It’s Been a Tough Day, or a Big Win. Do You REALLY deserve that drink?
By TODD KAUFMAN, BA, BFA, MDiv, RP Addiction Coach
With the years of prohibition happily now long gone, we now live in a society that encourages alcohol use as a social lubricant. Social Media, advertisements, and even campaigns run by our government regulated bodies glamourize alcohol. A toast at New Years, a ‘fine wine’ paired with dinner, the bachelor and bachelorette parties, and drinking games…they are normal, and even fuel bragging rights and help define our social status.
In Ontario Canada, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) releases a beautifully designed recipe book with accompanying alcoholic spirits for Christmas. Owning a vineyard is an aspiration of the rich and wealthy and social media fuels drinking into every segment of our lives – including motherhood. A recent product advertised on Facebook showed flasks disguised as baby bottles for the ‘mother-on-the go.’ Another showed a complete papoose with a life-like infant doll, a straw attached to the head that held your beer for going to the game at your local stadium. Impaired parenting and public drunkenness is now a profit centre for alcohol producers and their related industries.
And let’s be real here – we have all come to accept that consuming alcohol, which by definition is poison to the body, is acceptable. The industry has even used slick campaigns to successfully convince us a ‘glass of wine a day’ is good for us. It is reminiscent of the ads in the ’50s in 60’s showing with doctors recommending menthol cigarettes and the glamour of smoking slim cigarettes when pregnant.
Now before you roll your eyes hard enough that you shift the axis of our planet, I am not advocating for prohibition or saying drinking, particularly in moderation (if you can), is all bad.
But I am saying, you should know the facts and make informed decisions about what you consume and even understand why.
Knowledge is power.
Let’s begin at the end and talk about those unfortunate millions for who alcohol has caused serious havoc in their lives.
About 20% of all alcoholics ultimately face serious consequences paying a steep price until somewhere between their 16th to 23rd years of drinking. These folks began casually drinking between 16 and 18 years of age and on average didn’t notice a dependence until they hit 37. That’s a lot of time and practice, and during that period their bodies and brain have slowly transformed. The disease of addiction grows so slowly and subtly for this 20% they rarely see it coming, and easily excuse the early warning signs of Alcohol Addiction Disorder.
Society and big businesses have normalized the warning signs of this disease. The fun of regular weekends at the bar, the bravado of surviving or not experiencing a regular hangover, the regular cocktail with co-workers, girl or boy’s night out, fine champagne as a marker of a successful project or life milestone, the martini after work… Slowly they become too regular, and then normal, and then longed for, and then a problem. And addiction medicine specialists will tell you that for many of these millions of folks the ‘problem’ leads to jail, dead or both.
Some people do manage to live a reasonably full life continuing in these behaviours. The costs are minimal, there seems to be no genetic predisposition to the disease of alcoholism, and other than a few apologies and slip-ups, they seem good. The problem is since we all have been encouraged to explore alcohol, and for a substantial number of people, it becomes a problem only after a few decades, those who wind up hurting themselves and others have no idea the disease was quietly developing until it is too late to easily stop. Much of the physical and mental damage is done.
So, is it worth your risk?
Here is the science of how this actually happens:
There are two drugs your body creates naturally that work to keep you in homeostasis (or balanced). They are the opioid peptides: endorphins and dynorphins.
Endorphins are released when we have moments of enjoyment, a conquest, good sex, a fine wine, a hug from a friend, or swig or your favorite alcoholic bevy. Dopamine is one such endorphin.
Dynorphins are the other side of this, they are like your old spinster Aunt Gladys who loves you but doesn’t want you to have too much fun or too much pain. Dynorphins are released in response to pain or pleasure, to make sure you don’t get too much of either and return to this homeostasis. Since alcohol is a poison, despite giving you that good feeling rush of endorphins, Aunt Gladys is pretty darn quick to shut down the party!
She quickly releases a ton of dynorphins to shut that party down and fast! And that’s why after you hit that first buzz, it wears off if you don’t keep feeding it. And hey, the brain likes the buzz so starts to wire to encourage you to have the next, and the next, to keep the buzz, … which in turn freaks out Aunt Gladys more and she hits you with huge doses of dynorphins. Aunt Gladys is the ultimate killjoy!
Ok so no great revelation in this, but your brain and body are quick learners. Your brain learns alcohol makes you get that feel-good juice of endorphins and starts to wire creating thoughts to encourage more alcohol consumption. “OK just ONE more drink, and we can go!” “Let’s just drop in for a quick drink.” Today’s media confirms how right these thoughts are, their message is alcohol=fun and alcohol=reward.
There’s this amazing drug/hormone, called dopamine, that is part of those endorphins released in our brain– it is our feel-good drug, but is also a LEARNING and MEMORY drug. Your brain learns and remembers that it is alcohol that gives you the awesome feeling, however short-lived.
And dopamine helps you learn more than the joy of the buzz, it teaches you that everything leading up to that drink is pretty awesome as it is necessary. So that 5 pm cocktail becomes something you look forward too, and in anticipation, you never forget to pick up that bottle of wine or vodka at lunch or ensure your bar at home is stocked, or drop into your favourite regular pub, even when you really don’t have time. Your brain gets rewired. Hard wired.
For some, they manage to live this way, and somewhere in their 30’s they announce they need to ‘slow down’ and do. But for about 20% of alcoholics, this all goes to hell in a handbag, as my mom would say.
The force of Aunt Gladys diamorphine killjoys has so much impact that the stuff that usually releases those endorphins including dopamine slowly stops. Making love to your partner, hanging with friends, helping a stranger, it barely registers now that Aunt Gladys has had her way for years.
Yet the brain wants that feeling, and it knows alcohol will provide, at least temporarily, and that is good enough because it’s all you’ve got, and damn the consequences.
And boom. Just like that, you are someone and something you never saw coming.
The good news is we understand how it happens, so we do know how to coach you to turn it around. And for some, it is the hardest work they will ever do, and it saves their lives.
Now you know how the game is stacked, and how it works. So, the real question is this:
Can you stop yourself from being sold this potentially deadly normal? Or is what you really deserve not a drink, but an awesome life filled with joy?
Todd Kaufman is a Registered Psychotherapist and Coach specializing in anxiety disorders. You can reach Todd or book an appointment online at www.TheAnxiety.Clinic 1-800-699-3396.
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