What Made the Difference This Time? (Part 2 – Understanding Brain Chemistry)

As I approach 5 months of sobriety, I am continuing to share what made the difference this time.  What finally helped me commit to sobriety forever, when on all previous attempts I gave up after a few days, weeks or months?

The biggest difference is finally accepting that I cannot drink moderately.  Every time I tried,  I ended up back where I started.  After a few months, I would be drinking 1-2 bottles of wine every night, waking up with horrible hangovers, etc.

That personal experience, along with the book Beyond the Influence:  Understanding and Defeating Alcoholism, by Katherine Ketcham, finally convinced me it was time to quit forever.

This book explained the brain chemistry side of addiction in a way that really made sense to me.  I finally accepted that I cannot overcome my brain chemistry, no matter I hard I try or how much I wish I could.  I now understand this problem as a brain chemistry problem, not a moral failing or a psychological problem.

I spent years in different types of therapy, trying to chase down the causes of my overdrinking.  The hope being, if I could get to the bottom of whatever was making me drink so much, I would stop wanting to drink so much.  But now I believe my brain chemistry was always different.  From day one, I have always responded differently to alcohol than the 90% of people who can moderate easily.  Since my teenage years, I have had an addictive drive to drink more and more and more.  I have always ended up drinking too much, having blackouts, etc.  Not every time, but often enough and with increasing frequency over the years.

The following paragraphs really spoke to me:

“Alcoholism is not a psychological habit, a sign of collapsed willpower or emotional weakness, or a learned response to psychological, emotional or or physical trauma.  Alcoholism is a genetically transmitted neurological disease.

When we understand and accept the truth about alcoholism, we have no choice but to accept the futility of trying to teach an addicted brain how to circumvent its own chemistry.  We might as well try to teach a butterfly how to turn back into a caterpillar.”

Understanding it this way makes not drinking easier for me.  It is simply not an option.

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9 thoughts on “What Made the Difference This Time? (Part 2 – Understanding Brain Chemistry)

    • Me too! This was a revelation for me. I finally stopped beating myself up and started being compassionate with myself.

      Another part of the book talks about cause and effect. For so long I have been trying to find the cause of my overdrinking. Depression? Anxiety? Trauma? Childhood issues? If those are the cause, then the effect is overdrinking and addiction, right? Not everyone who drinks alcohol overdrinks and gets addicted, so there must be something wrong with ME, right?

      This book turns that idea on its head and says if we are already predisposed to overdrinking, the cause of overdrinking/addiction is neurobiological predisposition combined with environment/circumstance. Then the effect is depression, anxiety, drinking related problems, etc. Alcohol, a depressant, is causing all the bad results, not the other way around. (That is not to say people don’t use alcohol to escape from problems, just that a small proportion of us will fall into addiction when we do, because of how our brains are wired.)

      WOW – how liberating!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Addiction turned me into a neuroscience nerd! I used to just consider myself weak-willed, until I realized that this is a biological disease, just like diabetes. Now I bore my family and friends with talks of dopamine and reward loops and the like, but I’m sure they prefer that over the self-imposed coma-like state that addiction put me in.

    Love the metaphors, too!

    Liked by 1 person

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