by | Jun 16, 2022 | 10 comments

Someone messaged me recently to ask the following question:

If it takes 20 minutes for alcohol to get into our system why do I get a buzz straight after the first sip? I thought it was worth delving into a bit further in the form of a blog post because this feeds into the psychology of drinking, and yet another of the supposed benefits of drinking that (like many others) is pure illusion.

Imagine you are brought up to believe that there is a magic pebble which, if you can lay your hands on it, will immediately solve all your problems and give you a perfect life. Imagine that you truly and genuinely believe this to be the case. You plod through your life, the good and the bad, like everyone else. But whenever you have a good time there it’s always tinged with melancholy; ‘If only I had that magic pebble, this moment would be so much sweeter.’ I’d feel like this all the time, not just on odd occasions when something amazing happens.

Woman looking away, yearning for something

The bad times are even worse. Instead of coming to terms with whatever it is, that has happened to ruin your day, concentrating on finding a way to mitigate or lessen the damage, and doing something to take your mind off the issue to give you some respite, you tie yourself up in knots agonising over that magic pebble. ‘If only I had that magic pebble, none of this would matter, I wouldn’t be feeling like this and everything would be perfect.’

In fact, something pretty odd starts to happen here; the lack of the magic pebble starts to get the blame for everything. In your mind, it’s not the argument with your partner, the shortage of money, the problems at work, the family politics, or whatever it is that has upset your day in the first place. None of those things are the target of your thoughts you don’t blame them, in your mind the problem is NOT HAVING THAT MAGIC STONE! It ends up becoming the focus of everything.

Then one day, after decades of living this life, something amazing happens. You find the magic pebble!! You know it’s the magic pebble because while walking on the beach you suddenly spot a pebble just lying there with the word ‘magic’ scrawled on the side in red nail varnish.

Unique Pebble held in handYou can’t believe your eyes, you grab it, lips trembling, tears welling up in your eyes, you grasp it to your chest, you raise your face to the heavens, and give one great heart-wrenching bellow of triumph (as your fellow beach walkers suddenly remember that have urgent business elsewhere and make a quick exit). How are you going to feel at that moment when that pebble is finally in your grasp? Totally euphoric I would expect. Would the fact that the whole thing was a total nonsense detract from how you felt? Not at that moment, not if you genuinely believed that the pebble would solve all your problems. The falsity of your belief may very well have an impact over time when the bills still continue to come in, the kids still continue to irritate you, and complete idiots still not only populate the planet but seem (against all the laws of natural justice) to rise up to positions of the highest power and authority, but that one moment when the magic pebble was finally in your grasp would be one of pure, unadulterated, ecstasy.

Of course, this is an extreme and rather silly example, but I hope it highlights an underlying dynamic. At its simplest, while we retain the belief that alcohol is pleasurable, necessary for enjoyment, the icing on the cake, call it what you will, we will get a psychological boost every time we permit ourselves to drink it. In fact, this belief will do even more than this; it will start to poison times that we could previously enjoy fully before we were infected with this false belief.

Sad woman at a birthday partyIf you are at a social function, holiday/vacation, wedding, or it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving and you believe you would be happier if you only had that magic pebble drink, then you won’t be enjoying it as much because there will be that tinge of melancholy hanging over it. You’ll think back to the times you could drink and remember that you did enjoy the occasion fully, and this will feed into that false belief. It will strengthen it and as it does that melancholy will grow. Then the next time you allow yourself a drink that feeling of euphoria, of finally getting your hands on the one thing that you believe you need to make everything ok again, will also be incrementally increased. It is a very powerful dynamic and one that allows alcohol’s hold over us to strengthen over time, but (like many other aspects of drinking) it is something that can be defeated by simple understanding and knowledge. Like a cleverly executed magic trick that is finally explained to you. Awe, confusion and helplessness very soon gives way to understanding, capability and power.

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10 Comments

  1. G

    Brilliant example, as ever. Enjoyed reading this! Thank you.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      I will keep in my mind this magic pebble each time I wish I could have a drink! Thank you very much Mr Porter

      Reply
  2. Jessica

    Well said, thank you. I needed to read this today. After trying to play the moderation game, I finally see alcohol for the farce that it is. Once you know, you know.

    Reply
  3. Richard

    Nice post William. Many thanks 👍👍

    Reply
  4. Diane K.

    It’s a silly but well-contrived ploy on the part of the magic pebble, the stone-makers and sheep like me (sorry, mixed metaphor).

    Reply
  5. DMK

    I enjoyed that very much – what a brilliant analogy, and so true! Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Robin

    The realization of what alcohol really does is total enlightenment. It messes with your mind with false beliefs. No happiness comes from alcohol in a long run. Those happy times will turn into despair with continued drinking.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    The sense of immediate relief we get on taking a drink is caused by the abrupt cessation of dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine is released when we are near the circumstances of a drinking trigger and it is this dopamine that directly causes the motivation to drink. This nagging sensation builds and the motivating urge increases in intensity until we take a drink, upon which the dopamine release is suddenly stopped. It is this sudden absence of the nagging dopamine that causes the “aaahhhhh” sensation of relief. It is nothing to do with pebbles (magic or otherwise). Nor is it anything to do with psychology. It is the dopaminergic reward system in operation.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      👍🏼

      Reply
    • William Porter

      ‘Nor is it anything to do with psychology’
      It certainly was for me.

      Reply

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