finding it interesting that in the discussions going on people are going out of their way to put labels on the people who don't drink. I have a handfull of friends who don't drink and I've never once referred to them as my "sober" friends. Come to think of it I don't call the rest of my friends my "drunk" friends either. Not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just interesting to me for a few reasons.
Generally it works the other way around, the people who engage in an activity get the label, the ones who don't, don't. We don't call the people walking down the street non-drivers, we don't call people who don't go to church non-prayers, we don't call people who don't use computers (Gasp!) non-e-mailers. It's the ones who do it who get the name. So why is it different here?
I'm not sure I have an answer to this either. Maybe it's because society as a whole has been so hammered by ad campaigns and what not that it seems out of place when someone doesn't partake in drinking? Maybe it's to give a guy who doesn't drink a sense of belonging to a group? Maybe it's a combination of those and other things.
Personally I'm not a big fan of labels. I think if you are doing something, it needs to be for you. First and formost. You have to be comfortable with the decision, because you are the one that makes it happen. If you put the faith in some group, then it's easy to blame them down the line. Some group, some label is easy to walk away from, your own convictions aren't so easily discarded.
When you decide to go from drinker to ex-drinker, and stay one, you will undoubtedly meet others, who made this decision before you. And just like any other habit, from smoking to compulsive shopping, or excessive physical exercise, every one has a different success or failure story to tell.
Friend A will tell you, how a certain program helped him to remain committed to his decision. Friend B, however, will tell you, how she gained no benefit from it, and how another approach supported her strides. And, later, out of the woodworks, comes Person C, who will try to sell you some guaranteed remedy, no personal commitment and work required.
The American Psychiatric Association, APA, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), have studied numerous programs, and have yet to point the finger at any one of them, declaring it a clear winner. A recent study on A.A., Alcoholics Anonymous, a faith-based program, however, seems to have opened the way for a deeper analysis of such programs, re-kindling interest in non-psychiatric programs as alternatives to one-on-one sessions and medically aided recovery.
In the long run, it will be you, who decides. And it will be you, and only you, who will be able to find the right way to do it. If it doesn't work the first time (in most cases, the more committed you are, the more likely it will work right away), don't despair. There's a second attempt coming right up.
And, as always, let me know, if I can help.
Technically, I am not quitting. I quit on New Years Day 2000, and haven't had as much as a sip of alcohol since then. Not-so-technically, I am quitting, of course. Not to drink is a very active decision, and a good one, at that. Just for example, here are some things, that will happen if you quit:
- Your sleeping habits will return to pre-drinking days. Think you're sleeping great, today? Try to remember your deep and very satisfying slumbers, when you were a child. That's what's in store for you.
- The bacterial layer in your mouth, esophagus, and stomach will regenerate, helping you to faster process food, and indirectly in weight-loss.
- Speaking about weight-loss - not drinking alcohol is a great way to lose some pounds and keep 'em off.
- Your brain will quickly (within six to ten weeks) readapt. Quicker thinking is an immediate benefit, but you will also be less prone to mood changes, anger, and your memory will improve. Not to mention, you will be more alert, less irritable, and always that notch above the competition when you need it.
- Your organs will recover from a state of (in-)frequent intoxication. Your biggest organ, your skin, will look healthier in no time flat. Makes for great compliments, when you add the lost pounds.
And that's just a few of the gazillions of benefits, not drinking has on you, and your body. I could go for hours, without even mentioning the toll, alcoholic beverages take on your liver, kidneys, and heart.
Of course, sometimes we need a little help quitting. Keeping a diary is one of the things, that can help. So can talking to others, seeking and finding support, and making sure everyone knows, you're now an ex-drinker. And, if there has ever been a great way to do this, it's the modern world of micro-content publishing. There are lots of professional help groups and offers, if you want the additional advantage. Have a look at AlcoholMD, which - despite its less than convincing HTML design job (Any freelancers out there? Maybe you should make them an offer...?) - has a great collection of Alcohol related resources for both professionals and individuals. There is a free registration required, if you want to see the "professionals" section, and I am happy to report that since I signed up on the site quite some time ago, they never abused or even used my email address or other data.
Welcome to you new, improved, alcohol free life. You'll like it over here, I promise.
I think one of the interesting points that Jonas made to me was that when AA was founded, there was a great deal of stigma associated with being addicted to alcohol or having an "alcohol problem". I think this has changed. There is obviously still a stigma, but it is not nearly so bad. I don't look down on anyone who has chosen to be anonymous about their problem, but I'm actually proud of myself for recognizing the fact that I need to deal with this. I think that supporting each other in this effort and making the process interesting if not down right fun may be one way to approach it.
I make a point of telling people that I've just quit drinking and starting most dinner conversations about how interesting and wonderful it has been since I've quit. It then makes it quite difficult for people to pressure me into drinking and gets the awkward moment of telling people that I'm not going to drink out of the way up front. On the other hand, I'm new to not drinking so I guess this tactic won't work as well in the future and the novelty will wear off.
Do you think it is possible to wear the "I'm not drinking" think proudly, or do you think that after the novelty wears off, it will end up becoming a lonely effort?