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Understanding Your Addicted Brain
Drinking alcohol is seen by most adults as a natural, pleasurable, and necessary part of living a full life. We learn to drink alcohol to celebrate, connect, relieve stress, and ease sorrow and we’re also taught that we should be able to drink routinely without losing control of how much we drink. We distinguish alcohol addiction from addiction to other substances when we use labels like alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. When someone becomes dependent on drinking or begins to lose control we don’t blame it on the addictive nature of the drink but on the addictive nature of that individual. Alcohol is however highly addictive. If you are trying to stop drinking and stay sober it really helps to understand how your addicted brain works.
The following articles are written by members of our BOOM Rethink the Drink community. Sharing our varied experiences of what worked for each of us in the hopes that it may help others. If you’re “sober curious” … If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break…Talk to Us
How to Override your Lizard Brain
Have you heard about your Lizard Brain? The part of your brain designed to keep you safe? That ancient brain that evolved when we lived in an older world with predators that wanted to eat us? That part of your brain still kicks in now in the 21st century. We may not be running from saber tooth tigers but our ancient, reflexive, lizard brain reacts when we feel threatened by stress, harassment, physical or psychological abuse. When you drink you “evolve” that survival brain to see alcohol as the answer to danger.
When you drink habitually, not only does your brain learn that it needs alcohol to survive, but the withdrawal symptoms that you suffer when you stop can cause anxiety, stress, depression, and fear. That empty nervous feeling that at first, can only be appeased by adding back the alcohol.
So learn about your brain and how it’s been changed by drinking. You can reverse the damage done and move forward to thrive rather than just survive!
Remember Pavlov’s Dog?
Our sober journeys may vary greatly, but one thing we all seem to share is the misery of dealing with cravings and/or urges—and my personal favorite, related obsessive thoughts. It just might be helpful for some of us to visualize what’s going on as BELLS and DROOL.
The bells are anything that we’ve identified as a trigger, which is a pretty easy mystery to solve because it comes before the drool. I know the list can be long. Happy, sad, depressed, manic, bored, hungry, lonely, emotional pain, physical pain, bad news, good news, grief, celebrations—people, places, and things including time of day. Fill in your own blanks, most of us can do that pretty well. So much for the BELLS.
Planning for known BELLS is a huge part of this work:
Changing up routines, avoiding some things, finding new activities and new associations. Seeking out alternative rewards or pleasurable distractions (or just effective distractions, don’t ask for the moon). That’s not all we have to do, but it does make the rest of our job easier.
The real work is learning how to BE WITH THE DROOL and not fall prey to the scream for the old reward. It’s uncomfortable for sure, no one likes the feeling of an itch they can’t scratch. How long will it last? How strong will it be? Who knows. That’s where your planning becomes pure gold. You can white-knuckle through anything, but why set yourself up for that? Life is going to toss enough surprises your way and blindside you now and then, so PLAN WHERE YOU CAN.
BEING WITH THE DROOL doesn’t mean resisting:
( continued here Staying Sober Survival Skills )
Retrain your Brain? Break the Link to Alcohol?
If you stop drinking and slowly make changes in your life that don’t make you ‘link’ with alcohol then your brain will have the chance to slowly change to that of a non-drinker. ( continued here How I Became Alcohol-Free – Thoughts on Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis )
The essential part you have to focus on is changing the things in your life that are alcohol-related. You have to change the aspects of your life that make you ‘link’ with alcohol. You have to change the things you do that make you continue to drink. You have to focus on changing yourself by learning new things, learning new ways of thinking, doing new things.
What are you going to do?
When are you going to do it?
How are you going to do it?
Never let your Guard down with that Lizard Brain :
The vast majority of people who need to stop drinking are not physically dependent but neurologically addicted, and they only feel like they might die without a drink. The mind is a powerful thing and that feeling that you NEED to drink is most likely in your mind. However powerful it may be.
Why is that? Why does a perfectly rational, intelligent, often high functioning adult who behaves responsibly all day, find themselves needing a drink at the end of the day like a belligerent toddler demanding candy, when just hours earlier they had sworn they would never drink alcohol again?
… as the alcohol begins to leave your system your lizard brain/ limbic cortex/survival brain starts screaming I NEED a drink. I will DIE without a drink. a Drink will fix EVERYTHING.
The Lizard brain screams but you HEAR it’s voice as a calm rational one. You hear the solution to the problem.
continued : Why Do I Feel Like I’ll Die Without a Drink ?
If you’re “sober curious” … If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break…or if you have stopped drinking and are trying to stick to sober! 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
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Don’t let the shame of the stigma keep you from saying
“I think I have a problem with drinking”