What Your Alcohol Consumption Says About How You’ve Programmed Your Brain
I created a stop overdrinking program to solve the problem that I was having.
I was overdrinking. To be clear, this was in a high functioning, non alcoholic sort of way.
I don’t drink at all now, but I’m not in recovery, and I’m not an alcoholic. I simply don’t drink or have the desire to drink alcohol anymore.
When I started this journey, my desire wasn’t to quit drinking completely. Originally, my desire was to drink less.
I was waking up in the middle of the night feeling terrible and feeling hungover the following day after having chardonnay—my drink of choice—the evening before.
Drinking wasn’t getting in the way of my life. I wasn’t getting drunk or acting inappropriately. I wasn’t having negative consequences that would put me in the embarrassing or shameful categories. But I was feeling bad internally. I really didn’t like waking up and feeling so bad after drinking.
I’m not—and never was—an alcoholic (and I’m very familiar with this because my brother died of a drug overdose and my father died from alcoholism).
I simply felt like alcohol was becoming too much a part of my life.
Alcohol was such a part of my social life that I couldn’t imagine never wanting it again.
A few years ago, I gave it up for an entire year. But this was me giving it up from the action level—I didn’t do any thought work around it, which means I still desired it, and when the year was up, I went right back to drinking chardonnay again.
I felt so good physically during the year that I didn’t drink at all, but I still wanted alcohol; I still desired it. The problem was this: I didn’t change my desire for wanting to drink.
Using the same framework I used to coach so many clients to lose weight, I began to see the connection between weight loss and alcohol. So, I got to work and learned everything I could about alcohol and the brain.
I created a stop overdrinking program, which is in my monthly coaching program, Self Coaching Scholars.
And it works. I have zero desire to drink anymore.
Before I explain what I learned below, click the box below to get exclusive access to my free training and worksheet, which will help you put this information into action right away.
Your Brain and Alcohol
Desire is not human and natural. Desire is taught. How? Marketing. Yes, marketing. We’re taught to desire the homes, the cars, and the clothes that we like.
We are taught to like drinking. We are taught to repeat it. We are given a reward for it.
Desire is learned. Learning requires repetition. Learning requires motivation and reward.
Alcohol has all of these things.
Have you heard of Pavlov’s dog experiments? Ivan Pavlov put a stimulus (a sound) in front of a dog, then gave the dog food. After repeating this a few times, the dog began to salivate in response to the sound, without the food. It began to associate the sound with food even when there was no food present.
What this experiment revealed was how the brain works. By exposing your brain to a stimulus with a reward, then repeating that stimulus over time, you increase your desire for it. This is why you like the look of the bar, or the feel of the wine glass, or the experience of a drink after work. You start to have the desire as soon as there’s anything associated with it.
We have learned to want alcohol during certain situations. Most of us don’t wake up at 8 am and want a glass of wine. Why? Because we haven’t been conditioned to believe that we should have a drink first thing in the morning.
When conditioning is repeated enough, the desire becomes unconscious, and then we feel out of control.
Have you ever planned not to drink and then end up drinking? This is why. The desire is unconscious.
Alcohol gives us a dopamine response that numbs our prefrontal cortex (the decision making and planning part of our brain).
Dopamine is our feedback neural transmitter for survival. We have evolved to seek pleasure, which we get from dopamine. The dopamine gives us a huge reward. Before alcohol, food, and our modern world, this was not a problem. We would eat a berry and the effect was mild. But now, it’s different. It’s dopamine overload. What was meant for our survival is now an addiction. Why? Money. If I can compel you to want something so much, I can compel you to buy something.
The motivational triad is the human experience. We are motivated in order to survive to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and be efficient. That has helped us evolve to this point.
Alcohol and Our Culture
We live in a culture where we all agree that checking out of our lives is normal. Then, we all agree to have that escape route.
This is becoming a huge problem for our society, and for women in particular. This has become our way of dealing with our emotions. Why? Because no one is teaching us how to deal with our emotions.
There’s no class on how to experience feelings, especially negative feelings. So, instead, we all agree that the best way to cope with our lives is through alcohol.
The work I do through the Self Coaching Model is to teach and coach people on how to experience and live their lives without needing to buffer and escape their negative emotions.
Our Programmed Beliefs about Alcohol
Desire comes from your programmed beliefs. Our programmed beliefs are just thoughts that we’ve repeated so much that we believe them.
Here are our thoughts around alcohol that make them our beliefs:
- It provides relief.
- It’s relaxing.
- It’s sophisticated.
- It’s normal.
- We should be able to drink.
- It’s fun.
- It helps us celebrate.
- It’s part of being human.
- It relieves stress.
- It’s a normal way to unwind.
- It’s boring not to drink.
- Only people with problems don’t drink.
- It’s not as fun not to drink.
- I won’t fit in if I don’t drink.
- I will feel deprived.
- It’ll mean there is something wrong with me.
These all seem like legitimate reasons. But are they? We have to start questioning what we all agree to be “normal”.
Desiring Alcohol Is Normal
There’s nothing wrong with you for desiring alcohol. This is your brain’s normal response to conditioning and learning.
Change starts with compassionate awareness. The first step is to stop beating yourself up about it and start being curious about it.
The Problem with Drinking
As humans, we evolved to this point from our primitive brain, which avoids pain, seeks pleasure, and conserves energy.
But now that we’re here in modern times, we no longer need that motivational triad in our everyday lives.
Most of us aren’t being chased down on a daily basis, needing to stay alive. Instead, we’re escaping emotional pain through false pleasures.
It’s now a huge problem because we’re avoiding emotional pain and seeking to escape our lives through buffering (the overeating, overdrinking, overspending, etc.).
Instead of feeling heartbreak, frustration, or disappointment, we eat, drink alcohol, or spend money to give us a dopamine hit to avoid the pain.
What got us to this point is going to prevent us from evolving further. We’re killing ourselves with alcoholism, obesity, and numbing out.
We’re killing ourselves with unconsciousness.
The Problem with Getting Help
Attempts to cut back on drinking results in strengthening the conditioning. We’re conditioned for pleasure and desire. When we push against this, it increases the desire.
Willpower and struggle don’t work.
Getting help is stigmatizing because the only help available until my program has been through Alcoholics Anonymous, which is for alcoholics.
Cognitive dissonance is when you can see your thoughts of wanting vs. not wanting to drink and notice which you want to practice and pursue. You have to live much more deliberately.
Instead of conserving energy and buffering our lives through alcohol, food, and spending money, we need to change our brains.
There is established wiring in your brain to be efficient. It can’t be thinking consciously about everything. Think about it. You can’t be thinking “lift up foot” every time you want to walk, so your brain stores this information and uses it without you having to intentionally think about it. This is how your brain works.
Your brain has made drinking an unconscious habit.
You have to break the unconsciousness of it by changing the wiring in your brain, known as neural pathways.
It’s almost impossible to change your neural pathways with willpower.
New neural pathways can be established when you 1) stop rewarding your urge to drink, 2) allow the urge to come (experience the urge), and over time, 3) the result is that the desire to drink is reduced.
This is just like what they did with Pavlov’s dogs. They continued the experiment to get the dogs to stop salivating with the ringing of the bell. How? By ringing the bell and not giving the dogs food. They continued to do this over and over and over. Eventually, the drooling stopped. The conditioning became extinct because there was no longer a conditioning with the bell ringing and the food.
This is how you make real change. You rewire your brain—the neural pathways—to no longer desire alcohol.
You don’t do it by rigging your environment for change, by giving up cold turkey without doing the thought and emotional work, or by avoiding alcohol and bars. You expose yourself to alcohol and bars like now, and then you allow the urge to be present. You don’t drink. Then, you allow the urge to be present. You experience the urge. You don’t resist the urge. You allow it to be there but don’t reward it.
Most people don’t know how to experience an urge because they either react, resist, or avoid it. When you allow your urge to be there without rewarding it, the urge will decrease over time.
The dogs didn’t resist wanting the food. They let themselves drool. They were in the presence of desire, unanswered. That’s why they disassociated the urge altogether. They lost the association.
Join me right now in this training, where you can download your free worksheet and learn how to stop overdrinking.
To learn more about my monthly coaching program, visit TheLifeCoachSchool.com/Join/.