I love reading about science, psychology, and human behavior. Recently I have been reading a lot about Habit Formation which helps me understand my own addiction and my recovery in sobriety. Habit Formation is Neuroplasticity simplified!
As much as I like science, I also like simple ways of understanding things. I like to understand neuroplasticity as fundamentally about the effects on our brains of habit, and I recently heard an analogy that I thought is a very simple and apt way of understanding how our brain works. It relates the brain and neuroplasticity to a computer.
Our brains are hardwired over years of repeated behavior to react to one repeated way of doing things as correct and natural. We understand these are learned habits but they begin to feel automatic or instinctual. If you take for example spellings used in English that are different between the UK the United States, mum as opposed to mom, or programme as opposed to program, deeply ingrained habits that we learn. What looks correct to me may look entirely WRONG to you and looking at those WRONG spellings can be downright annoying.
The conscious part of our brain, sometimes referred to as the Lower Brain or the Lizard Brain, is like the hard drive of a computer. This part of the brain is what is responsible for some learned skills like speech, but also breathing, muscle movement, and our basic survival instincts. Think Fight or Flight. This is the part of the brain where through our own repetition, an alcohol habit has been programmed as the perceived solution to stress, anxiety, shyness, sadness, or the correct behavior if we are celebrating and connecting with other people. Through our lifetime of using this same programme a Habit was formed. We have hard wired our brain to use this programme repeatedly over the years and that has been re-enforced as we’re repeatedly told by society that it is the only programme to use.
Stressed, tired, lonely, sad, happy ?
“Sure have a drink, a drink’ll make it better”
When a thought pops into our subconscious brain our conscious brain goes into the automated programme mode, that we have taught it through repetition. The brain says I know the solution to these problems; we have used this old reliable programme many times. So what happens when you start getting an error code popping up at 3.00 am in the morning? One that tells you, your whole computer system is going to crash? You drank to make it “better” yet time and again you wake at 3am with a hot head, dry mouth and anxiety that you can’t remember how much you drank or how the evening ended. What did I say? Who did I text? What did I do?
Drinking is no longer “making it better”.
We know we have to stop the habit of drinking. We have to change the programme. But we have been running this computer on this old programme for so long, how do we stop? We try to do the rational thing and just stop but we cannot simply delete this programme straight away without a replacement. Our solution is, we need to build a new computer programme (neuroplasticity). How do we do this?
To build a new programme you must retrain the conscious brain. You need to evolve new habits – new ways to deal with stress, anxiety, sadness. Find new ways to celebrate life’s events. You cannot hope this will happen by chance.
To build a new programme you need a tool kit. A new sober tool kit to replace the one size fits all screwdriver of “A drink’ll make it better”. You will need to have good health and well-being resources in your toolkit. My tool kit started with all kinds of books about alcohol use and abuse and recovery. – with Podcasts – with documenraties – and a basic survival guide to the first weeks sober. Some people have meditation practices and yoga in their tool kits.
As you’re using your tool kit to build this new programme there are handbooks you can read that can help reinforce the reasons to use this new programme. William Porter’s “Alcohol Explained” is an instruction book that is very logical and exposes all the flaws and faults in the old computer programme. Porter explains how using, that old programme is damaging your computer.
If trauma is the reason you keep using the old computer programme, it may not be as simple as switching and building your new programme. You may need to resolve these underlying issues before you start building your new programme. If your programme is flawed with viruses, these hidden viruses could attack your new programme. Seek advice from the expertise of a Qualified Computer Programmer. It can be hard to find the right Computer Programmer but there are plenty of different ones out there.
A word or warning:
You may encounter The Gatekeeper (The Wine Witch/ Beer Beast/Vodka Vampire/ Addict Voice) that guards the Conscious Brain. They hate change. Messages come to them from the Subconscious. They are very old-fashioned and will try to get you, to use the old computer programme again. When you encounter them just remember these are only thoughts, a processing center they guard. While you decide about that spur-of-the-moment thought, take a breath, and do not rush your decision. Play the tape forward and then tell them “NO” you will not be using that old programme, as you have discovered your Computer runs much more smoothly with this new programme, you are building.
When I first started rebuilding my computer programme I found a community online, of people just like me, who were working away daily on the same goals. Finding the Boom Rethink the Drink Community was like finding a room full of programmers with a vast amount of knowledge to help when I had problems building my new programme.
If you’re “sober curious” … If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break… Talk to Us.
We are an independent, anonymous and private community who share resources, support and talk it through every day. It helps to have a community behind you in a world where alcohol is the only addictive drug that people will question you for NOT using
community support 24-7 or sign up and sign in here
Don’t let the shame of the stigma of addiction keep you from saying
“I think I have a problem with drinking”